Social Mobility and Inclusion – Can architectural and urban interventions help improve it?

I’ve recently started following this blog called {FAVEL issues}. They publish fascinating critical pieces about informality and informal lives. Here is new piece about architectural and urban interventions to address informality. While I don’t necessarily agree with everything this post says, I did find it interesting. Janice Perlman’s 25 minute lecture at the end is a must see for anyone interested in informality.

{FAVEL issues}


Poverty and exclusion are two of the major issues that politicians – but more importantly in the context of this blog, architects, planners, and urban designers (or students of such professions) often refer to when they present projects of “improvement” or of spatial articulation between informal settlements and the formal city. Often, their final objective is to generate positive inclusion social mobility – that is, the movement of individuals or groups up (or down) from their current socio-economic level. And so, the question is: can architecture or design truly improve social mobility?

Janice Perlman, one of the few researchers that has continuously investigated life in favelas for more than forty years, published her latest book “Favela: Four decades of Living in the Edge in Rio de Janeiro” in 2010.[i] Last week, I had the opportunity to attend her presentation at the Inter-American Development Bank in Washington, DC, and…

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Participation and the “han ji syndrome”- What antidotes to genuinely strengthen the voice of the urban poor

“……we argued that opening participatory arenas is not sufficient to empower the most marginalized citizens. The urban poor often reveal to be uncomfortable, helpless if not apathetic when invited to participate in the public sphere. To put it very bluntly, organizing meetings and joyfully cheering citizens to “Speak up! Speak up!” does not appear as the most relevant strategy to make them “speak”.”

This quarter in my TA class as well as in the courses I’ve been taking, participatory planning and indeed the power of participation has been the topic of hot debate. This two part blog post should be read by anyone interested in participatory planning or research because it really brings to the fore and questions assumptions that we are want to make as planners and researchers. To me it also clarifies the fact that depending on the context, one has to be really cognisant of where the community it in terms of active participation. In the Global North and in a many places in the Global South, groups are very aware of their latent power, and actively participate  to further their ‘interests’, but there are still those that do not recognise or dismiss it. The strategies of how we address and work with these two types of groups are very different. Both require us to let go of some very intrinsic understandings of our roles as researchers.