Can squatter settlements be good places to live?
Research on low-income "squatter communities" by McGill urban planner David Brown suggests that squatters are often perceived as powerless and disorganized, is often not accurate.
Squatters, i.e. people with no legal entitlement to the land they live on, are frequently perceived as powerless and disorganized. In fact, however, research on low-income "squatter communities" by McGill urban planner David Brown suggests that this stereotype is often not accurate. "Squatters can and do develop organized communities in settlements that are not supported by formal government institutions" notes David Brown, Director of the McGill School of Urban Planning, and a leading expert in the field of low-income settlements. His most recent research in Trinidad and Tobago shows that these communities can evolve in a healthy manner "when there is a balanced approach between top-down (i.e. government) and bottom-up (i.e. community-based) strengths. The combination of the two is the key to success."
Since 1991, in association with Villes et développement, a Montreal-based Centre of Excellence funded by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), David Brown has studied the evolution of low-income settlements in Port of Spain, the capital of Trinidad and Tobago. "There is great difficulty in providing land and housing for a large proportion of the population at a price they can afford, so these settlements evolve with little or no support for infrastructure e.g. roads, drains, water, sewerage, garbage collection etc. As a result, shanty towns are legally, socially and environmentally precarious," says David Brown, who has designed effective ways of supporting the efforts of squatters in improving their own community.
One effective solution has been the creation of community-based partnerships with local community workers, government agencies and professionals. In this way, the energy, knowledge and resources that are available within the community are channeled and nurtured by professional planners and government institutions to provide greater stability in the community development process.
"Effective planning can occur within squatter settlements," says Professor Brown. For example, recreation areas "bubble up" as informal communities evolve. These "behaviour traces" provide the raw material "for an effective recreational plan that meets the specific needs of residents and ensures that appropriate recreational facilities and services are provided in convenient and environmentally sound locations."
Professor Brown has published many articles in planning journals and texts relating to his research within Trinidad and Tobago and elsewhere in the Caribbean. He is also involved with numerous GIS projects in the international context and with water management issues in the Beijing-Tianjing region of China.