publicado a la‎(s)‎ 23 nov. 2011 15:32 por Carlos A. Gonzalez G.   [ actualizado el 5 feb. 2012 15:55 ]

Carlos A. González G.

Semana Magazine
Digital Edition, Opinion Section
Colombia. 17th April 2008

Opinion Article

Original title: 'La vivienda del des-interés social'.

A few decades have past since the first social housing projects appeared on the urban scene of our cities, and these same decades reveal the inability of the local administrations to propose alternative models of housing supply for families with lower income, which are able to overcome the still coarse and generalized idea of “giving the poor a roof” as though it were only a roof and nothing else.

Some might ask themselves about what negative aspect of such a kind housing policy I am referring to, when precisely now in Colombia there is more and more development of social housing projects and there is an effort to reduce its shortage, a worry which is not surprising in view of the historical short-sightedness that our society has decided to perpetuate towards subjects such as equality, segregation and social and spatial exclusion.

There are not few studies that have shown how in different capitals of Latin America the social housing projects are being developed in areas which are more and more in the outskirts of the city  guided by the direction that the each time less invisible hand of the market  points at and for which the existence of a cheap land in the outskirts of the city , with a poor accessibility and in occasions with doubtful geotechnical characteristics, is synonymous of an opportunity for the development of social housing projects.

Hardly a few minutes after the politician on duty cuts the band during the inauguration act, the degradation spiral of the neighbourhood makes its (still for many short-sighted) inexplicable appearance.

The picturesque neighbourhood of homogeneous houses soon turns into a monster of a thousand heads with the multiple improvements and enlargements  which make physically evident the lack of a space in agreement with the size of the families and the total absence of an urban control, which happens while the scarce and badly equipped public spaces turn into territories exclusive of a group of characters with a particular interest in smoking our Mother-Earth while they train to be delinquents, and in this way insecurity arrives at the neighbourhood and with it the perception of the neighbours of their house as a secure place and the street and the park as the far west where only the strongest survives.

The problems with transport, be it because of the lack of it or because of its informality, don’t take long to appear and this added to the fact that it is difficult to escape the will of the mathematical Third World model where the social stratification level of the neighbour that I can find at a walking distance of about thirty minutes will always be smaller or the same than my own; make the new residents start to sense their marginalized condition. Finally, the owners that have had the option to improve their family income, end up leaving the neighbourhood and in this way one looses the human capital that could contribute to hold back the intensification of the spiral.

How many times hasn’t the politician on duty hesitated to say: “That’s the way the poor are: you give them a roof and they end up again living in bad conditions”,  words to which many of the short-sighted assent with their heads, without even putting on their glasses which finally would allow them to see that one thing is “to give the poor a roof” and another very different is to give them a worthy housing which materializes their condition of citizens and that encourages their effective integration into the dynamics of the city.

It is time to explore alternative models for a social housing policy with a true interest on the social aspect, where we strengthen new developments but this time inside the urban perimeter, through urban renovation projects by re-densification of the existent, or, once and for all, through the development of the land that the speculators have preferred to keep inactive for so many years waiting for a friend to become town councillor.

Thus, this situation marked by a severe socio-spatial segregation of the social housing projects, that accelerates more and more its degradation spiral, makes it necessary to bet on the promotion of the diversity, not only with regard to the use of the land and the urban activities providing dynamism to the local economy of the neighbourhood, but also diversity regarding the social context, by the development of urban projects which provide a combined offer of free market housing and social housing.

Let us put on our glasses and assume a critical attitude towards the local planning teams that continue gestating that which without fear of exaggerating, we can sadly call the ghettos of the social housing without a real social interest.


This is a translation of the original version in Spanish entitled 'La vivienda del desinterés social'. The opinions expressed in this article are solely responsibility of the author and they do not compromise the point of view of any related institution.

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