The Bartlett Development Planning Unit

Dr Catalina Ortiz

Dr Catalina Ortiz

Associate Professor

Development Planning Unit

Faculty of the Built Environment

Joined UCL
1st Apr 2015

Research summary

I am committed to trigger radical spatial imagination for a negotiated co-production of space grounded on ethics of care and engaged scholarship. I use decolonial and critical urban theory through knowledge co-production methodologies to study the politics of space production in Latin America and Southeast Asia. My research focuses on three interrelated strands that foster more just cities and the recognition of multiple urban knowledges (for more information see my website here): 

Urban Critical Pedagogy: this strand explores the ways we can engage and learn from the plurality of urban actors’ knowledges. As PI of ‘COiNVITE: Activating Learning for Slum Upgrading through Transmedia Storytelling’, funded by UK GCRF-UCL, I contributed to debates on decolonisation with the article ‘Storytelling otherwise: Decolonising storytelling in planning’ and provided a pilot of a transmedia platform. 

Learning alliances are crucial to develop this strand. I have led design-based research with students and societal partners like ‘Patrimonio Vivo | Living Heritage: a Tool to Rethink Moravia’s Urban Future’ which centres on the recognition of everyday spatial practices documented in the Atlas of Living Heritage and the site of stories of migration. ‘Sheffield Otherwise: counter mapping the living heritage of diaspora and queer communities’, funded by CCHS, opens the design potentials of revealing the assets of communities that have been left out from official heritage policies and public space representations. 

Southern Urbanisms: this strand focuses on the spatial practices of prevalent modes of urbanisation, reframing ‘informality’, to understand the uneven geographies of urbanisation. For example, I am Co-I of ‘GREAT: Gridding Equitable Urban Futures in Areas of Transition’, funded by UKRI-GCRF, seeks to understand the ways in which being on and off-grid provides an opportunity to rethink the relationship between people and urban infrastructure in Cali and Havana. 

Advocacy in times of crisis is key. An example is the project ‘Yangon Stories: Framing Living Heritage as Tool to Prevent Spatial violence’, funded by British Academy. As PI, I have oriented the study to a longitudinal documentation of the spatial violence in the city the changing political context in Myanmar. Our reports on the ‘Violations of the Right to Adequate Housing after the Coup’, have influenced the statement from the High Commissioner of the UN Humans Rights. 

Planning for Equality: this strand centres on how to frame and apply an equality and spatial justice framework to assess public policy and spatial strategies. An example is the project ‘KNOW: Knowledge in Action for Urban Equality’, funded by UKRI GCRF, that aimed at harnessing the co-production of knowledge to activate urban equality. As Co-I, I contributed to the Global Report on Local Democracy and Decentralization [UCLG] with reflexions on Democratizing Pathways for Equality in Latin America. Also to the literature on citizen engagement in a socialist context with the collective article ‘Mapping participatory planning in Havana: patchwork legacies for a strengthened local governance’. 

Policy impact is paramount to this strand. I led the initiative ‘Synergies of solidarity: mapping of civil society collaborations and initiatives to face COVID-19 in self-built neighbourhoods’ which brought together key housing policy organizations in Latin America to ground in evidence a roadmap for urban policy in pandemic times. As result, our Decalogue for Participatory Neighbourhood Upgrading was adopted by UN-Habitat and the Assembly of Housing Ministers of Latin America.

Teaching summary

I consider teaching as a constant learning process that becomes a vehicle to train in autonomy, critical thinking and question driven inquiries. I concur with bell hooks to seek the radical potential of possibility of the classroom. I am also inspired by Paulo Freire’s ideas to consider critical pedagogy to cultivate emancipated political subjects and involve a political praxis grounded in people’s subjectivities, histories, and struggles. 

I co-lead the Master of Building and Urban Design in Development where I hold the Urban Design Otherwise series that offers a space to think together how to enact and foster emancipatory spatial practices and explore creative pedagogies such as manifesto writing or comparative urban design. In the programme, I teach:

DEVP0003Participatory Processes: Building for Development

DEVP0004 Building and Urban Design in Practice

I also contribute to: 

BARC0190 Global Urbanism: Theory and Politics

BPLN0022 Urban Investigations 

GEOG0136 Cities, Space and Power


I am a Colombian urbanist and educator passionate about spatial justice. I have a BA in Architecture from the Universidad Nacional de Colombia where I also did a master’s degree in Urban and Regional Studies. I hold a PhD in Urban Planning and Policy from the University of Illinois at Chicago as a Fulbright scholar. 


My professional experience spans over two decades focusing on teaching, research and consultancy linked to international organisations, national and local governments around urban projects, and spatial planning issues mostly in Latin America. I worked as a senior consultant in urban development for the Inter-American Bank, the Cities Alliance Program, the Informal City Requalification Foundation (ReCI), and most recently for the Future Cities programme from the UK Foreign Commonwealth Office. Before joining UCL, I worked at the National University of Colombia (Medellin) as the  Urban and Regional Planning Director at the School of Architecture. I also have been a visiting fellow at the Latin Lab, GSAPP, Columbia University and DUSP, MIT.


Keenly aware of the collective work required to shift out field of studies, I am corresponding editor of the Urban Studies Journal and the International Journal of Urban and Regional Research.  I am part of the editorial board of the Revista Brasileira de Estudos Urbanos e Regionais (Brazil), Revista de Urbanismo (Chile), and the Revista Bitácora Urbano Territorial (Colombia). I am part of the UCL UrbanLab steering committee, an LSE Saw Swee Hock Southeast Asia Centre associate and a trustee of the Charity Latin Elephant.