José Rafael Núñez Collado

(Re)constructing the Informal City. Narratives of Progress in Santo Domingo Unplanned Settlements.

Informal settlements or slums are territories that have been traditionally oppressed, neglected, and hidden from historical urban documents, maps, and policies; thus made invisible and denied their right to the city. Furthermore, while slum upgrading is widely considered the best framework to intervene informal settlements today, there are debates regarding the causal effects of these interventions.

This dissertation is a two-stream research. On the one hand, it is interested in reconstructing the history of the “informal city” in Santo Domingo as a way of exposing its contributions to place making and its struggles. On the other hand, it exposes the causal effects of recent large-scale slum upgrading interventions in the city by comparing upgraded and non-upgraded communities that serve as control groups. These streams will inform a holistic understanding of urban informality (historically and contemporary) in the city where the first marginalized neighborhood in Latin America appeared.

This dissertation is relevant to contemporary architecture and urbanism discourses for several reasons. First, most of the urban growth that the planet will experience in the future will occur in the developing world, resulting in an increased number of people living in slums. Currently, there are over 200,000 slums in the world housing over 1 billion people (13% of the global population). Second, the challenges in slums are part of the 2015 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Of these, goal 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities) is directly related to urban informality as it targets by the year 2020 seeing a significant improvement in the life of 100 million slum dwellers. Third, as architecture and urbanism are used to propel the reforms and transformations of the informal city, evaluating historical processes and recent large-scale slum upgrading programs are an opportunity to construct a situated account on interventions that work and how they work, and expose those that need to be rethought or reframed.


Prof. Regan Potangaroa and Dr Emina Petrovic

Publications from dissertation

Núñez Collado, J. R. (2019). Santo Domingo: City profile of the Caribbean’s metropolis. Cities, 94(November), 235–246.