I am reading a really interesting book by Gordon Douglas: “The Help-Yourself City: Legitimacy and Inequality in DIY Urbanism .“ I have not finished yet, but it develops a very interesting premise. I copy here the abstract presenting the book:
When cash-strapped local governments fail to provide adequate services, and planning policies prioritize economic development over community needs, how do concerned citizens respond? In “The Help-Yourself City,” Gordon Douglas looks closely at the people who take urban planning into their own hands, dubbed “do-it-yourself urban design.” Through in-depth interviews with do-it-yourselfers, professional planners, and community members, as well as participant observation, photography, media, and policy analysis, Douglas demonstrates that many do-it-yourselfers employ professional techniques and expertise to enable and inspire their actions. He argues that many unauthorized interventions are created from a position of privilege, where legal repercussions are unlikely, while people from disadvantaged communities where improvements may be most needed face disincentives to taking such actions themselves. Presenting a needed social analysis of this growing trend, while connecting it to debates on inequality, citizenship, and contemporary urban political economy, “The Help-Yourself City” tells a street-level story of people’s relationships to their surroundings and the individualization of democratic responsibility.
The sentence in bold is mine, and is the idea I found more suggesting. If the urban actions are undertaking by the urban poor, we refer to them as “informal” “slum” of “favela”. But similar actions assumed by other citizens, are described as “tactic urbanism”, “guerrilla urbanism” or “diyurbanism”. I get that probably the actions are similar but not the same. In the first case there are completely new zones within or near the city, in the second small improvements in an already consolidated and formal area. But the essence of the actions is the same: people trying to solve their problems without the support of the authorities, and sometimes even breaking the laws. Why then they should be address differently?
In Caracas we have almost half of inhabitants living in informal settlements, but our barrios are not the only informal kind of urbanism in the city. There are extensive zones, formaly declare as forest reserves that are being develop informally by the affluent. The pictures below show this reality: both houses are illegal, both are informal. But one is considered a nice “quinta”, the others are “ranchos”.
I’ll finish the book, but it seems that we are witness of a change in the roles of urban actors. For now on it could be difficult to separate “legal” from “illegal”. Are the new trends going to change the lives of millions slum inhabitants giving them the desired right to stay put, a new legitimacy?