Review Paper: Barriadas and Divergent Urban Forces

by Michael Anranter.

Lima concentrates more than 50% of its nation states economic output. As other cities around the globe the demographic changes are huge; Lima grows fast, formally and informally. As the state does not intervene much into Lima’s troubles and difficulties the city is dominated by two separated class-like societies: the financial elite and the urban poor. I’m not talking about urban elite because of the weaker relations toward local spaces because of the mobility.

In his paper Fernandez-Maldonado analyzes carefully analyzes “integrative and disintegrative forces in the use and production of the urban space”. (Fernandèz-Maldonado, 2006 :1)

In the 1940’s Peru, and also most of the other South-American states had to face a huge population influx from rural areas. Due to excess of population it was almost impossible to newcomers to regularly settle down by the acquirement of land. So people occupied land, arranged their first informal settlements and broke up the formal patterns of the city.

“Barriadas constitute an informal way of urban development, in which the population settles in the land before it has been developed. The development of the neighborhoods becomes then a collective enterprise. After settling in the land, the residents organize in territorial and functional organizations, addressing local concerns and demanding the solution of their basic needs from the government”.  (Fernandèz-Maldonado, 2006 :2)

It’s astonishing, that while most of us would consider Barriadas as slums, in 1967 John Turner described them as an expression of futuristic effort and optimism. However in 1989 political activity within the Barriadas peaked: Bombings and assaults but also technical and economical bottlenecks determined the daily life experiences of both: urban poor and economic elite.

When order was restored successfully in 1992 foreign real-investment groups introduces capital into the market, the average economic growth rate reached 14,4%. As most of the investments happened intentionally rather than carefully controlled by the city government, very much decentralized urban structure had been produced.

“As a result of the new laws and regulations, metropolitan planning was virtually abandoned in Lima. It became a matter of diagnoses and plans, but without real effects, programs or projects for the whole city”. (see Chaldèron, 2005 in: Fernandèz-Maldonado, 2006 :5) It’s interesting that many former colonial cities accepted policies which denied the city government to access the local market, because of a lack of competences and money.  Within this environment a.e. “cabinas de internet” became an important informal meeting point for the people which live within the Barriadas by combining different services. Those, let’s call them moments of interference, might be used to analyze how a cities welfare system, the communication infrastructure and many other regular duties of a western-European city develop with two different speeds depending on people’s societal belonging.

While the author researches different conflict lines I’d like to concentrate on the spatial divide. While international investors still dominate the real estate market the urban poor continue to develop their own informal housing. Whereas the high-income sector lies in the city center, the urban poor had been divided also spatially by being marginalized at the city’s outskirts. The growing influence of the informal housing sector is what makes Lima so different from the other cities in Latin America. This can be integrative, as well as disintegrative.Barriadas - Lima, Foto by Santi Llobet

Barriadas in Lima, Peru – Foto von Santi Llobet

“Informal housing, informal economy (production and commerce) and informal welfare institutions have been the traditional trends. Informal public transportation and informal digital connectivity have been added in the 1990s. Providing these services to the poor sectors, these informal processes should be considered as forces towards urban integration. The services may be of low quality but they improve the quality of life and the right to transport and communication of residents of peripheral areas”. (Fernandèz-Maldonado, 2006 :9) Of course not all Barriadas are uniformly poor, actually in some of them emerged a new urban middle-class. Especially the northern suburbs do more and more adapt consumerist lifestyle, something very important if talking about today’s integrative forces within societies.

Lima shows both integrative, as well as disintegrative forces. But: the aspect what makes it such important to write on Lima is the absence of a well-organized city government. It’s true, there are some more metropolis, melting-pots for millions, where the local authorities totally lose control and the informal sector is not just considered to organize daily life but they also bring up integrative trends. An aspect which hasn’t been discussed so much in the urban studies so far and therefor a brilliant paper by Fernandèz-Maldonado.


Fernandèz,-Maldonado, Ana M. (2006): „Barriadas and elite in Lima, Peru: Recent trends of urban integration and disintegration“, in: Recent Trends of Urban Dis/Integration in Lima, 42nd ISoCaRP Congress, 2006.


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