Invasion settlements represent an effective mechanism through which low-income people provide housing for themselves in Venezuela. Through the development process of San José de Chirica, this study showed that invasion settlements have the capacity to generate an adequate and appropriate living environment. By following certain patterns, these settlements would progressively produce housing areas with similar physical characteristics to those of planned low-income developments for comparable income groups.
These invasion settlement patterns can be adopted from planned developments or defined by the settlers themselves. The first ones try to resemble the settlement layouts existing in formally planned development, such as the grid-iron scheme, the rectangular plots organized into blocks, and the detached houses. However, these patterns are not rigidly implemented, but flexibly adapted to the context and the users. The use of these settlement patterns is considered by the settlers to guarantee the official recognition of the barrio by local authorities. Also, the use of conventional patterns eases the eventual provision of services.
The settlers' defined patterns are the result of the characteristics of the development of low-income people, and their adaptation to conventional standards. For instance, the design and layout of the more durable dwelling is similar to that of planned developments, but the construction process is organized and apportioned according to the requirements, preferences and available resources of the users.
Initially, the physical environment of invasion settlements is usually considered of poor quality since little investment is made in infrastructure. They lack adequate services, community facilities and the like. Substandard conditions are accepted by barrio settlers in exchange for land for housing and the freedom to build on it. They even accept long journeys to their workplace, provided they have a better opportunity for a place to live.
In the development of the settlement, only the required resources areinvested considering the priorities and preferences of the users. Barrio inhabitants also participate in the provision of services and infrastructure, given that they have adequate official support and technical assistance.
The adaptation of formal planned patterns is considered by barrio inhabitants as a way to obtain a more organized and "well-done" settlement. The use of conventional planned patterns is a tool to ensure the eventual official recognition of their settlement, and, therefore, obtain services. The experience in other barrios in which existing street and plot layouts were modified when serviced has been transmitted among those potential settlers. By using formal settlement patterns, therefore, invasion settlers ease the servicing of the settlement while protecting the structures they built.
In spite of the use of formal settlement patterns, the development process of unplanned settlements is more user-responsive. People manage their own settlement process on both the settlement level and the housing level.
Although a conventional grid-iron street pattern was adopted, the streets were created, modified and eliminated according to the requirements of the users. Initially, the space provided between plots to lay out the street and sidewalks seemed to be excessive in some areas of the settlement. However, these excessively wide streets were used as playgrounds by children and meeting places for barrio inhabitants.
In invasion settlements, land for housing is informally allocated according to the demand and the availability. The invasion leader's criteria also define the allocation process. Different sizes of plots are defined to satisfy different requirements.
The acquisition of land is a way to obtain not only access to housing, but also support and financial backing for the household and the housing process itself. Most settlers acquire more land than they initially require for housing. However, as the settlement consolidates, a process of intensification occurs. Through this intensification process, plots are either subdivided, modified or occupied by more than one dwelling. This process will eventually producesettlements with similar plot sizes and densities to those existing in planned developments.
By obtaining extraland, settlers can perform other income-generating activities in those plot areas that are not used for household activities. These income-generating activities represent an important support for household economy. The practice of raising animals and small crops existed in almost all plots; some of them were used for household consumption, and others were sold within the neighbourhood. Small grocery shops, garages for car repair and other services were also observed.
The possibility of multifamily -- and multi-dwelling -- plots also represented an economic support for poor households. Married children, elders and less economically advantaged relatives can share the plot area and the facilities along with the daily expenses and responsibilities. They rarely pay rent. Instead, they help in the household work, dwelling construction, child rearing and health care when other members are at work. Family networks are a strong supporting strategy for daily life among poor people in Venezuela.
As observed in San José, the housing process in unplanned settlements is totally in the users' hands. No design standards are enforced. The building process is adapted to the vulnerable illegal status of the settlement and to the informal and variable economy of its users. The first dwelling is always provisional. Only the strictly required resources are invested in this structure. For this reason, this dwelling is rarely extended, improved or even maintained. It is used while the household is saving money to build the more permanent one.
The more permanent dwelling is eventually built. In general, the quality of the construction is very good, and, in almost all the cases, dwellings were better adapted to the spatial requirements of the household than to the official dwelling type (the INAVI house).
The simultaneous use of the first and the permanent dwelling ensures that every investment is immediately used, even if the more permanent dwelling is not completed due to lack of funds. In some instances, the first dwelling is notremoved when the permanent dwelling is already completed. In these cases, it is used to house members of the extended family or for additional housing activities.
In the construction process of the more permanent dwelling, the bedrooms are the priority. These rooms are often temporarily used for other household activities, such as preparing or eating food, while the rest of the dwelling is completed.
Considering these observed patterns, housing proposals for similar population groups should support the provision of services and infrastructure. Technical assistance would be useful to improve some deficient aspects, especially those related to hygienic conditions, such as human waste disposal and grey water disposal.
Approaches to settlement planning and external intervention should be based on the understanding of these existing patterns and their evolution. The ability of poor people to generate their own housing should be considered in formal housing proposals. The involvement of the users in the process not only will reduce the burden of the planners in the decision making, but will also produce an environment efficiently adapted to the particular needs and preferences of their users at every stage of the development. This approach would not only divert benefits toward low-income people, in the form of better settlement development, but would also make easier the provision of services. Besides, the direct intervention of the state would be reduced perhaps to a supportive and supervising role to optimize both the process and its economic resources.
The observations contained in this study are limited to a particular settlement in a specific city. Since settlement patterns are conditioned by the characteristics of each context, more research is required for comparable sectors in other locations. The ample range of examples will widen the perspectives of those professionals in the area of housing research and development.
Invasion settlements in Venezuela will continue emerging. It is estimated that the housing stock produced by the formal sector, both public and private, even with highly subsidized interest rates, will be out of the reach of 75 percent of allfamilies. Barrios will continue providing affordable and adequate housing for those groups that have no other option. More research is required in the area of invasion settlements. It would be useful to study how patterns are created, how collective priorities are established and how they are assimilated into the culture of invasion developers. This knowledge might be useful for housing proposals and settlement upgrading programs better adapted to users' needs and preferences.