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Sustainability and Informal Urbanization I: Land and Property Rights

Type: Paper
Sponsor Groups: Human Dimensions of Global Change Specialty Group, Urban Geography Specialty Group, Cultural and Political Ecology Specialty Group
Poster #:
Day: 4/6/2020
Start / End Time: 11:10 AM / 1:15 PM (MDT)
Room: Virtual Track 2
Organizers: Beth Tellman, Bertha Hernandez Aguilar
Chairs: Beth Tellman


Organizers: Beth Tellman (Columbia University), Bertha Hernandez (National Autonomous University of Mexico)

Sponsored by: Human Dimensions of Global Change, Urban Geography, Cultural and Political Ecology

Over 90% of urban growth takes place in the Global South. A large portion of new urban residents move to informal, unplanned settlements where inhabitants have little to no tenure security, may lack basic services, and construct homes in areas disproportionately vulnerable to environmental hazards. Understanding why informal urban settlements exist, how they persist, and equity of urban and environmental services for these populations is essential to research and practice attempting to understand urban land systems and enhance urban sustainability. Informal urbanization drives land change in many cities, often on land that provides ecosystem services critical to urban sustainability, such as water infiltration, flood retention, and microclimate regulation. To be effective, governance of these ecosystem services must grapple with the informal character of urbanization in the world’s fastest growing cities (Nagendra et al., 2018). Urban sustainability relies on the ability to analyze the patterns and consequences of this growth, and to reshape institutions to improve social environmental outcomes. Urban sustainability is fraught with the tension to create conditions for a new model of urbanization that responds to the challenges of our era while facing a constant struggle against unsustainable forms of city growth through precarious housing in prohibited areas. The governance challenge informal settlements represent may require a new approach or new urban agenda (UN Habitat, 2016).

Informal urban growth, or urban informality, is often characterized by urban planners and government authorities as chaotic and ungovernable (Lerner et al., 2018; Roy, 2005). Urban informality has been explained as a product of under-resourced governments unable to absorb the overwhelming rural-urban migration of impoverished populations unable to afford formal housing in a neoliberal era (Márquez López and Pradilla Cobos, 2016; Pradilla, 1995; Schteingart, 1989; Van Gelder, 2013). Others argue informality flourishes because the process to obtain permits to urbanize legally is too slow and bureaucratic (De Soto, 2000), informing strategies to eliminate informality via rapid titling programs in cities with mixed success (Gilbert, 2002; Jaramillo, 2009). Informal urban expansion can be shaped by actors with political and economic incentives to capture votes by providing services such as electricity and water (de Alba and Hernández Gamboa, 2014), ensuring slums are not evicted (Holland, 2016), promising to provide land titles (Connolly and Wigle, 2017; Varley, 1998) and other such strategies. Making these often overlooked social, political and economic dynamics more transparent is critical to the success of urban resilience efforts (Eakin et al., 2017). At the same time, informal urban settlements are sites of resistance, experimentation, and transformation of social environmental systems. Highlighting these lessons of sustainability success are essential to overcoming obstacles to urban sustainability and equity.

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Type Details Minutes Start Time
Presenter Beth Tellman*, Columbia University, Meha Jain, University of Michigan, Dylan Connor, Arizona State University, Hallie Eakin, Arizona State University, Felipe de Alba, CESOP, Centro de Estudios Sociales y Opinion Publica, Marco Janssen, Arizona State University, The Role of Institutional Entrepreneurs, Electoral Politics, and Clientelism in Informal Titling and Urban Expansion in Mexico City 15 11:10 AM
Presenter Chantal Rietdijk*, National Taiwan Normal University, The hybrid urban geography of Indonesian cities 15 11:25 AM
Presenter Candice Carr Kelman*, Arizona State University, Squatters, endangered species and a new capital city for Indonesia? The case of Kutai National Park in the 21st century 15 11:40 AM
Presenter Hannah Friedrich*, Oregon State University, Jamon Van Den Hoek, Oregon State University, Breaking Ground: Automating the Detection of Refugee Settlement Establishment and Growth through Landsat and PlanetScope Time Series Analysis with a Case Study in Northern Uganda 15 11:55 AM
Presenter Ian Maclachlan, Peking University, Jiuju Huang*, Peking University, Jiawen Yang, Peking University, Governance Challenges in Urban Redevelopment in Shenzhen: Property Rights and Contractual Relationship in Baishizhou 15 12:10 PM
Presenter Dean Chahim*, Stanford University, Exceptional Routines: Materiality, Rationalization, and the Challenge of Public Oversight in Mexico City’s Flood Control System 15 12:25 PM
Discussant Bertha Hernandez Aguilar Universidad Nacional Autonoma De Mexico 15 12:40 PM
Discussant Beth Tellman Columbia University 15 12:55 PM

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