The existence of a global village that is interconnected not only through media but also through economy entails a series of consequences. This is the case of the European credit crisis and its impact on the rest of economies and the creation of new, different and complex risk, vulnerable and uncertain scenarios linked to critical economic and fiscal situations. Capital flows have been drastically reduced and regional economies have experienced stagnation, thus fearing a global recession. Thirty eight per cent of developed countries had already a 4% of GDP for public deficit in 2011, being on the brink of critical processes1.
Back in 2010 according to data from the World Bank, 44 million people were taken below the line of poverty due to the increase in the price of food. For instance, the loss of crops and hunger threatened the sustenance of 13 million African people.
Although Latin America and the Caribbean are less dependent on Europe -which represents 18% of imports-, they are not totally safe from suffering credit crunches as a consequence of the decrease in the purchasing power of European and even Chinese markets, the latter experiencing problems derived from its own growth.
In the local scenario, research on economics show that indicators such as educational level, genre of the head of household and the percentage of children may determine household vulnerability; it also emerged that remittances are not an element that contributes to reduce this condition, unless they come from abroad2
For poor people from Latin America and the Caribbean, these events affect remittances of Latin American migrants living in these stricken countries. This is the case of a number of nations highly dependent on this type of external aid, namely, El Salvador, Jamaica, Honduras, Guyana, Nicaragua, Haiti, Guatemala and some South American countries. It is well known that thousands of hard-working Latin American families built their place of living thanks to remittances, which allowed them to replace resources that were not given by the State, as they came to realize they were not included in public policies.
Research on poverty shows that housing, despite not being a critical element to overcome this condition, is one of the most important components of physical capital3. However, considering that public policies are not generally efficient, the fact of having a roof is one of the first and most important priorities for people on their struggle to improve life conditions.
In developing countries, transient poverty occurs when people cannot find any kind of protection against stochastic elements of economy; it is worth noting that the current crisis and the one that took place in 2008 have turned this type of scourge into a stationary phenomenon. In other words, this is a kind of poverty linked to the risks of current and past external events. Today, countries have less fiscal space available than on the beginnings of the 2008-2009 crisis.
What can be done? Asking people and their communities for even more resilience capacity? Such scenario requires pluralist and anti-synoptic public policies appealing to social rather than economic rationality, with public value, so long as this value is lower than the alternative cost this expense would have in private spheres4. However, designers and policy makers insist on following the latter path.
Another series of strategic factors within public policies and their expression on territory are those derived from the management and regulation of urban land; such factors increase urban inequity, being out of step with the responses to external events. Most of Latin American cities suffer from the monopolization of land within urban limits. “Although vacant lots are reserved for speculative purposes, few Latin American cities have implemented policies aimed at addressing this issue. Furthermore, when authorities make the distinction between the tax systems related to vacant lots and developed land, as in the case of Buenos Aires and Quito, the owners of available sites are exempt from high taxes thanks to a series of gaps and exceptions”5. In Chile, the print media informed on July, 2012 that “ten companies control the 45% of land for development in Santiago... according to research from the AGS, 5,800 out of the 13,000 available hectares in the Metropolitan Region belong to these actors, most especially real estate companies6”. This example corroborates the proposal made by Gilbert. Vacant lots represent 60% of the expected growth of the urban limits of Santiago for the next 20 years; likewise, there have been legal discussions regarding this topic given the economic interest involved in this business. Approximately 35,427 new dwellings can be built in the 5,800 hectares controlled by real estate companies (for reference purposes, 23,000 dwellings were built in Greater Santiago between 2003-20107.)
Within the dynamics and philosophies of dominant political and economic powers, “land markets do not operate satisfactorily without State intervention8.” In this process, people are uninformed and passive consumers (sometimes without becoming aware of it) who do not know the interests that will define the place of living of their descendants. Structures of economic powers have turned consumers into figures related to profit in the face of other options for capital reproduction. This business will continue to operate unless public opinion says otherwise.
