doi 10.4067/S0718-83582014000300001


Housing: Chronicle of a Poverty Foretold


Max Aguirre Gonzalez1

1 Chile. PhD. In Architecture, Technical University of Madrid. Director, Institute of History and Heritage, Faculty of Architecture and Urban Planning at the University of Chile.


There is no doubt that housing is a highly complex and rich cultural reality. It is a human phenomenon that reveals the depth of relationships and bonds generated by housing in a manner that people, perhaps, cannot replicate in any other activity.

Such an approach is offered in this issue of Revista INVI. This edition comprises seven papers that address housing from different perspectives: inner peripheries generated from the growth of the city centering on neighborhoods that act as focal points of vulnerability; territorial analysis of public policies for neighborhood regeneration and the improvement of scholastic achievement at school; the tactics of spontaneous settlements on the borders of Seville; housing within the context of the failure of the Spanish real estate model; housing dynamics in Chillan, observed over a period of more than a hundred years; the waterwheels of Larmahue and their relationship with the territory and the rural landscape; and, lastly, neighborhood stigmatization and its different social consequences.

Each of these papers portrays a world that on its own tells us of the ups and downs of housing, but above all its inhabitants. It is striking to grasp the unity of the issues surrounding a given vulnerable, impoverished, marginalized and stigmatized social group. Such a reality is clearly undeserving, unfair and unacceptable. What is it happening? How is it possible to fail at overcoming the poverty that supports the reality behind spontaneous, informal and substandard housing?

Paula Kapstein Lopez and Edith Aranda Dioses are the co-authors of the contribution entitled "The Inner Peripheries of Lima: Location and Identification of Neighborhoods that Act as Focal Points of Vulnerability. The Case of San Cosme". In this paper, they explore and describe the phenomenon of "inner peripheries", an event resulting from the explosive growth experienced by Lima during the 1930s —which gained in intensity over the 1940 – 1981 period. Such an event entailed a massive influx of population, which exceeded the then limits of the city without any regard for order or planning whatsoever. As a result, certain pockets of precariousness were forgotten and locked within new neighborhoods located "in areas of different use and category", which increased marginality in the addition to their isolation. This paper localizes and defines the "system of inner peripheries" of Lima that surrounds the historical downtown of the city and configures a network of unwanted residues that is paradoxically "consolidated" due to the access to basic services such as pavement and lighting. However, these neighborhoods are still "vulnerable" as the result of being focal points of crime, insecurity and inaccessibility. The study conducted by Kapstein and Aranda reveals a new reality and provides information that may "pull together current efforts in this matter" in the case of pursuing a strategy for urban regeneration.

Fernando Campos-Medina, in his paper entitled "The Geographic Scale of Exclusion in Santiago, Chile, a Territorial Analysis of Public Policies on Neighborhood Regeneration and Improvement of School Achievement", describes the "socio-spatial fragmentation within the metropolitan area of Santiago from a neighborhood scale". The author collates information collected from the analysis of territories where two public policies have been set up: on the one hand, there is the regeneration of neighborhoods which is intended to reverse the rapid urban degradation process and, on the other hand, there is the intervention in low performing schools, is intended to improve learning achievement. The hypothesis is that these two methods expose a "geography of exclusion" that in turn reveals both a structural condition within the metropolitan territory and repeated social practices that lead to relegation. Reasons for this include: a certain institutional incapacity to properly operate in a given territory and a problematic social situation that transcends the neighborhood level and covers large areas of exclusion that cannot be addressed by current public policies. This research concludes that "it is only to be expected that intervention on neighborhoods and schools identifies a potential of complementarity at diagnostic and intervention level".

The paper "Spontaneous Settlements, Tactics on the Borders of the City of Seville, Los Perdigones", written by Maria Prieto Peinado, exposes the case of an informal settlement located in the area around the site of the Seville Expo ’92. This paper proves that "by understanding the quality of spatial processes (…) certain key issues (can be set up) in settlements to reformulate both urban production and the act of inhabiting (by means of) devices adapted to any type of context". The focus of this study is the "changing environments" of the City system, which is where "uncontrolled transformations" take place. This contribution also conducts a comprehensive review of the ideas proposed by authors such as Lefebvre, De Certeau and Foucault with the aim of elaborating a screen on which to project the observations on the issues under study. Such an exercise regains the "benefits of plural coexistence, its itinerant nature and the benefits of obsolete values such as exchange or solidarity", which serves as a conclusive reflection that bears the questionable name of "the richness of poverty".

