Migration in Latin-America: Imagining Flux, Rapid Response and Reversibility

Today’s fast-paced, global flow of people and goods is challenging the idea that the city should be an entity that aspires to stability and permanence. Before the pandemic projections indicated that the share of migrants relative to the total global population would increase from 2.8% in 2010 (190 million people) to 3.5% in 2050 (334 million people)—Today projections are higher.

Once the world reopens, international migration will intensify. Besides the acceleration of cross border migration due to post pandemic dynamics, predictions signal that in following decades there will be migratory displacements of up to 200 million additional people due to environmental factors. Rising sea levels, changes in rainfall distribution patterns and in ocean chemistry will strongly affect coastal cities where 77% of the at-risk global population resides. People displaced by the effects of climate change will join those displaced by more cyclical natural events, such as earthquakes and other natural phenomena. All these migrants will have to be taken in by destination cities.

This global scenario finds Latin-America and the Caribbean at a moment of extreme transitions. As an effect of border closures and constant curfews, precariousness in the city has acquired a new magnitude. We have witnessed an unprecedented expansion of rapid response settlements fueled by interrupted migration flows. It is expected that in incoming years uneven urban growth of the region, climatic fragility, political conflict, and other migratory drivers will set up the stage for massive human displacement, which will translate into aspirational and forced migration at an unprecedented scale. A more vulnerable migration landscape will increase the demands for rapid response settlements, bringing a new set of challenges to destination cities. If architecture, urban design, and planning do not come up with transitional strategies and find agile strategic responses, it is highly likely that precarious settlements will absorb a major part of this migrant influx. Such context of flux is forcing the region to reimagine its relation to temporality and inviting design imagination to create softer strategies, which are more elastic, reversible, and light enough to encompass a wide spectrum of unpredictable city pressures. In the near future urban robustness will be increasingly related to the ability of cities to structure their systems as open, recombinant, and capable of withstanding varying levels of requirements through constant reconfigurations. 

In this course we will explore flexible solutions to temporary problems, reimagining the physical form of cities in a more elastic condition, and thinking about reversible configurations that are able to articulate more sustainable forms of urban development. Indeed, when in the future, besides migration, other deep transitions—such as climatic vulnerability—will also become prominent, a softer, weaker, and adjustable urban form will be the only fertile ground for conflict resolution. Through research and speculation will explore the potential of design for introducing a renovated narrative that incorporates human flux in the policies and politics of the city. We will critically interrogate displacement drivers, analyze migratory sub-systems and geographies, and discuss about how urban design and planning interventions can respond to migration. We will host prominent practitioners, regional policy leaders and influential intellectuals as guest to discuss strategies that governments, cities, and designers can apply in this imminent scenario. Assignments include leading and participating in discussion sessions and a final paper.

Please note this course will meet online through 9/15. After that, the course will meet mostly in person with the exception of 5 sessions that will happen online. Please review the syllabus for details, and note that this is subject to change.

The first class meeting will be on Wednesday, September 1st. The rest of the semester, classes will meet during the official scheduled time. 

Note: the instructor will offer online live course presentations on 08/26, and/or 08/27. To access the detailed schedule and Zoom links, please visit the Live Course Presentations Website.