Toward negotiated mitigation of landslide risks in informal settlements: Reflections from a pilot experience in Medellín, Colombia

Harry Smith, Francoise Coupe, Soledad Garcia Ferrari, Helena Rivera, Wilmar Edgardo Castro Mera

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11 Citations (Scopus)
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Urbanization continues to drive informal settlement growth on land exposed to hazards such as landslides, increasing risk among low-income populations. Though technical and social ways of managing landslide risk are known, in developing countries these measures are often difficult to implement because of complex social, economic, political, and institutional reasons. We present the findings from a pilot research project in Medellín, Colombia, which aimed to explore the scope for, and acceptability of, landslide risk-reducing strategies for informal settlements from the community and state perspectives; understand the barriers to landslide risk-reducing strategies; and identify politically and practically viable approaches to such strategies within a wider and more complex context of social and physical risk in the area. Focusing on the latter objective, we compare two forms of community-local government spaces for negotiation that were used during the project (a Cabildo Abierto and a joint local government-community Working Group), applying Fung’s “democratic cube” to their analysis. This helps understand their different nature, but also raises questions about the ability of Fung’s model to address governance arrangements related to so-called informal settlements in the Global South, and the need to revisit this model drawing on context-sensitive approaches and insights on informal governance arrangements from the growing literature on service coproduction. The key conclusions highlight the importance of overcoming the state-community stand-off over land occupation rights in Medellín, which is also found in self-built neighborhoods worldwide, by reorienting the problem away from conventional long-term land use planning issues toward issues of safety in the short and medium term, together with an incremental approach, in opening
up opportunities to develop wider negotiated mitigation of landslide risk at a more strategic level involving both community and local government.
Original languageEnglish
Article number19
Number of pages13
JournalEcology and Society
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 27 Feb 2020


  • Community self-management
  • Coproduction
  • Informal settlements
  • Land use planning
  • Landslide risk management
  • Latin America
  • Negotiation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology


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