Global Land Enclosures, Urban-Technology, and Experimental Property: Past, Present, and Future of Household Tenure in Medellin’s Comunas (CLTX)
Researchers: Nicholas Simcik Arese, Michael Keith
Description of work
In the wake of economist Hernando De Soto’s publication of The Other Path (1990) and The Mystery of Capital (2003), individual land titling remains a dominant feature of global slum-upgrading initiatives. Proponents of privatizing informal settlements argue that titles bring tenure security through legal, financial, and administrative clarity, allowing economic benefits for residents, including rental income, capital gains on sale, and access to credit (Linn 1983). On the other hand, much research has since demonstrated how this approach can be deeply flawed, resulting in countless false claims, immediate resale of land, displacement, and creation of new informal settlements, and an explosion in land value that only benefits local patronage networks (Edésio Fernandes & Varley, 1998; Gilbert, 2002; T. Mitchell, 2008; Denis, 2012).
What is clear is that even in Europe or the United States, when considering easements, zoning, complex families, or mortgage derivatives, the idea that property can be entirely individualized remains mythical (Singer 2000). Moving beyond the rhetorics of capitalist development and normative critiques of neoliberalism, this project will attempt to account for the fact that the realities of property are always highly complex, messy, and contingent: hidden values and aspirations laden within regimes of property ownership must be understood through their commensurability or incommensurability, factors that are only visible given enough time to document changes in the built environment and enough space to understand possible displacements of people.
This project proposes to work in Medellin, Colombia to study a new range of advanced data modelling technologies, satellite mapping initiatives, and mobile phone platforms which, as of the last five years, are being coordinated to dramatically accelerate individualized land privatisation in the Global South. It first seeks to understand the complexity and possibilities of property for urban dwellers subject to violence and displacement. It then studies how technologies accelerating the privatisation of land operate in everyday life, amidst narrower geographical and temporal margins for evaluating their effects: in-built assumptions about values and rights, cultures of reception and adaptation to initiatives, short and long term economic impacts, patterns of displacement, and how these all inform alternatives to individualized title.
Building on this understanding, through an “architectural social science” that prioritizes bringing better-case futures closer to the present, it then aims to develop new modes of data collection and modelling that can predict the broader effects of digital property privatisation. This could lay the foundations for a platform that facilitates a wider range of possible property arrangements before it is too late. By embracing the challenge of commensuration between urban values in different contexts, through research and practice that “sees like a city” as urban dwellers do, it may be possible to push knowledge exchange on property rights beyond today’s normative approaches.
Aims and research questions
This project studies cultures of property in Medellin’s Comunas and the reception of technologies currently working to make them more uniform. It aims to evaluate how developments in data gathering, mathematical modelling, and mobile mapping can document urban migration and violence to predict the effects of implementing different property rights arrangements. It then shifts to a propositional stance, via an “architectural social science,” through PEAK, land policy, and start-up funding networks: attempting to combine data and architecture services into a platform that helps sustain property rights beyond existing individualized models, including the acquisition, management, and profit sharing of mixed communal-individual land ownership.
A wide range of technological tools have emerged in the last five years and are currently at the disposal of policy makers, companies, and research-practitioners seeking to work at the intersection of law, land, and income-generation. The analysis of forms of property created by/propelling urban violence/migration in Medellin, of technologies promising to clearly parcel land through privatisation, and the development of strategies for using them in new ways raises the following key research questions:
- What are past, existing, and emerging forms of complex property relations in informal Medellin, as seen through the lens of urban migration and violence?
- What are the assumptions built into technologies pushing for land privatisation, with respect to their short- and long-term economic, social, and cultural effects on people?
- What impact do these technologies have on everyday and professional architecture?
- How can the gathering and modelling of big data linking urban migration and violence reveal existing property rights arrangements and the effects of privatisation over time?
- How can the gathering and modelling of big data on construction & architectural patterns recognize forms of property rights and the effects of privatisation over time?
- How can alternative regimes of property rights facilitate rural-urban migrant integration?
- How can data, mobile technology, satellite mapping, blockchain cadastration, and platform cooperativism help create and manage mixed, context-specific property forms?
- How can architecture work with technology to sustain experimental property rights?