Please download and read these texts – it should only take you about 2 hours:

  1. Intermediate cities in Latin America risk and opportunities of coherent urban development. (15 pages)
  2. Urban environment, spatial fragmentation and social segration in Latin America: Where does innovation lie? (19 pages)
  3. Innovations for the urban environment and social disparities in Latin America: The shift from the technical to the social issues as the true challenge of change. (18 pages)

The presentation "Urban environment and social inequality in Latin America", based on several urban studies conducted by LaSUR, sets out a multi-dimensional approach to urban project as compared to an environmentalist approach that is all too often limited to an ecological and technical vision of the urban setting. Comparative research in Argentina, Bolivia and Cuba has shown us that such environmental concerns can be integrated into a more holistic view that takes account of the social factors of access to services and the economic cost of establishing innovative urban management systems.

Social inequality and the urban environment

In cities, termsocial inequality often manifests itself in problematic changes to urban space. For example,

  • the fragmentation of the social fabric and the displacement of termpoverty from rural areas to urban ones;
  • a division of urban space into commercial and residential areas that are well-equipped with services and infrastructure, and precarious termhabitats that are poorly integrated into the overall urban area;
  • urban planning with no relation to the dynamics of land occupancy and autonomous home-building;
  • numerous inconsistencies in the division of responsabilities between urban actors (public authorities, civil society organisations and neighbourhood associations);
  • rapid deterioration of the urban environment through the degradation of property and the pollution of natural resources. All of these phenomena reflect and at the same time create social inequality.

The presentation shows the modern issues facing critical and active urban research in the South. The major challenge if one tries to study scientific questions as impartially as possible is never to relativise the essential differences and also the common features between a Northern city (say Paris, Milan or Zurich) and a Southern city (Karachi, Mexico or Bangui), despite the frequent sense of "déjà-vu".

One method of studying the complexity and of finding solutions to the demands of people suffering from social inequality is action research.

The original principle behind the concept of action research is that no scientific research, even if it is initially intended as theoretical analysis, can be really meaningful unless it seeks, from the very moment the project is formulated, to continue it into action, i.e. to get actively involved in transforming the reality that is observed to the benefit of and together with the most disadvantaged people.

The methodology of action research is therefore based on:

  • interdisciplinarity,
  • participation,
  • immediate effectiveness, and
  • iteration.

It also emphasises on an approach that is

  • multi-scale (local, urban, regional, national and global),
  • dialectic (diachronic / synchronic, dynamic / static, heteregeneous / homogeneous, order / disorder, public / private, etc.) and
  • multidimensional (social, cultural, economic, political, spatial).

Lastly, it is also always based on the meticulous observation of situations as they are experienced by the local population and using their own analysis of the urban context they live in.

The tools of action research are:

  • exploratory walks and participatory observation to situate the various actors, delimit the boundaries between the various social spaces and their constituent elements;
  • individual interviews and life stories to understand people's perception of public spaces;
  • their vision of urban reality and the changing processes that create interrelations between social actors;
  • a literature review allows us to determine what studies have already been carried out in the field and to compare their results.

Think about a few problems concerning the urban environment that we have tackled in this lesson or that you have observed elsewhere.
How might they be studied using the action research methodology?

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