These global, regional and local scenarios invite to research on residential habitat and its multiple scales about the “Gestalt” of land, space and place occupation; there are some palimpsestic features in which old and new practices overlap.
This issue of Revista INVI offers five articles that show different internal dynamics linked to economic models, capital reproduction strategies when natural resources are used as consumption items and the perception of risk in the face of natural hazards at a social behavior level in three Chilean cities, namely, Concepción, La Serena and Santiago.
The article ”Industrialization, development and city: sociodemographic and spatial transformations within the social geography of Greater Concepción” analyzes the transformations and sociogeographic behaviors of this city –stricken by the magnitude 8.8 earthquake of February 27, 2010- by using socioeducational, age and employment in industry and services indicators; this paper verifies the spatial coexistence of old and new productive economic models.
The article “The ‘green’ imaginary and the urban green as a housing consumption instrument: setting up environmental conditions for the Santiago Metropolitan Area” shows how green areas are used as products by the real estate market. It is also demonstrated the inequity in the search for better quality of life when city management evidences imbalance towards the urban inhabitant-consumer who does not have economic resources to purchase a good that should be equal for all.
The contribution “Risk perception in relation to self-production and self-management as relevant elements in the reduction of vulnerability in the city of La Serena” provides evidence about the complexity of vulnerability from a risk perception and social character perspective. These findings, analyzed through indicators such as the economic condition of the population, self-protection factors and self-management capacity, shed light on the need for building interdisciplinary theoretical frameworks to improve the response to natural hazards, most especially in this type of cities exposed to flooding caused by tsunamis.
The fourth research, “Fear of women of violence in Mexico city. A matter of spatial justice” analyzes the relationship between genre and spatial divisions in the construction of the fear of violence; these factors determine the way of living of women in popular settlements located in that city.
The last article “Evaluation of the heating and cooling performance produced by construction elements and microclimate of passive housing. integrating passive thermal comfort performance into the management of the life cycle of a building” presents a model for the improvement of thermal comfort of social housing during the design stage. There have been efforts in Chile to achieve the improvement of thermal comfort. It has not been possible to establish indicators to optimize and combine costs, legislations, housing policies and culture, as these goals involve more expenses for the State and people, a combination that requires the contribution of more evidence.
Ricardo Tapia Zarricueta
BANCO MUNDIAL. Global Economic Prospects 2012: Uncertainties and Vulnerabilities. [En línea]. The World Bank. 2012. Disponible en: http://go.worldbank.org/WI8LCZ6PT0.
FLORES TOLEDO, Tamara. Diez empresas poseen 45% de terrenos disponibles para casas en Santiago. Diario La Tercera. Santiago, Chile. Miércoles 27 de junio 2012.
GILBERT, Alan. La vivienda en América Latina. Washington DC., INDES, Banco Interamericano de Desarrollo. 2009. Documentos de Trabajo del INDES.
HIGA, Minoru. Vulnerabilidad a la pobreza: el Perú ¿avanza o retrocede? Revista Economía y Sociedad (78): 17-23, noviembre 2011.
MOSER, Caroline y FELTON, Andrew. Acumulación intergeneracional de activos y reducción de la pobreza en Guayaquil, Ecuador entre 1979 y 2004. En: MOSER, Caroline, ed. Reducing global poverty: the case for asset accumulation. Washington DC, Brookings Press. 2009. p. 15-50.
OLAVARRÍA, Mauricio. Conceptos básicos en el análisis de las políticas públicas. Santiago, Chile. Instituto de Asuntos Públicos, Departamento de Gestión Pública, Universidad de Chile. 2007. Documento de Trabajo N° 11.
TAPIA, Ricardo. Evolución de la localización de la vivienda social en el Gran Santiago. Período 2003-2010. (Sin editar). 2012. Proyecto FONDECYT 1100212: "Cambios espaciales en la sociogeografía urbana del Gran Santiago: ¿Mito o Realidad?"