Carlos Jimenez Romera and Cristina Fernandez Ramirez are the co-authors of "Houses without People, People without Houses: the Failure of the Spanish Real Estate Model". This paper offers thorough and didactic research on the circumstances of what were diverse political, financial and social policies, which at one time were a model for successful development and which brought about the failure of the housing sector which has apparently reached its worst state. Evidence that serves to give an idea of the scale of such collapse states that "the debt situation of families in relation to gross disposable income rose from 58 percent in 1998 to 103 percent in 2005". The breakdown of the system, made evident by defaulting, affected promoters then the rest of real estate agents and finally families. The authors of this research point out and advise that "a speculative bubble is based on blind confidence in revaluation" which in this case, led to the contradictory situation of having a large housing stock available and an important number of families who want to purchase a home but are unable to do so due to the high cost of debt. The lesson is simple: "housing policies should always concentrate on their main purpose, which is to ensure the access to decent housing".

The paper "Housing Dynamics in Chillan, Chile (1906 – 2013)", authored by Claudia Paola Espinoza Lizama, presents the results of research on the "housing dynamics" of this city observed over a period of more than a hundred years. This study describes the historical, political, economic, physical-natural and demographic factors that effected the city and the different populations that have become established as the result of this process. The most significant fact that accounts for this process refers to the "urban sprawl" that covered 379 hectares in 1900 and 2,624 hectares in 2013, an increase in size by 5.9 times over 113 years. The analysis of the way different factors have an effect on the expansion of this city over such a period of time provides diverse information to reflect on the merit of the different forces involved in this process.

Jorge Larenas, Antonio Sahady, Marcelo Bravo, Carolina Quilodran and Xenia Fuster co-authored the paper entitled "The Waterwheels of Larmahue: An Expression of the Construction of Territory and Agricultural Landscape. Of all the papers offered in this issue, this addresses housing in the most indirect way. In my opinion, the relationship is suggested by the modification and impact generated by "waterwheels" on the landscape and the rural territory, the latter being the space of rural life and the area that concentrates the houses inhabited by the families of the farm workers. It is clear that the article is focused on those skillfully built devices which, once completed, offer a particular appearance that contrasts with the rural landscape. This is not precisely a study about rural housing; however, there is no doubt that "the need to achieve efficient irrigation of croplands" had an effect on the consolidation of the rural settlements that sought to improve the production of a given product. These waterwheels, located in the O’Higgins Region, were declared a Historical Monument in 1998. However, as is often the case in our country, they have received no maintenance, which has led to their inclusion in the List of World Heritage in Danger in 2002. These devices have contributed to the configuration of the rural cultural landscape of the region, which offers characteristics that cannot be found anywhere else in Chile.

Loïc Wacquant, Tom Slater and Virgilio Borges Pereira, in their research "Territorial Stigmatization in Action", refer to the relationship that is established among the physical, social and symbolic spaces within the context of everyday life and which affect those inhabitants belonging to "the lower-end of the urban spectrum". The phenomenon of territorial stigmatization addressed in this paper relates to the concept of "deteriorated identity", developed by Goffman, and the concept of "symbolic power", proposed by Bourdieu, in order to define "how the blemish of place impacts upon the residents of disparaged districts". "This spatial stigma is a new and distinctive phenomenon that emerged at the end of the last century along with the dissolution of the neighborhoods of relegation emblematic of the Fordist-Keynesian phase of industrial capitalism". The study conducted by these authors aims at understanding the role of symbolic structures in the production of inequality and marginality within the city, thereby suggesting "the need for public policies designed to reduce not only material deprivation, but also in decreasing the pressure for the symbolic domination of the metropolis".

These papers offer an overview of current problems and challenges related to housing within different development, culture and urban contexts. It could be thought that this makes these problems and challenges dissimilar and irreconcilable. However it is disquieting to observe that all the papers (with the exception of the contribution that addresses the waterwheels of Larmahue), share similar outlooks, based on a variety of their approaches, methodologies and topics about housing in different countries and cities. This coincidence gravitates towards a central matter of discussion related to the reality of the sector: inequality, vulnerability and exclusion that govern the lives of the inhabitants living in a given space. The responsibility of public policy and the economic model in which different realities unfold is also noticeable in the phenomenon studied.

Another peculiarity found in these papers is that, despite addressing housing issues, none of them is focused on architecture, design, urban development or construction. Rather, housing is addressed as a socio-spatial phenomenon that affects the lower sectors of the socio-economic scale in the cities of today, detached from the characteristics of constructed buildings. Is there any relationship between the space-material configuration of housing and the socio-spatial consequences absorbed by its inhabitants? Could it be possible that the architecture and urban development of housing contributes to impoverish those who are already poor, further excluding the excluded and make more vulnerable those who are already vulnerable? In this sense, is it possible that the material resources intended to solve the shortcomings of a social group do no more than consolidate conditions of poverty and inequality? Seen in this light, the problems described by the authors in their respective papers will keep recurring, changing only their ways of operation, meanwhile we do not end poverty.