While regulated, structured growth is the coin of the realm in the US and in many metropolitan areas overseas, informal land development - that is, urban neighborhoods built outside of a conventional property ownership and land market system -- is actually the predominant model of urban development and urban growth in cities in the developing world, says Lincoln Institute visiting fellow Claudio Acioly.
Acioly, an architect and urban planner with the Institute for Housing and Urban Development Studies-IHS, The Netherlands, has studied the phenomenon of informality or informal settlement in Africa, Latin America, Asia and Central and Eastern Europe.
In a recent Lincoln House lecture, Acioly showed how informal settlement persists despite housing programs, settlement upgrading and land regularization policies. Informal land development - in the form of illegally and informally developed housing and human settlements - typically accounts to 20 to 70 percent of urban growth in cities in the developing world. In Latin America, informal settlements represent the fastest growing segment of metropolitan populations; informally supplied land has been the predominant way large parts of the population have accessed land for housing.
According to the United Nations Human Settlement Programme, UN Habitat, 1 billion people live in slums all over the world. As part of the Millennium Development Goals, the UN seeks to improve the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers by 2020. But, Acioly says, governments and the international community face an extraordinary challenge not only to improve existing settlements but also slow the growth of new informality.
In addition to typical squatters and encroachments, informal settlement has included the illegal subdividing of privately owned land in many countries, indicating the emergence of a flourishing informal land market. In Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Mumbay, Cairo, Lima, and Tirana, land is acquired, secured and developed regardless of existing legal and planning frameworks in place - an illustration of how formal land markets seem to be functioning to the exclusion of the great majority of developing country populations.
Along with the challenges in policymaking, Acioly says, comes a need for a new taxonomy of informal settlement - also called illegal settlements, spontaneous or unplanned settlements, unauthorized or substandard informal areas. Each has its own logic and underlying causes of non-compliance with the formal rules and regulations that govern urban development.
"Governments, development cooperation agencies, funding institutions and universities can no longer neglect this phenomenon," says Acioly, who coordinates joint international courses and training programs offered by the Lincoln Institute and IHS focusing on informal settlements and land policies. "Informality may soon be knocking on the door of industrialized countries as well."