Green Infrastructure in the Non-formal City

There are now approximately one billion people living in squatter communities worldwide, a number expected to double by 2030. Between 60 and 90 percent of urban growth takes place in slums. Every day over 150,000 people leave the countryside and the majority pours into non-formal and extra-legal settlements. These non-formal cities are neither temporary nor small. They comprise agglomerations of thousands of people and are here to stay. Non-formal cities occupy marginal lands in flood plains or on steep slopes; they are typically separated from urban landscape infrastructure, be it roads, transportation, sewers, water supply, or storm water systems; they have severe environmental, public health, and security problems; and they lack public space for economic, cultural, or recreational activities. Given that over one third of the urban world population lives in slums, why is it that only a small fraction of the design profession works on their improvement?One of the many reasons is the disassociation of civil engineering and design. The upgrade of non-formal cities with basic services is typically viewed as the highest priority performed by civil engineers not designers. They oversee the installation of urban infrastructure like potable water, sewage lines, transportation, electricity, erosion and drainage control. In the face of the severe lack of infrastructure, good design is viewed as secondary. Often enough urban and landscape design is cosmetically laid over traditional engineering solutions leading to mono-functional solutions like rivers captured in deep concrete channels or erosionary slopes sealed with shotgun concrete.The seminar seeks to explore a deep integration of civil engineering and design in non-formal cities in three stages. In the first stage we will critically examine the foremost examples of slum upgrading projects displayed in the exhibition \”Dirty Work: Transforming Landscape in the Non-formal City of the Americas.\” Curated by John Beardsley and myself, the show exhibits twelve projects in seven cities in Latin America. Throughout the semester designers of the projects will be in class for presentations and discussions.In the second stage we will study alternative technologies regarding energy, water, waste, erosion control and transportation in built examples of sustainable urbanism worldwide. The focus will be to understand the emerging opportunities of modern sustainable infrastructure for the design of public urban space.The third phase is characterized by playful adaptation. We will transfer green infrastructure principles to a real case of a slum with a population of 70,000 called \”City of Heaven\” in Sao Paulo. Based on the actual conditions students will develop sketch proposals for select infrastructure upgrades.The results of the seminar will be publicized in a newly created website made accessible to the actual planning agencies of \”City of Heaven\” in Sao Paulo.