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squatter settlement

  A general term for residential districts created by the illegal occupation of land. Such settlements are mainly found in Third World cities where conventional housing markets cannot cope with the demand created through rapid urbanization. The land occupied is either on the urban fringe or in the interstices of existing development (as in deep gullies in Caracas, on steep hillsides in Rio, and alongside railway tracks in Mexico City). The occupation may be entirely unplanned and piecemeal (see spontaneous settlement), but most recent squatter settlements result from planned \'invasions\' by groups living elsewhere in the city, and are targeted on unused land whose ownership is uncertain and where occupation is unlikely to be resisted by the state.

Many squatter settlements — variously termed barrios, bidonvilles, bustees, favelas, kampongs, ranchos and shanty towns — lack a basic infrastructure (public utilities such as running water, electricity, and sewage and garbage removal) and the housing is of poor quality. Stokes (1962) introduced an important distinction between two main types of settlement, however: slums of despair, in which the residents have little expectation of material advancement and make few improvements to their homes; and slums of hope, where self-help movements promote both investments in the infrastructure and improvements to individual dwellings (often over a considerable time period, as resources allow: as a consequence, many homes are incomplete).

Squatter settlements were for a long time viewed by urban elites as major irritants, not only landscape eyesores but also sources of potential health hazards and the breeding places for radical social movements: in such contexts, governments sought to eradicate them, even if they were unable to provide alternative housing for their low-income residents. From the 1960s on, however, some housing specialists argued that the settlements offered viable solutions to chronic housing supply problems in rapidly-growing cities with large low-income populations. Conventional housing provision (both private and public sector) cannot match the demand, and the available capital is better spent on other projects. Squatter settlements involve people investing in their own homes and neighbourhoods, and if encouraged they may invest more. Thus the settlement process has been aided in many cities by assisting groups to identify land on which to found their settlements, helping with their planning, ensuring a basic infrastructure of utilities to the sites, and in some cases providing basic \'core dwellings\' around which growth can occur as the \'owner\' wishes. (RJJ)

References and Suggested Reading Gilbert, A.G. 1998: The Latin American city. London: Latin American Research Bureau. Hardoy, J. 1989: Squatter citizen: life in the urban Third World. London: Earthscan. Lloyd, P.C. 1979: Slums of hope: shanty towns in the Third World. London: Penguin. Stokes, C.J. 1962: A theory of slums. Land Economy 38: 127-37. Ward, P., ed., 1982: Self-help housing: a critique. Oxford: Mansell.



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