Recovery Dialogues in Latin America 2: City Development and Community Participation in Informal Settlements

Written by Resilient Cities Network
Thursday, 05 November 2020


This article summarizes the second dialogue between the Autonomous City of Buenos Aires (Argentina), Guayaquil (Ecuador), Metropolitan Area of Guadalajara (Mexico), and Asunción (Paraguay), accompanied by an expert in the field, Jorge Mario Jáuregui, Architect and Urbanist, co-author of the Program Favela-Neighborhood (Favela-Bairro). The session was moderated by Luis Bonilla, Senior Consultant for Partnership Strategy at R-Cities.

The complexity of handling a pandemic lies in the multiple vulnerabilities that must be addressed simultaneously at different scales, which are further exacerbated in informal settlements with inadequate housing conditions and lack of basic human needs. Still, the typical health recommendations to prevent the spread of the virus (washing hands, social distancing, isolation) assume basic living standards and access to essential services which are not always the reality for lower-income groups. Therefore, it is necessary to tackle the challenge of achieving a balanced and inclusive territorial development that integrates those who have been historically marginalized of planning and investment agendas. Promoting more cohesive communities can be key to anticipating, preparing for, responding to and adapting to incremental change and sudden disruptions such as the Covid-19.

The main challenges and opportunities identified during this session are the following:


Informal settlements have suffered, firsthand, the negative consequences of lockdown measures, which exposed and aggravated the deep social inequalities that characterize most of Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC). It is estimated that 35% of the population will find themselves below the poverty line in 2020, with 83 million people in extreme poverty conditions (CEPAL, 2020). The key takeaways from the session include:

1. Guarantee the life and the security of the most vulnerable – understanding the diversity of needs from vulnerable population and providing basic essential services.

2. Create and enhance mechanisms for social participation as well as narratives of co-responsibility;

3. Transversal and effective communication;

4. Institutional resilience as a strategy for urban development. For example, Buenos Aires has been working with testing devices in informal neighborhoods for early detection and mitigation of the spread of Covid-19 cases.


The crisis has caused the levels of unemployment to rise in LAC. It is estimated that unemployment in the region could reach 11,5% or more if the pandemic is prolonged (CAF, 2020). Therefore, the role of local governments in promoting a sustainable economic recovery and generating employment can be key. The key takeaways from the session include:

1. Guarantee supply chains and availability of basic inputs and infrastructure – particularly food and health equipment supply;

2. Reactivate the productive sector progressively and safely;

3. Innovate in sources of finance;

4. Generate jobs and educational opportunities to improve the productivity levels;

5. Promote community infrastructure – enhance the value of the territory through the incorporation of public and social interest infrastructure; 6. Strengthen the digital transformation through inclusive innovation and technology. For example, Paraguay has set in motion the Wendá initiative through a public-private partnership (PPPs) for the development of a digital platform that creates a space to articulate, promote and strengthen citizen’s initiatives during and after Covid-19. 


Pandemic control and economic reopening require effective and dynamic multi-level government leadership and implementation. Even though local governments face challenges related to the lack of resources, inadequacy of instruments to respond to the crisis and poor mechanisms of multi-level governance, their proximity to their territories and citizens allows them to play a key articulation role in the implementation of policies and proposal of innovative solutions. Key takeaways from this session include:

1. Multi-level governance – create and adapt policy mechanisms to their territories;

2. Place-based policy making – understand territorial asymmetries;

3. Articulate different scales and sectors for intervention;

4. Collect information for well-informed decision making, particularly of lower-income neighborhoods. For example, the Metropolitan Area of Guadalajara has been working on an inventory of informal settlements to implement an inclusive and adapted urban policy.

 * This content is the product of a series of dialogues organized by the Resilient Cities Network and CAF, through the Cities with a Future Initiative, to exchange knowledge and good practices among municipalities and key actors in the regional urban ecosystem of Latin American and the Caribbean, aimed at mitigating the effects of the pandemic.”

Download full document (Spanish only)

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