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Fernando Murillo, University of Buenos Aires – A Compass for cities

By on September 20, 2016
Lecturer - profile

Fernando Murillo

Research Program Director

Main affiliation
University of Buenos Aires



South America



Fernando Murillo is an architect with a master degree and a Phd in architecture and urban planning. His professional career combines academic activities as lecturer and director of a research program at the University of Buenos Aires with international projects in the field of urban planning, housing and settlement upgrading.

His work contributes to different governments and UN agencies, mostly UN Habitat, in Sudan and South Sudan, building public housing with environmentally friendly technologies and strategic urban planning; UNHCR, building 15,000 shelters for returnees and displaced populations, UNRWA, 12000 housing units for refugees in Gaza Strip and UNDP, developing local government plans in Colombia, Nicaragua, and schools in El Salvador. With World Bank in Zambia he prepares a local integration plan for former refugees eligible for citizenship.

With his interdisciplinary team he developed multiple participatory territorial planning tools to help local governments and communities to work out an integrated and inclusive urbanization strategy with a focus on progressive human rights fulfillment and sustainable development, such as the “Compass” disseminated internationally.

Recently, he founded an international network to analyze the impact of migrant corridors on the phenomena of rapid urbanization, called “Migraplan”.

Bibliography about the “compass” can be found at www.urbanhabitat.com.ar www.participlan.blogspot.com.ar and “Migraplan, at www.migraplan.blogspot.com.ar.

He presented a TEDxUBA talks:

English Proficiency

Previous experience of recording video lectures

Experience of lecturing to large audiences

Experience of lecturing to large audiences

Frequency of lectures
Very often

Recording opportunities
Habitat III attendance and availability


Main themes
Social Inclusion

A “Compass” for the cities

The lecture presents a methodology for participatory planning based on the progressive fulfillment of human rights

Issues which the lecture addresses
The lecture address
1) The evolving environment of international human rights and the need of measuring tools to support participatory planning exercises.
2) The complex relationship between migration, forced displacement and rapid urbanization demanding a complete reshape of planning strategies and frameworks
3) The need of “participlan” or agreements between vulnerable communities among themselves and with their local authorities to cope with segregation, marginalisation and growing risk of disasters.
4) Evaluations of projects and urban interventions carried out applying the methodology and emerging approaches.
5) Lessons learnt from cities in Argentina, Bolivia, Brasil, Chile, Colombia and Ecuador. Additional inputs from preliminary work carried out in Africa, the Middle East and Asia

Short analysis of the above issues
The “Compass” contribute a methodology for participatory planning whose application in different contexts has serve to review public policies. So far, results has been encouraging and motivate innovative planning approaches at municipal level, to associate low income neighbors to adopt a more community approach to address their social and environmental problems. Linkages between these process with local authorities has lead to develop new urban planning codes with success results indicating the potential of community participation and self-organization to overcome difficulties practically impossible to address by the states.

Propositions for addressing the issue
The “Compass” of urban planning is a participatory methodology for policy making seeking progressive fulfillment of human rights. The targets are underprivileged communities living in informal settlements in the global south.

It consists of different indicators represented graphically as a “diamond”, combining four axes: Human rights fulfillment, community organization, public works and regulatory frameworks. Each of these axis measures habitat (land tenure, housing), infrastructure (wat-san), social services (education-health), mobility (public transport) and sustainability (income generation opportunities, disaster risk reduction).

The graph summarizes the status of human rights in a certain area, resulting of their social organization, public works and regulatory framework success. This contributes to build up a vision for slum upgrading and prevention through participation of their inhabitants, local governments and private sector. It facilitates quick collection of essential and update information for planning purposes through key informants facilitating the understanding and agreement on the most convenient way forward to tackle down informal settlements problems and creation trends.

So far, the instrument has been applied to 25 municipalities from different countries in Latin America, guiding discussion and actions towards negotiated interventions. A coordination team receives periodically reports from teams applying the method in other cities, providing on line guidance. The paper will present comparative research, identifying trends resulting of applying the methodology in different cities.

Description of lecture, slide by slide

•Note about each presenter, maximum 75 words (not full CV!)

Fernando Murillo is an Architect with a master degree in urban and regional planning and a PHD in Architecture and urbanism. Consultant for several UN agencies (UNRWA; UNHCR, UN Habitat, etc) in Latin America, Africa and the Middle East, specialized in developing urban and regional plans in the context of humanitarian disasters and support for low income communities. Director of a research program at the University of Buenos Aires, focus in developing tools and approaches to tackle down habitat problems priorities for the global south.

•Organization e.g. employer, school, other institution as relevant

IDUS. Interdesign for sustainable urban development. Center for Habitat and Municipalities. Faculty of Architecture, Design and Urbanism. University of Buenos Aires.

