The Political Meaning of Informal Urbanization

Authored by: Roberto Rocco , Jan van Ballegooijen

The Routledge Handbook on Informal Urbanization

Print publication date:  December  2018
Online publication date:  January  2019

Print ISBN: 9781138183889
eBook ISBN: 9781315645544
Adobe ISBN:


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Many countries in the Global South are relatively young democracies. The resilience and legitimacy of their political systems rely largely on their ability to integrate and represent millions of citizens who are ‘excluded’ from formal social, political, and economic structures. Exclusion from those formal structures has deep-reaching consequences and is reflected in the built environment, as many of the so-called excluded are also excluded from formal housing markets and must ‘help themselves’ in order to inhabit the city. They often build informal settlements, mostly characterized by insecurity of tenure, poor infrastructure, and lack of basic services, though in time, and mostly through public intervention, some of those neighborhoods might develop into liveable places. We argue that democracy’s success depends not only on the ability of formal institutions to respond to the legitimate demands of its citizens. It also depends on how these citizens are able to enter the political realm in order to claim their rights. The toils of people struggling to inhabit the city have different consequences for their empowerment as citizens in different contexts. In this sense, informal urbanization is often a short-term, last-resort solution for the lack of affordable housing in developing countries, and it is simultaneously the mark of non-inclusive political systems and of a deficit of rights.

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