Public Space as a Catalyst for Change in Informal Settlements: The Case of Argentina

How may we design transformative systems, tools, and frameworks to breach the gap between the formal and informal city through public space?

Shockingly, nearly 1 billion people (a quarter of those currently living in urban areas) reside in informal settlements that fail to meet their fundamental needs. In this context, it is urgent for designers and planners to explore understudied topics beyond dwelling and infrastructure, such as public space, which may challenge the existing notions of informality. Interventions in communal areas are often downplayed, but they may be
central in striving for equity and urban integration.

As a multidimensional aspect, public space is highly relevant when meeting the population’s needs, creating an equitable built environment, assessing decision-making processes, and enhancing community networks. Nonetheless, its significance and relevance in informal settlements is yet to be fully explored. For this course,public space interventions in the latter context are open-ended opportunities to compensate for individual shortages in the built environment by exploring frameworks for cross-scalar action, collective agency, emotional and cognitive development, environmental awareness, and other topics related both to individual and community welfare. It is a tangible realm to strive for equity and inclusion, one that is loosely defined nowadays when referring to informal settlements and that could be an entrypoint for planners and designers to imagine new systems of integration in the short, medium, and long-term. Therefore, the final outcome of the course will be for students to produce a methodological, policy, or design proposal, creating distinct toolsets to address the prior challenge.

The course will study Argentinian informal settlements, as it is part of a broader research effort led by the Inter-American Development Bank and Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design. Through readings, case studies, guest lectures, class presentations, and intervention proposals, students will be urged to engage with topics that are crucial for Argentina’s public spaces in informal settlements, such as the understanding of urban design patterns and the study of landscape, environmental, and social infrastructure. Results will be part of a publication planned for 2020, intended as a tool to complement local actions in the near future.