Roger Thayer Stone Center For Latin American Studies

Tulane University

Edesio Fernandes Presents on Informal Urban Land Development

February 28th, 2013

On February 25, 2013, Tulane’s Center for Inter-American Policy welcomed Edésio Fernandes to discuss urban land development, particularly the issue of informal settlement on land in urban areas. Fernandes opened his lecture by identifying informal urban settlement as a phenomenon that is international in scope and one of considerable longevity in the urban history of Latin America. He gave the example of Brazilian favelas, the large, informal shantytowns that have been in existence for more than 100 years in Brazil, as well as Peruvian laws dating back to 1961 that attempted to redress the problem of informal urban settlement in Peruvian cities. However, while Fernandes explained that informal urban settlement is not a new phenomenon, he underscored how the scale of these settlements has increased considerably since the 1980s, which adds a greater degree of urgency in formulating a resolution to the issue.

Fernandes provided impressive statistics conveying the drastic extent to which the world, and Latin America in particular, is becoming more urban by the day. Currently, more than 50 percent of the global population resides in urban areas, while in Latin America, around 80 percent of the region’s population is now urban. A total of 1.5 billion people currently reside in informal settlements in these urban areas, which has led Fernandes to broadly classify contemporary urban land development as a process of informal land development in urban areas. Some consider informal settlement as a positive occurrence rather than a problem because it is often the only available avenue through which impoverished individuals and families can access housing in urban areas. However, Fernandez argues that in the long-term, informal settlement presents grave problems for its residents, problems that include lack of secure tenure and heightened vulnerability to unforeseen evictions due to the absence of a formal regulatory framework; increased vulnerability to political patronization; excessive population density and a lack of sanitation; increased fire hazards due to overcrowding and structural instability; and more devastating consequences from landslides and earthquakes due to the structural precariousness of many of the buildings of these informal settlements.

Considering the recent explosion of informal urban settlement and its negative consequences, Fernandes offered a critique of past and current attempts to remedy the problem. While in the past, many policymakers have turned towards regularization of informal settlement as a solution, Fernandes considers this remedy to be somewhat myopic in its approach because, in his words, it legalizes the illegal without closely examining the motivation behind bypassing legality in the first place. Until now, regularization has not been accompanied by preventative policy, the formulation of which would entail the close analysis of how the structural lack of sufficient, affordable, accessible and adequate land and services in urban spaces fuels the cycle of informal settlement. Until such issues are acknowledged and adequately redressed, Fernandes argues that regularization will prove futile as a preventative approach in and of itself because structural inequalities and lack of access to services and land will continue to encourage the bypassing of the legal, formal system of land tenure. Fernandes closed his lecture by reiterating that for regularization to be a sustainable solution, policymakers must develop a more consistent approach to social obligation with explicit acknowledgement of the lack of access to land and services in urban areas that fuels the ultimately problematic cycle of informal urban settlement.

-Hannagan Johnson