Introduction: How to address slum worldwide?

(Slide 3) Urbanization trends in the global south: Urbanization mostly happens in the Global South out of planning. The traditional way for the poor to access a house have been historically buying a plot and then self-building a house. This can work when the plot are cheap. But when cities expand and urban land became scarce, high cost of the land make this alternative unfeasible. Then, the state subsidize housing through housing complex schemes, but never enough for the growing demand, located generally out of town where nobody want to live. Finally, informality emerged as the only practical way for the poor to access a shack, generally renting paying high cost for renting, according to the slum location. This cycle make the poor even more and more poor as they pay high rent and expensive services like transport, water, etc, without possibility to save to get out of the slum.

(Slide 4) How to address slum Worldwide? Slum production worldwide is a significant problem threatening humankind, especially poor countries and cities. Urban planning has a significant role to play upgrading and preventing informal habitat. But effective planning requires changing the approach. Instead of insisting on formal planning subdividing plots where the poor can self build their houses, it is necessary to take into account how the poor normally produce their own habitat. Planning responses to the problem has shift historically from national plans, to city wide strategies, ending at micro-planning at settlement scale. Site and service has proven to work only in those small and intermediate cities where the cost of land is still affordable for low income groups, but never works in metropolitan cities where land scarcity and speculation is high. In that case the only option available for the poor is informality close to the city center and sub-centers.

(Slide 5). Slum upgrading and prevention schemes. 4 general schemes can be identified: National top-down, city wide, settlement upgrade and a mix of the other three approaches. Each one represents different cities and countries. The national top-down approach has been applied in Egypt and Ethiopia having the advantage of efficient use of state resource opening the possibility to carry out preventive exercises. But the disadvantage is that tends to be bureaucratic and technocratic, with scarce real population of the populations that suppousedly helps. The city-wide slum upgrading scheme results generally of one success case of slum upgrading scaled up to the rest of the city. Generally is implemented by municipalities targeting strategic areas where land values are high. Participation is higher, but still limited, as programs results of the initiative of the state and not the people. Brazil, and Colombia, more recently has followed this scheme in Rio de Janeiro and Medellin emerging as models for slum upgrading. The third scheme, bottom-up emerges as the most participatory as it results of the initiative of the people, but hardly includes any prevention exercise. All the experience of slum self-organization in India is representative of this scheme. Finally the combination of the three scheme gives places to a mix of approaches, that can be recognized in the South-African experience after that Appartheid, in which grassroot movements from slum scale up to national strategies creating federations for re-planning and prevent informal settlements.

(slide 6): Evolution of habitat policies? In this context, it is important to check if public policies are actually evolving towards concrete habitat solutions worldwide. Historically it can be recognized successive approaches addressing the issue. Between 1960-1970, the approach was modernization and control of urban growth. The main focus was physical planning and public housing, building massive housing complexes, generally with a lot of social problems mostly because their segregation from the urban fabrics. Informality is understood as temporary and massive eviction campaigns are carried out. Between 1970-1980, the decade is characterized by redistribution with growth, in which the focus changed from public housing to site and services and self-construction. The tools utilized where subsidies for land and the acknowledgment of informality as a possible habitat for the poor. Between 1980 and 1990 the enabling approach is recognized as the predominant paradigm. Such approach proposes that not only the state take responsibility on habitat problems, but also the community themselves facilitating resources and an “enabling environment” for their development. Such enablement includes also the private sector seeking that they invest in public priorities. 1990-2000 is the time of sustainable urban development, in which a more holistic approach emerges, with special consideration of environmental challenges in addition of the already existing social issues. 1996 mark a particular moment, because Habitat II, in which governments and NGOs agrees on the need for a more public-private involvement in the subject. “Adequate housing for all” was the more clear expression of its goals. 2001 is another critical moment, what is called Istambul+5, taking shape new agreements to face the challenges of a rapid urbanizing planet, in a context of extreme fragility of the environment.

(Slide 7) The need for change. Taking into account the nature of slum proliferation, some principles for change are proposed:
1. From massive public policies to “tailor made” responses
2. From reactive slum upgrading to multi-scale prevention
3. From never-ending “assistance to everyone” to progressive human rights fulfilment.
4. From public participation to association
5. From individual land regularisation to communal land tenure alternatives.
6. From public works to a balance among public works, regulations and social organization.

(Slide 8). What is the compass? It is a Participatory tool to measure the fulfillment of human rights in poor neighborhoods. A way to carry out quick diagnosis expressing graphically problems and alternatives for solutions. Facilites agreement between people and authorities about priorities harmonizing public works, urban regulations and social organization. Different to traditional planning, responding to informality and slums through “technical” diagnosis seeking to develop an standardized policy applicable to all informal settlements equally; the “compass” seeks to carry out “tailor made”diagnosis represented graphically in a way that guide local governments and people jointly to take action on key priorities.

