Bogotá, Colombia

by Nicolás Rueda-García


As in most cities around the world that host slums areas, the slums of Bogotá are largely the result of rapid population increase without the housing and services provision that such growth demands. During the past few decades, Bogotá has seen sustained, rapid demographic growth through waves of rural-to-urban migration in the wake of general impoverishment and violence. The Bogotá urban perimeter expanded rapidly through illegal subdivisions, occupation and the development of marginal areas by immigrants. Bogotá’s inner-city slums, on the other hand, are mostly the result of urban transformation processes, whereby certain downtown areas underwent progressive social and physical deterioration and, increasingly, accommodated lowerhierarchy social strata and economic activities.

Slums are defined as spontaneous settlements on the city margins that started to show up during the first years of the accelerated urbanization process, and that were manifested as groups of shacks or provisional housing; as resident communities in precarious housing conditions; and as urban settlements in which the terrain’s occupation and its development are conducted without any plan and without the corresponding permits and licences that are officially

The slums of Bogotá can be classified as the outcome of:

unplanned and informal urbanization through subdivisions in peripheral and marginal areas, largely characterized by an initial lack of physical and social infrastructure, but which are often – within a few years – improved by the city administration or through self-help (or combinations thereof);

squatter settlements with generally more dire physical and social circumstances (although this category historically has had a relatively low importance);

inner-city urban deterioration zones that came about through the progressive move of 19th-century industrial, military and other functions adjacent to the traditional urban centre to more appropriate locations, and the social, economic and physical deterioration that followed in the wake of this urban abandonment.

Although the latter concerns a relatively small proportion of the urban area, these zones stand out by their strategic location and the gravity of their social conditions. They are primarily associated with crowded and dilapidated tenement houses, commercial room-renting in marginal housing and critical social situations of poverty, drugs and delinquency.

The tenure type in the slums is closely related to geographical location and type of housing. The inner-city slums are, typically, rental housing of dilapidated tenement blocks, whereas the squatter settlements and ‘pirate neighbourhoods’ of the peri-urban areas are owneroccupied. The latter tend to have a more transient nature in the sense that four decades of experience with this type of illegal urban expansion means that the very deficient conditions are often only the phenomena of the first few years. After this, gradual self-help and community improvements bring them to higher standards in terms of infrastructure and housing quality.

With an upward trend in the share of the population living below the poverty line – 19.4 per cent of the total population in 1994 and 23.0 per cent in 2000 – combined with a steady increase in urbanization and an increase of the population of Bogotá, it is expected that the proliferation of new slums will continue well into the future.

There is no clear information about social and urban homogeneity in the slum areas. There are, however, indications that –the pronounced urban isolation in which the slum dwellers live – the difficulty of access to physical and social infrastructure and the high levels of violence, compared to other areas of the city, generate patterns of depressed urban areas where the inhabitants, despite their great heterogeneity, look for common interests originating from their unsatisfied basic needs. Where underlying social structures get stronger, there is a degree of empowerment that increases their ability to act and react. The non-slum dwellers would appear to view the impoverished urban groups as undesirables, expressed in the specific terms applied to describe them – desechable (disposable), gamin (street boy), vagabundo (tramp), populacho (commoner) – that are highly associated with delinquency, unproductiveness and uselessness.

During the past few years, remarkably effective actions involving urban regeneration and recuperation have been conducted in the central areas. New legal instruments and tools paved the way for reforms and political transformations at the local level and improved the quality of life for many population segments. In 2001 alone, urban improvement policies for Bogotá, including administrative reforms for greater efficiency and corruption reduction, have permitted the implementation of social policies with tangible successes in the areas of social housing, transportation, education and public participation.

With a dire need to address a growing housing deficit that currently stands at more than 500,000 units, and to stop the process of informal urbanization in the peri-urban areas, Bogotá has a daunting task before it. The combination of a growing political basis for real involvement of the affected communities and improved knowledge of the social problems of communities in the peri-urban areas will, perhaps, provide the all-important lessons for improving the living conditions in the slums, and may reflect the substantial change in political will and in the management of poverty within Bogatá.

This summary has been extracted from:

UN-Habitat (2003) Global Report on Human Settlements 2003, The Challenge of Slums, Earthscan, London; Part IV: 'Summary of City Case Studies', pp195-228.
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2003 Development Planning Unit | Anna Soave | Khanh Tran-Thanh