Governing Latin American Cities housing informality and environmental sustainability

PhD student: Francesca Ferlicca

Tutor: Prof. Alejandro Sehtman


National University of General San Martín – Argentina



Only five of the world’s fifty largest metropolitan cities are located in Latin America: Ciudad de México, Säo Paulo, Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro and Lima. The subcontinent’s metropolization process has been overcome by Africa’s and Asia’s. But even when Latin American metropolitan cities aren’t the most populated or the fastest growing, they remain a key space in the region’s social, political and economic trends: the most important effects of inequality, democracy and neoliberalism are to be found in the big cities where most of Latin America’s population lives.


Latin American governments have coped with the challenges posed by this combination of inequality, democracy and neoliberalism in ways that have been deeply studied by literature at the national level. But the ways in which this mix has been dealt with at the urban level has received much less attention. The objective of our research is to highlight the politics and policies of urban governance in Latin America’s biggest cities. This general objective will be carried out through the analysis of two relevant urban governance issues: informal housing and sustainability management.

Informal housing has been an extensive mode of urban growth in Latin America for decades. It represents an antithetical alternative to traditional planning as it implies a production of urbanization independent of formal frameworks and assistance that do not comply with official rules and regulations and emerge as a different path of city construction. The social and environmental effects of this new kind of urban growth are challenging both for governments and specialists. While different approaches tried to describe, theorize and formulate the causes of the emergence of this type of urbanization, literature has not paid enough attention to the political dimension of informality, especially on how local governments deal with informality, and how it affects urban policy making, urban management and political choices and how local urban planning systems contribute to the emergence of informal settlements.


On the other hand, sustainability management has only recently entered the urban governance agenda. It represents a new approach that crosses the classic policy division between economic development, social issues and urban planning. Latin American cities are still trying to find their own paths to sustainability between multilateral formulas (like the Millenium Development Goals), contradictions with national commodity export and industrial development models, and the interplay of both institutional and non-institutional local actors. Urban level compromises seem to be the most successful and are sometimes the only way of introducing sustainability in the policy agenda of this region.