There are a billion people living in thousands of informal settlements globally, but little is known about how these communities change through formal and informal processes. Creating data about how people make economic, social, and material use of their dwellings – and how those processes are impacted by urban development – is a guiding principle behind the Chapa Civic Data Lab.

We are an international, transdisciplinary team of researchers committed to providing tools and techniques that people may use to participate in urban governance and transformation. Although there are many types of informal settlement to study, we focus specifically on those that have undergone extensive upgrading or redevelopment.

Our data draw from São Paulo, with a focus on two case studies, and three primary sources: public census data, a large-scale household survey undertaken in the context of a National Science Foundation grant, and follow-up studies that target particular themes. Our primary goal is to make these data available to residents of the case study communities, and to share our methods and tools with peer researchers and communities who are also constructing local research infrastructures.


In 2008, Kristine Stiphany started studying informal settlements and the people who build them in São Paulo, Brazil, where she was supported by a Fulbright fellowship at the University of São Paulo. Kristine went on to practice as an architect for a slum upgrading project with the City of São Paulo, and through this experience recognized the need for tools that would democratize the data that are used to guide urban development, and help residents make decisions about the changes that transform their own neighborhoods. Kristine’s doctoral work examined how people have used space in favelas to develop local decision-making platforms. Her postdoctoral work expanded this scope to focus on digital infrastructures.

With the support of a National Science Foundation postdoctoral fellowship, Kristine started the Chapa Civic Data Lab to examine the potential for participatory digital technologies to address social spatial segregation in cities, and as an extension to the Latin American Housing Network at the University of Texas at Austin, which continues to be a collaborator. In 2016, the Chapa website and data visualization tool ComuniDADOS were first launched at the UN-Habitat III Conference in Quito, where a project film was presented in an event “Participatory Tools for Slum Upgrading,” co-hosted by the University of Texas at Austin and the Santa Fe Institute. At Texas Tech, Kristine has continued to work in and with case communities to translate data collected in the context of her NSF postdoc into Data Stories that expand public understanding about how two case studies can provide insights about urbanization and housing in Latin America broadly.

Chapa Now

This website provides a portal into the ongoing data creation of Chapa’s local research infrastructure. Researchers, institutions, agencies, community organizers, students, and citizens can access data about informal settlements, incremental housing patterns and processes, and urban development in São Paulo across three main platforms. The ComuniDADOS tool permits a side-by-side view of comparative data in two upgraded settlements. Data Stories contextualize quantitative data with qualitative, participatory fieldwork. For quick access, citizens can use Data Briefs for their own purposes and project timelines.

In sharing these data, it is our intention to raise awareness about issues at the intersection of informality and urban development, provide tools to evaluate public policy and improve the governance of where and how people live in cities, and to help planners, designers, urbanists engage with complex urban environments within further deepening sociospatial segregation.