The Permanence of Socio-Economically Marginal Structures Within Urban Space: The Example of Bogotá
The subject of this paper is an analysis of marginal spatial development processes taking place in Bogotá, one of the largest cities in the Southern Hemisphere. Bogotá, the capital of Colombia, situated on a high plateau (Sabana de Bogotá) at over 2,500 metres above sea-level, has currently approximately 8 million inhabitants. In Bogotá, as in any major South American city, we find the characteristic, highly pronounced diversification of urban space in terms of quality, urban landscape features, and living conditions. Marginal areas in Bogotá, characterised by a low quality of urban space, can be divided into two types, their origin and attributes linked to the general social processes that have taken place here in the 20th century. They are distinguished as follows: (a) marginal districts on the outskirts of the city, resulting from a period of dynamic and unplanned urbanisation, from the 1970s until now; and (b) marginal districts in the centre of the city. This article aims to show the mechanisms that contribute to the formation of and changes in these two types of urban space.
Following stormy debate regarding the role of globalisation and global space in development, geographical analyses are now tending to return to matters of place, and its role in people’s lives. Given that Latin America’s cities were founded by Europeans, one might expect them to be characterised by processes and phenomena similar to European experiences and general processes of globalisation today. In fact, however, specific socio-cultural features arising from both the colonial and pre-colonial past of this region, political factors (especially that reflecting the presence of powerful elites descended from the Spanish) and economic features (interest in the region’s resources being displayed by foreign investors) have all conspired to ensure that Latin America is characterised by a development trajectory distinct from those in other regions, as well as by contemporary structures in urbanised areas being shaped by diverse political and economic forces, mechanisms ever-present in the region’s culture and politics deriving from social stratification, strong regionalisms, and diversified economic potential and global relationships.
The form assumed contemporarily by spatial organization in South and Central America as a network of nodes and spatial linkages represents the outcome for the space of this region of long-acting external influences plus internal conditions that have – at different times in different ways – shaped spatial relationships and the manner in which space in this part of the world is planned. Naturally, the spatial structure of today’s economy is influenced further by globalization, with growing competition for access to resources, be these either mineral deposits or agricultural in nature. These impacts ensure that, notwithstanding the widely-voiced opinion on the need to protect nature in areas of the continent supporting moist tropical forests, and in the high Andes, the governments of the different countries continue to award concessions allowing corporations of global reach to exploit resources of value that are in demand worldwide. This aggressive “resources race” has its serious consequences with regard to the forms and scope the region’s spatial management and organization assume.
These processes ought to be regulated by spatial planning, which is thus failing to play its proper role at regional levels. Those researching South America refer without hesitation to the lack of planning and overexploitation of raw materials, with all the serious consequences this has for society, not least with regard to internal migration, expulsions, the impoverishment of groups in society deprived of their land, and so on.
Where abrupt and dangerous natural phenomena unfold in highly populated areas, they destroy buildings and infrastructure and, above all, cause death and injury among local inhabitants. In the case of the active Ecuadorean volcano Cotopaxi, eruptions have already posed considerable threats to nearby towns and cities due to activated mudslides (lahars) that flow rapidly down its slopes. Interviews conducted with inhabitants of vulnerable residential areas of the town of Latacunga have led the authors to conclude that – in danger zones associated with possible mudslides – the lack of building land, inappropriate management of the allocation of building plots and still-inadequate early warning and monitoring systems have favoured the chaotic spread of built-up areas and thus pose a threat to the lives of inhabitants should Cotopaxi erupt again.
Empirical research into social vulnerability – and into strategies that allow people to persist or secure their existence – has most often concerned itself with peripheral, poorly-developed regions with a long history of shortages; frequently even ones in which a failure to solve socio-political problems over decades or even centuries, manifests itself in a permanent crisis. One such region is north–western Peru, presented in this article by the authors who have proceeded on the assumption that the socioeconomic development of the country’s mountainous areas (including Frías, the district selected for study) not only reflects a peripheral location as regards central areas of Peru and the department of Piura, but is also an outcome of the workings of political and environmental factors that do not help sustain (or in many cases even obstruct) processes of development.
The livelihood approach aims at the analysis, understanding and restrictions that the poorest people have to face in order to recover from difficult situations. The Department for International Development model is applied to an urban zone with the purpose of making an assessment of the livelihood of the district ’la Comuna 1’ in Medellin, Colombia, which has been recognised as the poorest and one of the most dangerous districts of the city. The case study presents both a quantitative analysis (macro) and qualitative (micro) analysis, as a mixed method that allows a more complete analysis and understanding of livelihood, and providing a deeper understanding of the district from the livelihood approach. The results indicate a stable growth of livelihood during the period of analysis.