[1] The idea of rethinking a “new” urban theory from Latin American squatter settlements began during the development of two research projects: From Territories to Elsewhere: Delocalizing the Idea of the Border, and Futuristic Traditions: Rethinking “Hybrid” Identities on the Southern Side of the US-Mexican Border; the research results revealed that of all the characteristics that define “the city”, the primary characteristic is the force generated by the stimulus of urban agglomeration which led us to consider a different hypothesis about the origin of urban settlements and from there to continue the sequence of human evolution: proto-urban / urban-rural / urban-urban / neo proto-urban; thus, squatter settlements could be the proto-cities of the current urban era, and each such settlement represents a deconstructed idea of a border, signifying the “outside” area. “Border settlements” are the linking elements between megacities and secondary cities, and should be studied as zones where hyper-hybridity uses spatial traditions to shape identities and urban settlements. The patriarchal tradition has multiple ramifications that determine the organization of a border’s urban space. Only by using post-maps (spatial networks) is it possible to track spatial traditions.

The consequences of global urbanization have been approached from many disciplines; however, conventional urban theories rarely consider the simultaneity of socio-spatial aspects. As quantitative processes, they prioritize the number of inhabitants to determine national and global levels of urbanization and types of settlements; from this perspective, the evolution of urban theory is diminished, as is its practical application: facing the challenges of the current urban agenda. Integration projects for squatter settlements have been considered for the inside city: “superblocks”; serial housing; habitat production by participation processes; public spaces; and architectural artifact as public space. Regardless of the efforts of spatial professionals, the “border settlements” are built parallel to the “formal planned areas”; hence, concepts like sustainability, the right to the city, and urban rights have become complex ideas to challenge any urban future. On the other hand, urban theory has been based on empirical approaches prioritizing “the city” as the central idea of urbanization. Contemporary metropolises or agglomeration areas require flexible and complex systems of tools of thinking/action that have a holistic spatial theory as their starting point.


Neil Brenner (2014) explains that most of the studies on urban issues done during the 20th century have a common unit of analysis called “the city”. This ideology has influence two types of urban approaches: 1) the documentation of city typologies and 2) the use of a flexible term to define the form of the metropolis (industrial, Fordist, Post-Fordist, among others). The result of these urban researches is to set a sharp difference among urban /non-urban, inside/outside, city/non-city. From a contextualization of Henri Lefebvre’s hypothesis (implosions/explosions), Brenner pointed out the fundamental bases on which to build a new urban theory without an outside. In order to create strategies to win the battle against the hegemonic power of the economic market, the global ecological disaster, and the “neo-Haussmannization” lure, a new urban theory would only be possible if it includes concepts like democracy, justice, and the “common good” on a planetary scale.


Contemporary borders constitute the peripheral fabric of neo-modern Latin American cities; they are the “outside” being “inside”, as a result of emergency planning, documentation is uncommon. Thus, maps of borders should be considered with multiple layers; as dynamic, flexible, and simultaneous. Border settlements are, actually, the result of a territorialization/de-territorialization system of cultural and spatial traditions. Hence, squatter settlements could represent Latin American “off-modern”. The re-territoralization of this neo-modern geography implies a critical analysis of border/urban dynamics as well as professional and political actions toward inside/outside/inside. In other words, it is necessary to create a new urban theory from “the outside urban areas”, in order to cancel the “inside zones” (the city as unit of analysis). Based on the above, I propose the theoretical concept of “Off-planning”[2] as the initial step in the long-term process of building another kind of engagement with urban reality. Only from the “Off-planning” will it be possible to create new urban strategies to face the planetary urbanization phenomenon.




Photos by Diana Maldonado


[1] Diana Maldonado, LATIN AMERICAN CONTEMPORARY BORDERS: RE-TERRITORIALIZING URBAN THEORY, (research in progress) (2016-2017).

[2] << At the beginning of the 21st century, Svetlana Boym (2001) proposed the term “Off-Modern” in order to open critical exploration of the Modern, including the “modern of what if”. According to Boym, the prefix “off” confuses the sense of direction in order to reveal the edges of modern logic; this strategy permits us to leave the hegemony of historical discourses of the 20th century>>.

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