São Paulo

Cortiços – Interstitial Urbanization in Central São Paulo

Authored by: Jeroen Stevens , Bruno De Meulder , Débora Sanches

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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This chapter elaborates on a peculiar type of interstitial urbanization happening in a major metropolis of the Global South, to inquire into the particular political agency that resides exactly in between divergent but nevertheless intertwined and interdependent forces of urban development. The case study of a precarious dwelling typology in central São Paulo known as cortiços will allow us to explore interstitial informal spaces, wedged between ‘formal’ urban projects (encompassing here urban policies, planning mechanisms, and renewal projects) and ‘informal’ urbanization processes (covering spontaneous occupations, extra-legal constructions, and politics of anticipation). The cortiços will be interrogated as liminal spaces, continuously betwixt and between legality and illegality, centrality and marginality, inclusiveness and exclusiveness, invisibility and exposure. While extensive scholarship continues to discuss peripheral informal urbanization, the dispersed and less tangible occurrence of informal slum settlements inside the formally consolidated areas of the city has been studied very little, thereby rather neglecting the political agency these spaces engender. By focussing exactly on the different claims on rights that stem from those ambivalent fissures in the central city, this study seeks to contribute to ongoing attempts challenging dichotomous paradigms of formality and informality. It builds therefore on literature and fieldwork, carried out in collaboration with housing movements, human rights associations, and NGOs in São Paulo’s central area.

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