Latin American Urban Research in Dialogue

Latin American Urban Research in Dialogue

School of Architecture, Bremen
digital (Bremen)
Vom - Bis
19.10.2020 - 20.10.2020
Clara Röhrig, Universität Bremen

“The world is turning urban – and it is in cities that we need to find answers to the challenges that this wholesale urban transformation of our planet and society brings about.” (conference invitation)

The conference[1] gathered international participants who discussed urban knowledge and experiences coming from the Latin American context. The vision of the local engaging in global concerns is too often limited to eurocentric theories from the so-called Global North and therefore remains in the colonial spheres of hegemonic knowledge production. The aim of the conference was to counteract these hegemonic, anglophone based discourses by creating dialogues about Latin American urban knowledge production and to ask about the potential beyond the local, looking at different concepts and contexts and their translations.

The first session was opened by LAURA KEMMER (Berlin) who examined “bonding” as a concept that connects material elements of the city with its inhabitants, holding cities together and emerging in urban collectivity. She argued that on a material level, “promissory things”, such as signs for upcoming infrastructural development, are causing anticipation and affective dynamics. PETER KRIEGER (Mexico City) continued with a contribution about hyper urban geo-aesthetics, demonstrating the habitat of the Anthropocene and diverse clashes of temporality inside the city. RICCARDA CAPELLER (Hannover) introduced her research on the casa chorizo, a typical housing type from Buenos Aires, producing social values through collective memory and everyday experiences. The discussion then revolved around questions of agency and how things in the urban context speak to us, producing imaginarios and a sense of collectivity. It was also discussed how concepts and forms from certain contexts can be transferred to others, thus relating urban experiences with each other.

In the second session, ANGELA GIGLIA (Mexico City) described the limited complexity of the urban scenario, which is producing urban orders and types of spaces across diverse local contexts. She concluded that local spaces can produce representativity for different contexts because they belong to repetitive types of spaces, calling them “witness places”. FERNANDO GUTIERRÉZ (London) talked about his study on public spaces in Mexico during the Covid-19-pandemic and asked how the (temporary and physical) restrictions applied to these places affected primarily vulnerable groups. JULIANA HUTAI (Berlin) presented the research she did together with LIZA MINELY, GAITÁN ORTIZ and MAIRA YESENIA (all Bogotá), in which they explored the impacts of the Covid-19-pandemic in Bogotá and Berlin and the lack of an intersectional perspective in urban spaces. The participants then discussed comparison as a methodology and its balance between specificity and generality. The session closed with a conversation about the postcolonial preoccupation that similarity leads back to thoughts of modernization, resulting in “Western” typologies. A way out might be the method of interdisciplinary dialogue to understand urbanity from different perspectives.

The third session was opened by SIMONE VEGLIÒ (London) who spoke about the similarity between the theoretical work of Aníbal Quijano and Henri Lefebvre on planetary urbanization, initiating a shift – both in the voices and places – of the center and periphery of theoretical and empirical observations made about the global phenomena of urbanization. ERICK VACA (The Hague) continued with a critical analysis of the application of urban planning concepts such as the Compact City and how they are applied to Latin American contexts. ANGUS MCNELLY (London) depicted the relation of global capitalism, informal economy, and urban indigeneity. Drawing from Bolivar Echeverría’s concept of Baroque Modernity, he described how modernity in Latin America is marked by multiple temporalities. JOEL OUTTES (Porto Alegre) followed this argument of multiple temporalities, investigating how urban knowledge was imported into Brazil and therefore how “foreign” concepts were translated into the Brazilian context. MONIKA STREULE (Zurich) then introduced the concept of “popular urbanization”, inspired by the term of urbanización popular, which she framed as an urban strategy of collective action and production, transformation, and appropriation of space by the people. The following discussion revolved around the role of Latin American urbanism in the rapidly growing anglophone theorization and the question how theory travels through space and time. Some final reflections included the necessity of reinforcing the intellectual capability to move outside the region, engaging with theoretical approaches from a specific context, as well as the challenges of translating terms and concepts.

The fourth session dealt with Colombia, thus, the discussion about Latin American urban knowledge was thought from a place rather than a concept or a method. MELANIE LOMBARD (Sheffield) explored territorial peace as a concept that originated in the Colombian peace process, arguing for the potential of transferring the concept onto urban areas and creating an urban-rural continuum. ALISSA DIESCH (Munich) then shared her research on the historical processes that transformed former villages into metropolitan neighborhoods of Colombia’s capital Bogotá. EVELÍNA CIHLAROVA (La Plata) investigated forced displacement of minorities moving from rural areas to Colombian cities like Cali, drawing a pattern of the classifications made upon their arrival by intersectional forms of discrimination. SIMÓN URIBE (Bogotá) then presented his ethnographic research – the documentary “Suspension” – on the conflicting relationship between humans, nature, and infrastructure, exploring a suspended road project in the Colombian Amazon and the underlying violence, as well as sentiments connected to the promise of modernity. The session resulted in a conversation about the longitude of internal conflicts in Colombia and urbanity shaped by violence, while at the same time questioning the high exoticization of the country in academia. A possible future perspective was shared by discussing solidarity and collectivity as a rural continuum moving into the urban space.

