Peripheral Urbanization in the Global South

The autoconstruction of Jardim das Camélias, São Paulo. Pictures taken from the same terrace over a 35 year period. Photos by the author.

Peripheral Ubanization: Autoconstruction, Transversal Logics, and Politics in Cities of the Global South

Teresa Caldeira, Chair and Professor of City and Regional Planning


Teresa Caldeira, Chair and Professor of City and Regional Planning


Published in Environmental Planning D: Society and Space 2017, Vol. 35(1) 3–20, 2016

Project Description

Many cities around the world have been largely constructed by their residents, who build not only their own houses, but also frequently their neighborhoods. In this article, I use the notion of peripheral urbanization to analyze this way of producing cities that is quite pervasive in the global south. I argue that peripheral urbanization refers to modes of the production of space that (a) operate with a specific temporality and agency, (b) engage transversally with official logics, (c) generate new modes of politics, and (d) create highly unequal and heterogeneous cities. I also argue that peripheral urbanization not only produces heterogeneity within the city as it unfolds over time, but also varies considerably from one city to another. I build my arguments by juxtaposing dissimilar cases from a few cities in the global south. To focus on peripheral urbanization means simultaneously to de-center urban theory and to offer a bold characterization of modes of the production of space that are different from those that generated the cities of the North Atlantic.

It is important to stress that peripheral urbanization does not necessarily entail the growth of cities towards their hinterlands. In other words, it does not simply refer to a spatial location in the city—its margins—but rather to a way of producing space that can be anywhere. (Nor does peripheral refer to macro relations of uneven development, as in world system theory.) What makes this process peripheral is not its physical location but rather the crucial role of residents in the production of space and how as a mode of urbanization it unfolds slowly, transversally in relation to official logics, and amidst political contestations.

Peripheral urbanization involves a distinctive form of agency. Residents are agents of urbanization, not simply consumers of spaces developed and regulated by others. They build their houses and cities step-by-step according to the resources they are able to put together at each moment in a process that I call autoconstruction (following the Latin American term for it). As Holston (1991) has also shown, each phase involves a great amount of improvisation and bricolage; complex strategies and calculations; and constant imagination of what a nice home might look like. Sometimes residents rely on their own labor; frequently, they hire the labor of others. Their spaces are always in the making. Thus, peripheral urbanization also involves a distinctive temporality; homes and neighborhoods grow little-by-little, in long-term processes of incompletion and continuous improvement led by their own residents. Peripheral urbanization does not involve spaces already made that can be consumed as finished products before they are even inhabited. Rather, it involves spaces that are never quite done, always being altered, expanded, and elaborated upon.

The full article with bibliography is available here.

(Link image of São Paulo By Ana Paula Hirama - wikipedia: