Chapter 2: Research Methods

Sources of Information

2.1.1. Review of the Literature on Ciudad Guayana

The CVG library contains most of the documents related to the history of the city. Official, statistical, general and bibliographic information about Ciudad Guayana can be found there. The library also keeps copies of all research reports related to the city's development and the Guayana region.

Data were obtained from the Office of Surveys and Statistics in the Department of Statistics of the CVG. This office edits a periodical publication containing updated statistical data about population, building inventory (housing stock), economic and commercial activities, infrastructure service distribution, densities, incomes and employment, from the Guayana region, including Ciudad Guayana.

Additional information about the Ciudad Guayana project was obtained from the Rotch Library of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Francis Loeb Library of Harvard University in Cambridge, U.S.A. The evaluation reports of the Master Plan for Ciudad Guayana included information about the development of unplanned residential areas in the city.

2.1.2. Interviews

Information about the settlement was obtained directly from the people who were involved in settlement development. The first source of information was the Director of the Urban Planning Department of the Municipal Council of Caroní, to which Ciudad Guayana belongs.

Community organizations of Ciudad Guayana and their members are registered in the Urban Planning Department in order to be officially considered community representatives. This list of communities represented the starting point in the search for data. From this office the representatives of the barrio San José de Chirica were contacted. During the last two years, the UrbanPlanning Department has acted as a link between community organizations and official agencies for diverse programs. Through joint efforts with the aso-vecinos (neighbourhood association), the implementation of social, cultural and development programs has been more effective. Also, community petitions to official agencies have been easily channelled and re-directed to the corresponding office through the Urban Planning Department. This last step has facilitated one of the main problems that people traditionally faced, especially those in low-income and illegal communities when they asked for services or official support from government agencies.

The aso-vecinos is a group elected by the barrio members to represent the community before local municipal authorities. These community organizations are usually very helpful in providing information about the settlement. Their members have been living in the barrio for years and have been involved in community affairs. Such is the case in San José de Chirica. The president and the vice-president are two women who have been living in the barrio for more than ten years.

Being in an illegal settlement, the people of the barrio are reluctant about receiving a stranger in their homes and disclosing information about housing matters and the invasion process. Thus, the presence of the aso-vecinos members was useful to bypass the introductory step in the collection of information during interviews.

Interviews were also conducted with the people from the Department of Urban Studies of the CVG. This multidisciplinary group had been closely working with barrios in upgrading programs. Since they had been involved in the housing program for invasion settlements called "re-ordenamiento de barrios" (re-organization of barrios), their experience in managing existing settlement patterns represented a valuable source of information and a guide for specific research.

An additional interview with the invasion leader was carried out. This interview provided information about the process of invasion, the provision ofservices and the general evolution of the settlement. Similarly, an interview with the members of the aso-vecinos provided information related to the recent development of the barrio.

2.1.3. Initial Visits to San José de Chirica

Before the survey was started, exploratory visits to San José were conducted to gain familiarity with the settlement and its sectors. During the first visit, the members of the aso-vecinos were contacted, and a preliminary walk through the barrio was made to identify the areas according to the occupation of the site. Information about the barrio members' attitudes towards surveys and interviews and some recommendations were also obtained from the members of the aso-vecinos. This information was useful for designing questionnaires and interview schedules.

During the second visit, a detailed observation of the site was completed in order to define the sample selection strategy, as well as the survey procedures, in terms of time estimates, information to be collected and required equipment. Also on this visit, barrio plans were corrected, since street and block information included in them was rather old.

2.1.4. Selection of the Sample of Plots

Since the aim of the study was to observe settlement patterns of unplanned areas, sample plots were selected according the following criteria:

The plot had to have been created during the invasion process, though it could have been the outcome of an invasion plot subdivision. It had to be mainly used for housing, though additional income-earning activities could also exist.

Regarding the location in the settlement, the sample included plots on main and secondary streets, new and old ones, inner and outer streets, paved and unpaved ones. The sample also included plots from every phase of barrio development, newer and older ones; it also included phases controlled bydifferent leaders.

Related to the selection of dwellings, permission from the owner was needed in order to include the dwelling in the sample group. There had to be a member of the household who knew about the settlement and the housing process. This permission included the owner's consent to take pictures of the plot and dwelling and to draw a sketch with measurements of the plot and the dwelling. This aspect was a point of concern due to the illegal status of the barrio. Some people did not agree to be included in the survey. For instance, one of the families did not feel confident because it had recently settled in the barrio and did not know the aso-vecinos members.

The construction of the dwelling had to be self-help. Households that were given loans for construction or for building materials were included, as long as the loan's conditions did not require a specific dwelling design or construction process. Since the study looked at the patterns in unplanned areas, no dwelling built by the official housing program was considered.

2.1.5. Survey Schedule

As mentioned above, the presence of the members of the aso-vecinos facilitated the introduction of the research team to the person to be interviewed. Therefore, schedules were arranged in accordance with the availability of the two members of aso-vecinos who collaborated with the survey. Also, the need for good natural light to take pictures was a variable taken in consideration. A routine from 8:30 to 12:00 in the morning, and from 2:00 to 5:00-5:30 in the afternoon was agreed, and at least one of the two aso-vecinos members was present during the interview. Some interview sessions were postponed or concluded earlier because aso-vecinos members were not available. Two afternoon sessions were cancelled because of heavy rain.

2.1.6. Data Collection

The survey was carried out by a research team of two persons. Thesurvey was organized in two parts. The first was the interview and the photographic documentation, and the second part was the drawing of the sketches and the measuring of the dwelling and the plot.

One of the members of the research team was responsible for the interview, and the other was responsible for documenting photographically the dwelling and the plot. The drawings and the measurements were made simultaneously.

The interview session took 10 to 15 minutes. Drawing and photographing took 30 to 40 minutes, depending on the size and spatial distribution of the dwelling. An average of 5 to 6 plots a day were surveyed. The total sample consisted of 30 plots.

2.1.7. Aerial Photographs

Aerial photographs were obtained through the National Cartography Office of the Venezuelan Ministry of the Environment and Non-Renewable Natural Resources. These aerial photographs recorded five phases of the development in different years: 1977, 1979, 1980, 1983 and 1987.

The release of this photographic material required the censoring and authorization of the Ministry of Defense, which was processed through the same Cartography Office. The entire process of making the request and getting the material took almost three weeks (three days and more than two weeks, respectively).

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2.2. Data Analysis

Based on the available photographic material, the settlement patterns in unplanned areas were studied in four physical elements of the settlement: streets, blocks, plots and housing. The study focused on the definition of these elements (i.e., layout, construction and transformation) over time. These physical elements conformed to just a part of the whole settlement; however, their definition patterns were determinant in the integral development of thebarrio.

The study was organized in two parts. The first part focused on the observation of patterns in three elements of the physical structure of the barrio: streets, blocks and plots in a broader neighbourhood scale. For this part, the aerial photographs were used to observe how these elements were laid out and how they were modified along the development of the settlement. The survey complemented the information regarding the construction process, especially in the case of the streets and plot allocation.

The second part focused on the patterns of plot transformation and housing process at the user scale. For this second part, the information obtained from on-site observations, sketches and interviews was complemented with the aerial photographs. The aspects observed were occupied area in plots, location of dwelling in plot, plot evolution, dwelling layout and construction, built-up area, dwelling growth, spatial organization of activities and densities per dwelling and plot area.

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