In the following session, HANNA HILBRANDT (Zurich) analyzed municipal financialization in Mexico City, focusing on the everyday implementation of municipal bonds, leading to the constitution of politico-economic and socio-spatial shifts. ALKE JENSS (Freiburg) investigated austerity and the adaptation to live in insecurity in the city of Oaxaca during the process of becoming a “competitive city” and described how differently people are affected by the accompanying enforced violence. Lastly, PILAR MENDOZA (Frankfurt am Main) analyzed informality and social inequality before and during the Covid-19-pandemic, in which she was juxtaposing informality to illegality by focusing on the lack of social security and protection and the autonomous structures formed to resist this exclusion from the social system. The following discussion included the question of who is governing Latin American cities besides the state. While naming different actors, such as financial players, social organizations, or police bodies, one claim was to see informal governance as not solemnly a Latin American phenomenon, but rather as a global reality, articulated differently on a local level.

The sixth session was opened by ISABELLE MOLLINGER (Amsterdam) who presented her research with her two colleagues ANNE KENNES and CHRISTIEN KLAUFUS (both Amsterdam), in which they analyzed the commoning processes done in two Colombian neighborhoods by their inhabitants, defining three forms of commoning: world making, reinforcing reciprocity and establishing knowledge transfer. MORITZ AHLERT and NINA PAWLICKI (both Berlin) continued by offering insights into the international Think & Do Tank Urban Lab Medellín Berlin that they form part of, and which envisions a community-based planning project in the neighborhood of Moravia in Medellín. They formulated thoughts about how to translate activist movements into more formal planning processes, as well as navigating such a collaborative project between academia and non-academia. TEREZA HERLING (São Paulo) then reported from her work as Joint-Secretary of São Paulo Urban Development Secretary, which led the most recent Strategic Master Plan 2014-2030, including the promising transformations of social urbanism. In the subsequent discussion, questions about the possibility of planning the allegedly unplanned city were raised, on how to remain ownership of place, and how to foster participation despite social disruptions and civil skepticism towards the state.

In the closing session of the conference, ANA ALVAREZ (Mexico City) shared some observations made during the different discussions, asking about the methods used to develop concepts, and stressing the urgency of not essentializing the Latin American experience, but to carefully consider the affect and subjectivity in the urban production, as well as the importance of agency in a field marked by social and political tensions. In a concluding discussion the chairs of the sessions expressed the opportunity of comparison and dialogue to allowing us to think differently from different vantage points, while vehemently considering the positionality of the individual and academic background and tradition, acknowledging racial injustices and colonial continuities.

Conference overview:

Session 1: Narratives and affects

Chair: Christian von Wissel (Bremen)

Laura Kemmer (Berlin): Bonding: Infrastructure, affect, and the emergence of urban collectivity

Riccarda Cappeller (Hannover): Casa chorizo – narrations of a social and urban character

Peter Krieger (Mexico City): Images of decay: Life in hyper-urbanized earthquake zones

Session 2: Practices and spaces of dwelling

Chair: Christian von Wissel (Bremen), Clara Röhrig (Bremen)

Angela Giglia (Mexico City): Ways of living, types of spaces and witness places in contemporary metropolises

Fernando Gutiérrez (London): The lockdown of public spaces in Mexico during the COVID-19 pandemic: Social, economic and spatial consequences

Juliana Hutai (Berlin), Liza Minely (Bogotá), Gaitán Ortiz (Bogotá), Maira Yesenia (Bogotá): “Stay at home”. Socio-apatial reflections on ways of living in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. A comparative analysis of Bogotá and Berlin

Session 3: Postcolonial perspectives

Chair: Álvaro Sánchez (London)

Joel Outtes (Porto Alegre): Cities and knowledge in Brazil

Erick Vaca (The Hague): Compact city in the Latin American context: Quito compact centralities

Angus McNelly (London): Urban indigeneity and baroque modernity: a view from a Bolivian city

Monika Streule (Zurich): Popular urbanization as an urban strategy. Decentering the vocabulary of urbanization

Simone Vegliò (London): “Postcolonizing” planetary urbanization? A Latin American genealogy

Session 4: Transforming Colombia

Chair: Catalina Ortiz (London)

Melanie Lombard (Sheffield): Between pacification and dialogue: critical lessons from Colombia‘s territorial peace

Alissa Diesch (Munich): The production of metropolitan space: the rural heritage of Bogotá

Evelína Cihlarova (La Plata): Forced displacement and internal migration to Colombian cities from an intersectional perspective

Simón Uribe (Bogotá): Suspension. Conflicting relationship between humans, nature and infrastructure

Session 5: Governance and its disruptions

Chair: Tania Guerrero (London), Álvaro Sanchez (London)

Hanna Hilbrandt (Zurich): Everyday perspectives on municipal financialization in Mexico City

Alke Jenss (Freiburg): Everyday scalar politics. Navigating the insecure city in times of austerity

Pilar Mendoza (Frankfurt am Main): Informality and social inequality in Colombian cities – the case of Bogotá

Session 6: Planning and its critiques

Chair: Camila Saraiva (São Paulo)

Carlos Leite (São Paulo), Tereza Herling (São Paulo): Social Urbanism in Latin America

Moritz Ahlert (Berlin), Maximilian Becker (Berlin), Cielo María Holguín Ramírez (Medellín), Albert Kreisel (Berlin), Nina Pawlicki (Berlin), Matthew Crabbe (Berlin): Urban Coding Strategies for the Informal Neighbourhoods of Moravia, Medellín

Isabelle Mollinger (Amsterdam), Anne Kennes (Amsterdam), Christien Klaufus (Amsterdam): Belonging and resilience-building through a commoning lens: “Being-incommon” in Colombia’s inner-urban districts

Closing Session

Ana Alvarez (Mexico City), Tania Guerrero (London), Catalina Ortiz (London), Clara Röhrig (Bremen), Álvaro Sanchez (London), Camila Saraiva (São Paulo), Christian von Wissel (Bremen)

[1] For further information please consult the website of the conference: