Autoconstruction or self-building is a process of constructing the physical environment over time, often using unsanctioned or informal building practices and materials that are found and acquired on an ad-hoc basis (Maricato, 1982). Structures remain in process and are progressively built in accordance to the monetary and / or material resources available to the builder (Turner 1968; Ward, 1982; Gilbert and Ward 1984). Ironically, autoconstruction often occurs collectively, whereby neighbors help one another to build shelter and common amenities such as sidewalks, staircases, wastewater canals, stores, and educational spaces. Autoconstruction processes are distinct from those of conventional building because the user and the maker are often the same person or set of people; feedback loops are small and thus failure can be remedied in the field, and the in-process state of self-built environments permits function to adapt to changing community needs. In addition to the physical provision of housing and/or other community resources, autoconstruction involves social processes related to staking claim to land, negotiating with local government for tenure, resources, and infrastructure such as electricity, water and wastewater removal systems, and continually acquiring resources that are not provides for by the State. “In the process of house/city building, many make themselves into citizens and political agents, become fluent in rights talk, and claim the cities as their own” (Caldeira, 2017: 3).

Caldeira, T. (2017). Peripheral Urbanization: Autoconstruction, transversal logics, and politics in cities of the global south. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 35(1) 3 – 20.

Gilbert, A.G. and Ward, P.M. (1985). Housing, the State and the Poor: Policy and Practice in Latin American Cities. New York and Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Maricato, E. (1982). Autoconstrução, a arquitetura do possível, in Maricato, Erminia (org.) A produção capitalista da casa (e da cidade) no Brasil industrial. 2nd. São Paulo: Editora Alfa-Ômega. 71 – 94.

Turner, J. (1968). Housing Priorities, Settlement Patterns and Urban Development in Modernizing Countries, Journal of the American Institute of Planners, 34: 354 – 363.

Turner, J. (1972). Freedom to Build, dweller control of the housing process. New York: Collier Macmillan.

Ward, P.M. (ed.) (1982). Self-Help Housing: A Critique. London: Mansell Publishing Company.


Situated data is “data that is developed by citizens about change that happens in their own communities” (Haraway 1993; Stiphany, Moore, and Ward, 2014; Shelton, Zook, and Wiig, 2015).

Civic data is merges a range of situated and public datasets to enhance public decision-making about urban redevelopment. According to Williams (2020: ix), civic forms of data can “enhance learning, provoke dialogue, and inspire policy change.”

Haraway, D. (1988). Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective, Feminist Studies, 14(3):575 -595.

Shelton, T., Zook, M.A. and Wiig, A. (2015). The Actually Existing Smart City, Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy, and Society, 8(1): 13 – 25.

Stiphany, K., Moore, S.A., Ward, P.M. (2014) Constructing Empirical Public Decision-Making: The Application of Situated Data to Development in Consolidated Informal Settlements. Full Proposal. National Science Foundation grant #1513395.

Williams, S. (2020) Data Action. Cambridge: MIT Press.


“Design is the transformation of existing conditions into preferred ones” (Simon, 1968).

Simon, H. (1968). Sciences of the Artificial. Cambridge: MIT Press.


Because residents of informal settlements in São Paulo hold various forms of tenure, from none to concessional use, they are at risk of displacement – when people are “excluded from the use of territory on which they relied (Penz, Drydyk, and Bose, 2012).” The key criteria for displacement is the identification of a physical domain as an “area of risk,” defined as an “area improper for habitation due to the fragility or instability of land cause by nature or acts of man” (Brazilian State Secretary for Public Order, 2012). The displacement cycle in São Paulo involves three primary steps (1) physical removal from a building or plot of land; (2) no compensation, compensation in the form of a cash payment, or compensation in the form of partially subsidized rent until a more permanent arrangement is made in (3) a resettlement situation (a developed housing community constructed on the same site / within the same area of risk or an existing development elsewhere).

Penz, P., Drydyk, J. and Bose, P.S. (2011). Development by Displacement: Ethics, Rights, and Responsibilities, New York: Cambridge University Press.


Informal settlements are self-built parts of cities that are characterized by irregular morphological patterns; high levels of social capital and collective action; irregular densities, limited access to public resources such as hospitals, schools, and health centers, and a demographic that is generally poor or very poor, has achieved low levels of education, and is employed in the informal sector (Perlman 1976; Roy, 2005; Watson, ). Although informal housing exists in the industrial north (Durst, 2014; Wegmann, 2014; Wegmann and Mawhorter, 2017), large aggregates of informal housing that comprise settlements are generally phenomena of cities in the global south.

The first type of Brazilian informal settlement is the favela. Favelas are one type of informal settlement in Brazil. They tend to be located on land tracts that have an irregular shape and are otherwise leftover spaces, such as the edges of urban infrastructures, margins of rivers and bodies of water, and in areas to the back of formal buildings. Due to these irregular site conditions, favelas are frequently located on steeply sloped sites that are prone to flooding and mudslides.

The loteamento is a second type of informal settlement in Brazil. The loteamento tends to be located on sites located at the peri-urban margins, and is a low-income subdivision of regularly shaped lots that were frequently sold without infrastructure (Bonduki, 1998). Although also constructed through processes of autoconstruction, dwellings in loteamentos tend to feature greater structural regularity than those in a favela, as well as consistency across entire blocks.

A cortiço is a rental tenement, and third type of informal settlement. Initially located in Brazilian city centers, as worker housing for the first wave of industrialization (Kowarick and Ant, 1988), cortiços are now a phenomenon of the contemporary favela (Stiphany, 2019; Stiphany, Ward, and Perez, 2020).

Bonduki, N. (1998). Origens Da Habitação Social No Brasil. Arquitetura Moderna, Lei Do Inquilinato E Difusão Da Casa Própria. São Paulo: Estação Liberdade, FAAPSP.

Kowarick, L. & Ant, C. (1988) Cem anos de promiscuidade: o cortiço na cidade de São Paulo, in L. Kowarick (ed.) As lutas sociais e a cidade: São Paulo Passado e Presente, (São Paulo: Paz e Terra).

Perlman, J. (1976). The Myth of Marginality: Urban Poverty and the Politics of Rio de Janeiro, Berkeley: University of California Press.

Consolidated informal settlements are areas that were once “fledging communities at the city periphery, whereas today they invariably form part of the innerburbs”, where they are established low-income neighborhoods ( Ward, Jiménez, E. and Di Virgilio, M. 2015:11).

Ward, P.M., Jiménez, E. and Di Virgilio, M. (eds.) (2015). Housing policies in Latin American cities: A new generation of strategies and approaches for 2016 UN Habitat III. New York, NY: Routledge.


Upgrading is a development and re-development strategy to introduce infrastructure, regularize land, and build social housing in informally constructed parts of cities, most commonly in the global south (Roy, 2005; Perlman, 2010). In Brazil, this process broadly encompasses what is referred to as urbanização.

Perlman, J. (2010). Favela: Four Decades of Living on the Edge in Rio de Janeiro. New York: Oxford University Press.

Roy, A. (2005). Urban Informality: Toward an Epistemology of Planning, Journal of the American Planning Association, 71(2): 147 – 158.