agency- new cities, particularly those codified 'nonformal', present a variety of public health problems and quality of life issues to design professionals, medical practitioners and others.
recently, UN-Habitat's global census found global urban populations exceed global rural populations. this new reality is explained in part by burgeoning birth rates and increasing life expectancies. for the most part however, global urban growth is due to a mass migration from rural towns to urban centers. contemporary urban centers are ill-equipped for large population influx. this has left migrants destitute- without proper access to health care, housing, public infrastructure and civic program (schools, hospitals, parks and recreation...). see map below
map of public program, Caracas, Venezuela (gray=barrios)
particularly in the developing world, cities are built out to the extent where those most bereft, impoverished and unhealthy are displaced to urban peripheries. these urban peripheries lack not only customary urban infrastructure, but also site conditions adequate for conventional foundation technologies.
Jose Felix Ribas Barrio, Caracas, Venezuela
many latin american cities are shaped by peripheral steep slopes that site 'nonformal' squatter settlements. these settlements comprise makeshift housing whose tenants hold extralegal land tenure. land distribution protocols often involve the subdivision of state-owned, public or ejido land. the land is usually protected by government code from construction because the soil is unstable, the land is too steep, or it rests in marsh. because of the mass urban migration, the lack of space and the inability to grow in sprawl, municipal governments distribute parcels of hazardous, protected land to illegitimate developers. these developers then subdivide the land and charge rent to migrant families. very quickly, large settlements form without provision for infrastructure, housing and transportation.
aerial view of Caracas, Venezuela
jose castillo defines nonformal:
"development that takes place outside of the legal, planned regulated channels of city-making. Usually it is characterized by indiscriminate occupation of land, lack of [explicit] official approval, lack of property titles, makeshift housing, and an absence of utilities and human services."
in these contexts the architect finds him or herself with diminished agency. its a shame i think, because until recently it seems that the profession of architecture, and in turn, the academy, has turned its interest from a population that stands to benefit from thoughtful architecture and planning. without existing infrastructure, or at least conventional infrastructure, and without standard siting, the architect is effete. in this context, the architect's province can include infrastructural dominion, design sensibility and an innovative approach towards hazardous siting.