The Spatial Syntax of Urban Inequality: Daily Mobility and Mobility Capital in Urban

Daniela Villouta Gutiérrez

Universidad de Concepción, Chile

The new mobility paradigm (Sheller & Urry, 2006; Urry, 2007) has revealed the variability and complexity of people’s mobility. It has also questioned how mobility takes place and how its various factors can affect the socially differentiated use of the territory. This change of paradigm has highlighted the transformation processes that some cities are undergoing in terms of urban restructuring and the implications that it could have on urban inequality, as a social practice conditioned both by external and internal variables that are incorporated in the form of habitus1. This growing interest has been widely addressed in Europe and North America, with few studies in Latin America. Specifically, in Chile, mobility has been studied mainly through an engineering and quantitative perspective, excluding the social and spatial practice dimensions (Landon, 2016).

From here, the question arises: Which and how is the relationship between the spatial configuration of the built environment and the daily mobility used and practiced by subjects in the consolidation of urban inequality? It is argued that the spatial configuration of the territory affects the potential for people’s mobility (mobility capital) which in turn is related to complex social processes capable of consolidating urban inequality in our cities. In this sense, the social and relational nature of daily mobility (socially accustomed and practiced), evidences the way in which urban inequality is structured, distributed and persists in cities undergoing urban restructuring.

Based on the above, the thesis aims to understand the relationship of mutual influence between the spatial configuration of the built environment and the way in which everyday mobility is habituated and practiced, and its relation to the consolidation of urban inequality.

To this end, it proposes, on the one hand, to identify and characterize the mobility capital of subjects and households based on access, competence and appropriation of mobility, which in turn will be affected by the spatial configuration of the case study. On the other hand, it will articulate and analyze the daily mobility of the subjects, based on the way it is used and practiced and its relationship with the mobility capital they have and the spatial configuration in the units of analysis. In this way, it is hoped to improve the understanding of the configuration of urban inequality based on its structure, distribution and persistence in the Metropolitan Area of Concepción, Chile, and to reflect critically on the way in which public policies for Metropolitan Areas are planned and evaluated in a neoliberal context.

A mixed type of research is proposed. On the one hand, it considers a quantitative approach to identify the units of study through a georeferenced analysis of urban growth patterns, related regulations and mobility conditions between the years 1990 and 2020. In order to describe and characterize the units of the study area, a quantitative analysis of the mobility capital and the configuration of the network will be carried out, based on the “mobility indicator” of Kaufmann, et al. (2004) and Moret (2012), through structured surveys. The configuration of the urban fabric will be addressed through the theoretical and methodological tools provided by Space Syntax (Hillier et al., 2000; Hillier, 1996). A qualitative approach is also considered to

1 Set of generative schemes from which subjects perceive the world and act in it (Bourdieu, 1980).

analyze the mobility practices in the units of study, the way in which mobility is habituated and practiced, for which the trajectories of the inhabitants and their different meanings and perceptions will be observed.

The preliminary results address the debate on the mutual influence between the spatial configuration of the built environment and urban mobility and their relationship in the consolidation of urban inequality. It is argued from the prism of the “new paradigm of mobility” that the theory of mobility capital or motility allows to overcome the historical dichotomy between space and mobility. In this way, it becomes clear that mobility as a social practice also constitutes dimensions of urban inequality and dispute in space. To this end, Hillier’s theorizations of spatial syntax are put into tension with proposals of the capital of mobility by Kaufmann et al. (2004). It is concluded that, in order to understand the dimensions of urban inequality, mobility must be understood beyond the functional nature of displacement, but also, from its social and relational nature in the built environment.


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Kaufmann, V.; Bergman, M. and Joye, D. (2004). Motility: Mobility as Capital. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 28(4), 745-56.

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Landon, P. (2016). Zona Sur: barrios, infraestructura y movilidad cotidiana Estrategias de apropiación y capital de movilidad familiar en barrios fragmentados. El caso de la Autopista Acceso Sur de Santiago de Chile. Tesis para optar al grado de Doctora en Arquitectura y Estudios Urbanos. Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile. Santiago.

Sheller, M. & J. Urry. (2006). The New Mobilities Paradigm. Envieronment and Planning. Volume 38, p. 207- 226

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