Is There a Solution to Inequality in Latin American Cities?

Is There a Solution to Inequality in Latin American Cities?

The concept of equity is different from equality; equity means everyone needs support, but not necessarily in the same way. Therefore, the concept of urban equity allows us to preserve the uniqueness of each region of a municipality, protecting diversity and richness without overlooking infrastructure needs, which directly affect the quality of public space and the basic services required for a private residence - it allows us to design and invest in the city fairly, regardless of the region.

Although this looks great in theory, implementing this concept proves to be quite utopian in practice. Political and financial disputes, the history of each area, migration, demographic and territorial expansion, and many other factors have a major impact on the possibility of urban justice and create increasingly unequal cities. In Latin America, where more than 80% of the population lives in urban areas, this reality becomes even more evident.

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Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Photograph by Chensiyuan / CC BY-SA ( via Wikimedia Commons

With an urban territory marked by a history of colonial violence that defines structural privileges and socio-political dynamics to this day, cities often become a magnet for the improvement of well-being through many different opportunities, mainly in terms of economy. However, unplanned urban settlements lead to inefficient cities with poor productive and natural resources, increasing urban injustice even more and failing to ensure citizens equal quality of life, thus affecting the way each person manages their time, as Professor Flávio Villaça¹ points out:

Optimizing the time spent on transportation of city dwellers is the most important factor explaining the organization of urban spaces and its role in the social dominance that takes place through it. The dominant class manipulates the production of these spaces, always prioritizing the optimization of their own mobility.

This happens because inequality goes beyond economic issues, which means low-income families can not choose where to live according to their desires and needs, being left with the addresses that their budgets allow: far from their jobs, services, and quality public spaces. This clear spatial segregation highlights how differently each class uses the space, the services, and the different opportunities or risks that the city poses to each one, impacting access to basic services and facilities such as transportation, basic sanitation, healthcare, culture, leisure, and jobs.

A city with poor infrastructure that does not offer quality public services and facilities has several negative consequences such as exposure to violence and unhealthy environments, and recent studies show that three times more people have died during the Covid-19 pandemic in poorer neighborhoods in the state of São Paulo, Brazil. In other words, the lack of urban planning and public policies that encourage healthier spaces kills.

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Bogotá, Colombia. Photo by Delaney Turner on Unsplash

Fortunately, on the other hand, some projects are able to explore solutions towards equity in the city. One of the most iconic examples is Medellin, which underwent an intense process of urban inclusion and transformation, in which "the revival of street life and the use of public space by the citizens was a widely discussed topic" and the quality of public spaces and urban projects was given special attention, regardless of the area, resulting in a 70% reduction in the homicide rate, among many other benefits.

When studying the results of the strategies applied in the Colombian city - such as investment in public education facilities, extending the government's involvement in the periphery, valuing the city's culture and history, expanding urban mobility, and thinking of the city as a public space of excellence - we see that what may seem utopian is not always impossible to achieve. Bringing together strong politics with bold, democratic ideas from urban planners and architects can result in a city that provides better opportunities for its citizens, regardless of the address they live in.

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Medellín: Parque de los Pies Descalzos (Barefoot Park), built from 1998 to 2000. Photo: © Mariana Morais
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Medellín: Intervention through local housing and the "metrocable", a medium capacity transportation system that connects neighborhoods and integrates with the metro. Photo: © Mariana Morais

In order to reflect on how we can actively engage in this fight against structural inequality and how we see ourselves in this context, we propose a small exercise: Navigate through the images below showing different locations in the same city - one in an area considered rich and with good infrastructure, and another in an area considered poor) while asking yourself: Do I really know my city or do I only live in segregated spaces? When I think about urban planning, which city am I referring to? How many different cities can fit into one city? Which city do I fight for? Is my city accessible, and where?

Buenos Aires (Argentina)

Mexico City (Mexico)

Medellín (Colombia)

Santiago (Chile)

São Paulo (Brazil)

¹VILLAÇA, Flávio. Reflexões sobre as cidades brasileiras [Reflections on Brazilian cities]. São Paulo, SP: Studio Nobel, 2012.

This article is part of the ArchDaily Topic: Equity. Every month we explore a topic in-depth through articles, interviews, news, and projects. Learn more about our monthly topics. As always, at ArchDaily we welcome the contributions of our readers; if you want to submit an article or project, contact us.

About this author
Cite: Delaqua, Victor. "Is There a Solution to Inequality in Latin American Cities?" [A desigualdade em cidades latinas tem solução?] 06 Oct 2021. ArchDaily. (Trans. Duduch, Tarsila) Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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