Location of Social Housing; metrocable and the PUI in the Comuna 13

As a quick post I want to illustrate the conditions and buildings used for public housing in Medellin. The area that I am focusing in is Aurora (public housing by various enterprises, such as Comfama and Confenalco) and Pajarito (public housing by the municipality; this is the area the government mostly uses for relocation).
Aurora and Pajarito are accessible by metrocable (San Cristobal)- the ride up the mountain approximately 20 minutes.
There are various building complexes- the one I saw was called:
The apartments range from 30 sqm to 60 sqm and from 2 to 3 bedrooms. The photographs show one of the apartments that I was able to visit.

Only 5 stories are allowed to be contructed without an elevator in Colombia. As such, the steep landscale is taken advantage of, and with the use of bridges, buildings ranging from 5 to 13 stories or more are constructed.

Notice how thin the structural walls are (I am assuming they are structural because I did not see any columns nor beams around). The thinness is not only a little alrming on physical level, but they do not isolate the sound at all and as such, neglect any type of privacy for the inhabitants. The apartments are given to the its pwners, at a very raw state, with a couple of outlets and a small gas connection next to the main entrance. Also, there is apparently no thoughts being placed on the "views" since the buildings are located one in front of the other...

Diagram: Plan of a 2 bedroom apt-32 sqm

When I visited, I went up by metrocable and came down by foot- a very different experience. There are various differences between the “formal” city and an informal settlement.
[But before I begin to get into more detail I think that it is important to note is the falsity of the “dual city discourse”. The “dual city” may be applicable in a temporary basis, but in general, informal settlements are fast growing and ever evolving. As some of the other posts show, houses that once began as shacks made out of wood, plastic and tin, 10 to 20 years later (sometimes eve sooner) are made out of concrete, brick and glass… they go from 1 story to 4, from housing 1 family to housing 4, from not having any basic services to having their own sewage, water and electricity supply- perhaps to up to code nor completely legal, but my point is that many of the favelas evolve and in the future, become formal neighborhoods. The process may be slow but it does happen.]
In general, I think the narrowness of the streets, the lack of pedestrian walkways (sidewalks), the ever changing facades and houses (which I felt was more dynamic in these areas), and particularly in the case of Medellin ( as I am sure is the case in Rio and other cities as well), the steepness of the streets. Walking the area, there were certain paths that were close to a 90-degree uphill!! These are areas that are very difficult- walking was tough (specially if one has a physical incapacity), driving is problematic, and most importantly the construction can be extremely precarious and dangerous (if done superficially without any deep foundations)- any small landslide or earthquake (which are know to happen in the are) would be disastrous to many of these homes.

Acending on the metrocalbe (closer to the metro station, we see more interventions of public space- the last photograph shows a condition of an untouched area further up the mountain).

Some quick sections along the street and pedestrian paths

I also want to note that it is incredible how much coverage EPM (Public Services Office) has in some of these areas. You see electricity meters in almost every house! Nevertheless, when looking closely, you notice that half of them are disconnected. And so the recurring question, when does any strategy to formalize become too formal? Something that I am beginning to truly reconfirm is that strategies in informal settlements need to be “productive” and self-sustaining (in terms of providing employment, and certain services for the community that potentially pay for themselves). Public space is one of the most important and visible components that lack in the areas, infrastructure (for mobility, basic services, etc) are also key- but other non-physical aspects such as representation, education, employment, etc., should be integrated into a physical intervention. In addition, the need for dignified and adequate housing cannot be neglected (even if these areas progress through time)…

On an opposite note, I did notice that every space is taken advantage of and has some versatility attached to it. For example, the roof of one house is a terrace for another or a semi-public space to hang laundry, etc.

One thought on “Social Housing (Aurora+Pajarito) and the “Informal City”

  1. Pingback: [re]visiting low-income housing :: BUILDING LOCAL WORKSHOP [JUNE 2012] «

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