Graduate Students Research Presentation Series

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Reyes, Ronald
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Latin American Urbanism Symposium

Liminality in Latin America’s Global Cities: constructed and imagined borderlands of the formal and the informal

This Symposium focuses on multidisciplinary approaches to urban studies in Latin America, with an emphasis on the dynamics of contemporary urban-rural environments. This year the symposium focuses on the space "in-between" and transitions between formal and informal systems. Rapid development, rural-urban migration, and urban growth during recent decades have created conflicts between formal and informal economic and political systems, social structures, and built environments in Latin America's "global cities." Through a series of lectures during the semester and a summary panel discussion, the symposium will explore multiple aspects of: economic and environmental justice; race, ethnicity, and class; citizenship, the state, transnationalism, and rural-urban transformations, among other topics.

This Symposium is organized by the Department of Architecture and the Department of Anthropology at Iowa State University.

Contact Silvina Lopez Barrera at


“Border City: Ciudad Bolivar, Bogota, Colombia”


In the last 15 years, Bogotá went from being renown for corrupt governance and urban chaos to being a model for visionary politics and progressive urban planning. In this document I will analyze Bogotá’s turnaround and evaluate some of the main challenges that the city still faces, specifically considering the case of one of its largest and poorest areas like Ciudad Bolivar.

I will present Ciudad Bolivar and its informal urbanization. I will assess the opportunities and challenges represented by the participatory model of planning and policy-making adopted by the Colombian government in the last decade. I will focus on the difficulties of engaging citizens in the democratic process in economically depressed areas. Finally, I will suggest possible ways of bridging the communication gap between the informal city and political institutions.

Bogotá has experienced tremendous growth in the past century. Today, it is a thriving capital city of more than 7 million people, half of which are poor, according to the Department of City Planning. The city’s population has grown tremendously in the last decades as armed conflict intensified in the countryside forcing many Colombians to migrate to urban centers.

In the midst of Colombia’s ongoing-armed conflict, which spans more than fifty years, Bogotá is the country’s main economic driver, along with the other major urban centers (Medellin, Barranquilla, Cali). Good urban governance has reduced corruption in the administrations, stabilized the economy, and encouraged foreign investment. The financial, industrial, communication and retail sectors provide a decent living for the part of the population employed in the formal sector. Colombia’s GDP growth was one of the highest in Latin America in 2004.[1] The economy of Bogota is not as bad as it could be given the national context. However, one of Bogotá’s main issues is economic disparity. More than half of the population works in the informal sector and about, as many are poor.

[1] Economist Intelligence Unit, Country Profile: Colombia, December 2003 & CIA World Fact Book: Colombia, May 2003