Tramas Urbanas AL


Self-built territories on the margins of urban regulation – favelas, villas, loteos piratas and invasiones – are intrinsically related to the historical and contemporary dynamics of the urbanization of Latin America. Throughout the region, colonialism led to a huge unequal distribution of land, which effects are still visible today.

In the cities, this unequal distribution of land, combined with the scarce supply (public and private) of decent and affordable housing for the poorest, has led to the existence of alternative and often precarious forms of housing. At first, tenements and boarding houses prevailed, but they were soon prohibited by urban planning regulations and largely demolished by the municipal authorities. The displaced population, in resistance to this attempt to banish them from the cities, began to occupy vacant land, either through the informal purchase of cheap plots or through invasions, leading to the formation of numerous self-built neighborhoods.

The digital platform Tramas Urbanas: Trajectories of the Urbanization of Latin America presents a systematization of the trajectories of public policies aimed at precarious settlements in three Latin American cities: Buenos Aires (Argentina), Medellin (Colombia) and Sao Paulo (Brazil). In addition, the platform recovers the different layers of urbanization in specific territories of these cities: Villa 20 (Buenos Aires), Comuna 2 – Santa Cruz (Medellin) and Heliópolis (Sao Paulo). It shows that these different layers of urbanization are also the result of the residents’ own efforts to transform their territories.

Memory as resistance and connection among popular settlements in Sao Paulo, Buenos Aires and Medellin

Tramas Urbanas: Trajectories of the Urbanization of Latin America is the result of an extension project linked to the postdoctoral research “Thinking ‘Through Elsewhere’ and from ‘Here’: the politics of slum upgrading in Latin American cities”, conducted by Dr. Camila Saraiva at the Laboratory of Urban and Regional Studies and Projects of the Federal University of ABC (LEPUR-UFABC). Both were financed by the Urban Studies Foundation: Postdoctoral Research Fellowship (2020-2023) and Knowledge Mobilization Award (2021).

How to cite: Saraiva, C., & Brajato, D. (2023, December). Tramas urbanas: trajectories of urbanization of Latin America.

Tramas Urbanas” was born from a request by Antônia Cleide Alves, current president of UNAS – Union of Nuclei, Associations of Residents of Heliópolis and Region. During an interview, Cleide asked for a timeline of the actions carried out by different municipal governments in Heliopolis “to help her memory”. On the same occasion, she said she was interested in knowing more about the projects carried out in Medellin, “which we always hear about”.

The initial idea of providing UNAS with a systematization of the programs and policies of upgrading carried out in the Municipality of Sao Paulo, and especially in Heliopolis, under different municipal administrations, was then extended to the cities of Buenos Aires and Medellin.

The platform ‘Tramas Urbanas’: Trajectories of the Urbanization of Latin America aims to contribute to connecting the histories of territories characteristic of the urbanization of Latin America.

We hope that it will be a support tool for preserving the memory of community struggles, enabling the sharing of knowledge and connections between different communities in Latin American cities. We believe that this connection can open up new and diverse possibilities for action.

Learn more about the methodology of the project and who is involved in it


The policies of upgrading, re urbanizing, improving or integrating precarious settlements in Latin America have some similarities. These similarities show a certain interconnectedness between them, due to the circulation of ideas and professionals between these cities, both in isolation and in association with international funding agencies, such as the Inter-American Development Bank, or even with organizations and religious groups committed to communities in the struggle for social justice.

Despite the links and similarities between these policies, they are the product of unique processes and local politics that need to be studied in detail. The timelines presented on this page document events related to the evolution of policies targeting precarious settlements since the mid-20th century in Buenos Aires (Argentina), Medellin (Colombia), and Sao Paulo (Brazil).

These events, such as the creation of laws and/or programs, occurred mainly at the municipal level, but some milestones at the national level were also decisive in the evolution of these policies. The trajectories of intervention policies in precarious settlements in each of the cities analyzed here differ in terms of institutional arrangements, intervention approaches, and timing.

Learn more about the trajectory of these policies


The landscapes of the communities portrayed here accumulate different processes of struggle and urbanization that are evident in the elements that constitute and differentiate them.

Click on the communities and learn more about their history of struggle and urbanization