(Slide 9). Potential users. Neighbors: Providing them a tool for agreement and self organization. Public officials: Facilitating them updated and systematic (provided by people contrasted to census and statistically sound data) to orientate public policies. Academics and specialized organizations: Facilitate the comparative study of neighborhood and cities

(Slide 10). The “Compass”. The “Compass” exercise consists in linking up 4 key factors:
-Human rights with
-Social organization,
-Work and services
The resulting diagram reflects the particular living conditions of a certain community in a defined territory. These factors explain the reasons behind the fulfillment or not of rights expressed graphically as the “north” of the compass.

(Slide 11). The methodological steps. The methodology is build up following these steps:
I. Neighborhood delimitation: This step is important to determine specifically the boundaries of the neighborhood targeted for improvement and the context of the city in which slum prevention is pursued.
II. Identification of sub-zones: This step explore how homogeneous socially is the neighborhood seeking to identify gaps and differences reflecting neighborhood fragmentation.
III. Analysis of segregation and fragmentation: with previous analysis done, this step explore the causes behind segregation and fragmentation considering the location of the neighborhood in the city, its history, etc.
IV. Hypothesis of causes: Works and regulations. The measurement of public works and regulations in the areas aims to understand from a different angle, the territorial shaping of the area from a physical and normative perspective.
V. Estimation of rights and social organization: Collecting data on basic human rights as adequate housing, water, education, health, jobs and different subjects, this steps confront level of human rights fulfillment compared to social organization or what the population and its authorities are properly organized to respond to the challenge of fulfillment of human rights.
VI. Summary of diagnosis: The graph of the “Compass” reflects the four axes explored: Human rights fulfillment, social organization, public works and urban regulation, defining a graph that indicates in a particular neighborhood where it is its strength and weakness.
VII. Action plan: Based on the diagnosis graph, an action plan is elaborated with the participation of the neighbors, defining specific priorities to progress strategically in human rights fulfillment
VIII. Neighborhood pact: This step consists in agreements and commitments taken by the communities, private sector and authorities on how to upgrade their habitat and prevent slum formation.

(Slide 12). “Participlán” it is the step in which once the “compass” has been agreed among neighbors, is presented formally to the community and the local government to discuss alternative proposal to upgrade and prevent informal settlement spread in the area, city and region. It is an exercise in which the poor is empowered to have a vision for development, taking advantage of their social organization to achieve progress in terms of human rights for the most vulnerable.

(Slide 13). Application of the “Compass” to four case studies in different locations of Buenos Aires. Comparing systematically the “Compass” in four segregated areas of the metropolis of Buenos Aires provide clue on the success and failure of public policies and what local administration together with communities should give priority to progress towards fulfillment of human rights

(Slide 14) The comparison of different location point out on the importance of central location to increase human rights, resulting of more social organization, public works, but paradoxically less regulations. The lesson is that slums will increase in central location if multi-scale planning schemes are not applied, redistributing the benefit of centrality to the peri-urban and peripherical locations, where the cost of land is lower and habitat can be more affordable for the poor. But such locations lack basic urban services, very difficult to afford by the poor with their budget restriction. Secure land tenure based purely in individual plotting results in this exercise an obstacle rather than an opportunity for the poor to saisfy their adequate housing needs.

(Slide 15) International comparison: The application of the method to neighborhood and cities in the Global South contributes some valid lessons. On one hand, unveil the failure of the state to regulate land. The poor results neglected in the cases studied because even with huge housing complex and ambitious public work plans, informal settlements continue spreading on very inadequate places. The lack of adequate regulations to encourage private and community investments in producing adequate housing in paramount, leaving without options for the poor, rather than living in informal settlements. But such informal settlements present very different nature and dynamics that public policies tends to ignore. Or public work plans are promoted as “solutions” including sometimes housing, or a more liberal approach using market mechanisms is imposed, reducing regulations. But never complementing public work and regulations are implemented and never harmonizing both with social organization.
(Slide 16) Migraplán. As part of the search of the “compass” to design tailor made planning interventions, it is studied those slums dominated by migrants. A coordination network has been created in Latin America, seeking to identify collaboratively, how migrants, both internal and international, create territorial corridors. Such corridors are critical to unveil to help planners to understand the nature of urban expansion according to their respective nature of cities: 1) Towns in areas expelling migrants, those surrounded by rural shanty towns from where migrants initiated their journey; 2) Migrant transfer cities: Those expanding by slum belts, dominated by transitory accommodations, 3) Metropolitan final migrant destinations: Dominated by urban expansion, periurban settlements and slums proliferation in downtown.

