Right now in Venezuela there isn’t any official upgrading policy, and the living conditions in our informal neighborhoods are worse than ever. This is maybe the reason because there are so many independent initiatives, funded by privates and proposing different approaches and strategies. For the newest one, “Ccscity450 Comunidades”, I am invited as jury, and was asked to give a short talk for the participants. As there is a competition, I thought that better than talking about a specific formula, it could be more useful for the participants a catalogue, a list of the possible strategies. So I went to find examples of different approaches.

Organizing them, I realized all have sort of the same components. But these components are combined in completely different weights or “dosages”.

The components I identified are the following:

The list is not random. Reading top-down up-down there are the strategies favored by communities. Backwards, the ones more attractive for professionals. Of course, everybody cares for everything, and participative processes are everybody’s favorites. But real participation can delay the projects, and the negotiation needed is tough, so is easy to simplify it, and even “fake” it. Sewage, as example of technique, is fundamental, but not very photogenic. Tactic urbanism and urban art are great for mobilization and make gorgeous and moving pictures, but generally have little impact in the daily life, once the event is over.

How the components combine? Let’s look into some projects in Caracas. Each one has a particular dosage corresponding with its goals:

“Sembrando Ciudad”, a nationwide program that aims to solve physical problems and to modify behaviors improving coexistence, is based in participation and education, with minimal and basic built actions, and almost no design or art. The specific project showed here, for improvements in the garbage recollection, includes activities in schools and cleaning and painting the trash containers.

Two projects of the “Programa Nacional de Habilitacion Fisica de Barrios” (National Program for upgrading the informal sectors), are examples of the emphasis in technique and design. As the program aspired to integrate the informal sectors with the rest of the city, and to level the urban services, naturally those components were important. Within the same framework, some projects simply solved technical issues, whereas others were more ambitious regarding design and art.

“Espacios de Paz” (Peace Spaces), took the emphasis in design and art even further. And that was expectable, because its promoters aspired to show the potential of architecture for social change. Here, the participation, education and technique are weak but the built results are much more attractive.

“Integracion en Proceso” (Integration in process) proposal is even more extreme. Without any built component, the actions are meaningful and symbolic, showcasing the existing traditions and also proposing events that are maybe common in the rest of the city but new inside an informal settlement.

I’m excited. I believe maybe I’ve found a tool for evaluating and comparing different approaches. And probably it applies to other contexts, even if the particular Venezuelan circumstances make the components obvious.

 Looking at the examples all together, it seems that we are moving towards a much more intangible approaches, the oldest emphasizing built components, the newest based in art and education. Is the same happening elsewhere?

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