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housing & habitat

The theme on Housing and Habitat was led by Harry Smith and Françoise Coupé. The overarching question formulated at the outset of the project for the theme was:

In the context of the processes of peace building towards coexistence, what is the impact of urban policies on the habitat conditions of the most vulnerable sectors in the city of Medellín?


This Research Question was examined with a focus on four sub-themes, identified by Smith and Coupé:

  1. Evaluation of previous policies and programmes (PRIMED, ISVIMED, etc.)

  2. Risk management and habitat

  3. Social production of housing & habitat

  4. Housing and habitat in the post-conflict scenario


These four sub-themes were discussed as part of a two-day conference within a research week held in April 2016. The main purpose of this research week, which was also publicised as a ‘training programme’, was to identify how and to what extent Medellín is a city with greater social equity and a higher level of wellbeing due to its innovative approaches. In the invitation, booklets and project posters, we specified the aims and objectives of this seminar as to:


  • Identify policy, institutional and socio-economic constraints and barriers that have led to the outstanding issues in the development of the city that were identified in the initial appraisal by the research team, as set out in the Introduction to Book 1.

  • Identify instruments in the current planning legislation and guidance that would could help address the problems faced in achieving the objectives of Medellín's Land Use Plan.

  • Identify and engage the appropriate stakeholders and forms of partnership that may implement pilot projects.

  • Explore the potential of issue-specific scoping studies on the following topics: environmentally and socially appropriate location and form for new developments; appropriate forms of housing with mixed income levels and communal spaces; and informal area upgrading and social integration.


The timing of the two-day conference was particularly relevant because the Municipal Development Plan for Medellín (Plan de Desarrollo Municipal de Medellín – PDM) that was being prepared by the city council, was out for consultation at that time. The seminar thus provided an ideal platform for contributions to the consultation process of the said plan, and all speakers were specifically asked to address it. The recommendations from the conference were gathered in a document that was submitted to the consultation process. Key conclusions emerged from the conference and these subsequently informed the scoping studies. These critical findings are:


On previous policies, there was debate around land management and territorial planning, these being seen to have limited use without appropriate community planning, because the community can help inform social demand. On risk management, it was advocated that Medellín, in general, does not understand, or is not ‘conscious’ of risk, whilst others argued that urban renewal should be more of a strategy for risk mitigation or management. Within this debate, community leader Carlos Velásquez (see interview in this book) presented work undertaken in Comuna 8, emphasizing the importance of the neighbourhood scale in terms of urban renewal and risk, and claiming that collaborative work between community and academia can help generate appropriate technical proposals. On the social production of housing and habitat, a key presentation was made by Françoise Coupé, who introduced her previous work on informal rental in tenements, prompting an urgent call to acknowledge their important role in housing provision. She claimed it was vital to recognize and provide policy support to improve the conditions in tenements, without formalizing them. Lastly, the discussion on the post-conflict was led by Maria Clara Echeverría, who spoke of the importance of recognizing the diversity of emerging conflicts in relation to habitat and the territory in the stages of post-agreement and post-conflict. She noted the dearth of research in relation to peace and territory and that the peace process provides an opportunity to embrace the post-conflict in a central and cross-sectorial way within the Development Plan (Plan de Desarollo).


The research week around the housing and habitat theme was qualitatively very rich in terms of the oral histories and differing viewpoints that were recorded. The week included the two-day conference, a series of semi-structured interviews, informal team walks as well as formal ‘walking and talking’ routes undertaken with experts. This theme generated a number of proposed scoping studies, of which two were developed as scoping studies, and a further two were developed into research proposals (see final section in this book). The latter produced four substantial research proposals which were submitted between mid-2016 and mid-2017: Housing displaced communities in post-conflict Colombia, submitted to Global Challenges Research Fund ESRC/AHRC Forced Displacement call 2016 (unsuccessful); Resilience or resistance? Negotiated mitigation of landslide risks in informal settlements in Medellin, submitted to GCRF NERC/AHRC/ESRC Resilience Foundation Awards (successful); Internal displacement in tropical Latin America: co-creating more equal, sustainable and culturally enriched pathways for migrant integration, submitted to the AHRC GCRF Area-Focused Network Plus Call (decision pending); and Co-production of landslide risk management strategies through development of community-based infrastructure in Latin American cities, submitted to GCRF / British Academy Cities & Infrastructure Programme (successful).

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