by Diego Carrión,
with the collaboration of Nury Bermúdez
Between 1950 and 2001, Quito grew from 200,000 to 1.4 million inhabitants
and evolved from a centrally oriented city to an urban agglomeration
through the incorporation of minor urban centres and the peripheral
area. The urban structure has been conditioned by the scarcity of
flat land, topographic irregularities of the surrounding mountain
system and the numerous east–west slopes.
The phenomenon of popular neighbourhoods in Quito is relatively
recent. It started during the mid 1970s as a result of massive migration
to Quito. Low-income populations seeking housing settled on the
peripheral areas of the city, in deteriorated houses in the historical
centre, and also in houses located in nearby towns. This process
has consolidated during the last decade. Recent settlements located
in areas of irregular topography, in the northern and southern peripheries
of the city, are composed of dwellings such as huts, hovels and
small houses, built with inadequate materials. There is no drinking
water, no sewage and few of these dwellings possess latrines. The
rubbish collection service is nonexistent or inefficient, and the
main or secondary access roads are in poor condition, as is the
The municipality defines slums as barrios ilegales –
illegal settlements, meaning that these neighbourhoods don’t
possess an official approval and an urbanization licence. In Quito,
there are three main types of slums:
periféricos: these are popular neighbourhoods
located on the urban edge.
these comprise deteriorated tenements in the historic centre.
neighbourhoods that house low-income families who commute
to the urban area.
Most low-income households are located in the barrios periféricos.
Many of the urban slum dwellers do not own the land on which they
live and only some 24 per cent have secure tenure. However, the
urban periphery neighbourhoods developed through the subdivision
of agricultural plots, and most of these own the house and land.
Only an estimated 10 per cent of these rent.
Income poverty, low levels of education, high unemployment rates
and unsatisfied basic services affect a massive 82 per cent of the
slum dwellers. Slum dwellers’ perception of their status,
however, is one of forthcoming integration through strategies for
the progressive upgrading of living conditions and social inclusion.
Since 1993, the Law of the Metropolitan District of Quito (LDMQ)
has provided a wider legal framework than the traditional municipal
competencies. Applicable only to the urban and rural management
of the Metro Quito, the LDMQ has generated important administrative
changes with respect to decentralization.
The Quito local government, apart from strong investments in conventional
infrastructure, is undertaking a massive process of land regularization
and has adopted two innovative strategies to upgrade slums:
to provide security of tenure has delivered property deeds to 13,000
land and housing enterprise, conceived as a public–private
partnership, intends to regulate the prices of land through direct
participations in the market.
In 1996, approximately 200 poor families invaded and built their
slums on a piece of public land zoned as a park near the historic
area of Quito. For over six years the problem was untouched until
a new municipal administration took office and developed a process
of negotiation. In a very short time, the municipality was able
to provide another plot of land and a private company built several
blocks of flats to accommodate all of the families. The project
was financed with a loan from a cooperative owned by the Chamber
of Commerce, with further financial support provided by the Ministry
of Housing and Urban Development. An NGO provided technical support
and the required international
seed money. The invaders are moving to their new apartments and
the city has recovered the land.
Quito’s urban planning process has largely been motivated
by technical rationality, although it was, in practice, often based
on legitimization of de facto situations. Weak enforcement of land
zoning and other regulatory controls have been at the root of today’s
problems, together with lack of sufficient involvement of the underprivileged
groups. After 30 or 40 years of attempted solutions to Quito’s
slums and poverty problems, it seems clear that unilateral and small-scale
efforts have lower success rates. Results were also limited when
authorities and public entities adopted an authoritarian position
that failed to include the communities and their organizations.
The lesson learned is that slum improvement and poverty alleviation
efforts require precise targeting from the supply side, rather than
coping with the situation from the demand side. Undesirable urbanization
aspects and gradual construction of houses have been permitted for
too long as an alternative to the difficulties posed by economic
crises. Recent experiences, however, indicate that partnerships
and agreement among stakeholders can lead to adequate solutions
if executed in combination with political will and perseverance.
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',