Landscape Strategies for Low-Income Settlements

There are now approximately one billion people living in non-formal squatter communities world-wide; these settlements vary dramatically in size, character, and level of political and social organization. They are found both in rural and urban areas, although they are increasingly associated with the world\’s largest \”megacities,\” especially in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. The course would examine the ways that contemporary designers are attempting to upgrade these settlements without destroying their social fabric, saving what they can of their physical structure while alleviating environmental and social problems ranging from housing to unemployment and unsanitary conditions. The course would use landscape as the particular point of entry into the study of these settlements: their occupation of marginal lands in flood plains or on steep slopes; their separation from urban landscape infrastructure, be it roads, transportation, sewers, water supply, or storm water management; their severe environmental problems; and their lack of public space or recreation facilities. We would also examine these urban settlements through the lens of the communities their residents left behind: there are those who think non-formal urban settlements represent a \”ruralization\” of the metropolis. We would also look beyond basic housing upgrades to speculate on the way that landscape might provide a key to both physical improvement and to economic development for these squatter settlements.The course would be run as a seminar and practicum. Readings and discussions would center on the growing literature – both journalistic and theoretical – on squatter settlements. Course work would be supplemented by student research projects; each of the students might get involved with a not-for-profit organization such as Sustainable South Bronx, the urban lands program at the Trust for Public Land, or any one of a number of similar organizations in Boston, to understand how they work and to explore design opportunities in a low-income context.