(Slide 17) Final ideas. In response to the need for change, some key ideas emerge from “compass” application
1) “Compass” as a way forward to design “tailor made” participatory interventions
2) Multi-scale approach (regional, urban and neighborhood)
3) Success measured by human right fulfillment and not service delivery (mercantile)
4) Community and public association
5) Alternative communal and affordable secure land tenure (migrant cities)
6) Complement public works, regulations and social organization

Additional Reading Materials
ABBA, Artemio (2011), “Mapa agravado de carencias del hábitat / Asincronías socio territoriales en la Buenos Aires Metropolitana.” Disponible en: http://www.plataformaurbana.cl/

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CRAVINO, Maria Cristina (2009). La metamorfosis de la ciudad informal en el area metropolitana de Buenos Aires. Revista Lider. Año 11. Pp. 31-55.

CRAVINO, María Cristina, del Río, Juan Pablo y Duarte, Juan (2008). “Magnitud y crecimiento de las villas y asentamientos en el Área Metropolitana de Buenos Aires en los últimos 25 años”. Disponible en www.fadu.uba.ar/mail/difusion_extension/090206_pon.pdf.

DI VIRGILIO, Mercedes y Vio, Marcela (2009) La geografía del proceso de formación de la Región Metropolitana de Buenos Aires, mimeo.

EDWARDS Brian, (2005). “Guia basica de la sostenibilidad”. Editorial Gustavo Gili.

FAINSTEIN, Susan (2009). “Spatial Justice and Planning” En Justice Spatiale N° 1, Septiembre de 2009. Disponible en: Fainstein, Susan S., «Spatial Justice and Planning», Justice spatiale | Spatial Justice, n° 01, September 2009

FALCÓN, Mercedes y RAFFO, María Laura (Coords.) (2011). Relevamiento de villas y asentamientos en el gran Buenos Aires. Disponible en: http://www.untechoparamipais.org/argentina/sites/default/files/catastro-2011-buenos-aires.pdf

FERNANDEZ, Edesio (2011). Regularization of informal settlements in Latin America (Policy focus report). Cambridge MA, Lincoln Institute of Land Policie.

FERNANDEZ, Roberto (2002). Seminario de Doctorado FADU-UBA. Critica ambiental del proyecto. Arquitectura y Ciudad: de lo natural a lo sustentable; del proyecto al eco-proyecto. Buenos Aires, documento de cátedra, mimeo.

GARAY, Alfredo y Giandomenico Amendola (2000). “La Visión Urbanística. En “La Fragmentación Física de Nuestras Ciudades”. Memoria del II Seminario Internacional de la Unidad temática de Desarrollo Urbano. Malvinas Argentinas 3 y 4 de Agosto de 2000. pp 39 a 89.

GAVAZZO, Natalia (2011). Hijos de bolivianos y paraguayos en el área metropolitana de Buenos Aires. Identificaciones y participación. Entre la discriminación y el reconocimiento. Tesis Doctoral. Disponible en http://xa.yimg.com/kq/groups/4842518/1805218721/name/NG%20tesis%20definitivo.pdf

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KING, Russell y otros (2010). The Atlas of Human Migration., Nueva York Earthscan.

KULLOCK, David y MURILLO, Fernando (2010). Vivienda Social en Argentina. Un siglo de estrategias espontáneas y respuestas institucionales 1907 / 2007. Salta, Ediciones Universidad Católica de Salta.

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MURILLO, Fernando (2001). “Private-public partnership, the compact city, and social housing: Best practice for whom?” En Development in Practice. Volumen 11, números 2 y 3.

MURILLO, Fernando, ABBA, Artemio y Tabbita, Julia (2012). “Migraciones y expansion de asentamientos informales: Demanda de Planeamiento Urbano Multicultural?” En actas de las XXVI Jornadas de Investigación SI + PI Proyecto Integrar (En prensa)

MURILLO, Fernando, Schweitzer, Mariana, Artese, Gabriel, Díaz, S, Guzzo, A, Snitcofsky, V, Tabbita, J y Schweitzer, (2011) P. LA PLANIFICACIÓN URBANA-HABITACIONAL Y EL DERECHO A LA CIUDAD: entre el accionar del estado, el mercado y la informalidad. Buenos Aires. Ed. Cuentahílos, Disponible en http://www.urbanhabitat.com.ar/publicaciones.php última visita 11/09/2011

NOVICK, Susana (2008). Las migraciones en America Latina. Politica, Cultura y estrategias. CLACSO, Buenos Aires, Catálogo de Editores.

NOVICK, Susana (Directora) (2010). Migraciones y Mercosur: una relación inconclusa, Buenos Aires, Editorial Catálogos.

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