Collaborative Practice - Young, Informal and Sustainable

Young, Informal and Sustainable: Devising Urban Strategies for Young Informal Land Occupations

María Arquero de Alarcón & Ana Paula Pimentel Walker, University of Michigan


Building on the faculty leads’ research, this multi-year teaching and research design initiative project started in 2016 as a transdisciplinary collaboration between a graduate level planning capstone and an architecture studio, an informal dwellers’ association, the non-profit land owner, and an extended network of local partners. Building on the semester work, graduate students secured internal and external funding to implement a subset of recommendations in collaboration with the local partners. Throughout the design process, students have managed the grants, organized several field site visits and community engagements activities in 2017 and 2018, and sustained a fluid communication strategy with the local partners. Ongoing efforts focus on the development of a selected component in the design framework, the civic shed, including the prototype for decentralized sewage infrastructure serving adjacent homes, and the construction of a playground. The project serves as the community center for the 800 families currently living in the occupation.

This pedagogic initiative approaches global experiential learning as a process based on meaningful engagement with partners, active field immersion, and reflective practice. The initiative engages with mutual global learning based on the principles of equality in crosscultural communication, decision-making, and practice. Following Jacoby (1996) and others (Porter and Monard 2001), we guide our approach to service-learning on the philosophy of reciprocity, embodying an effort to move from charity to justice and from service to the end of need. Translating these goals to the context of a joint professional international capstone and studio means that students and partners engage in “joint fact-finding” (Laws and Forester 2007) to unpack complex problems associated with power imbalances, to co-produce agendas and deliverables, and to co-create plans that will enhance the existing capacity of client-partners to effect positive change in their communities.