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Paper. 'Economy Conference' 2011. WSA Cardiff University

The Panamericana Strip: Informal Commerce and Instant Urbanism in Latin-American Economies Name Institutional Affiliation Address of Contributor E-mail

Dr. Cristian Suau Welsh School of Architecture Bute Building, King Edward VII Avenue, CF10 3NB, Cardiff, UK

_________________________________________________________________ The notion of informal economy is often associated with developing countries, where up to half of the labour force works in an alternative way. Nevertheless, with the rapid transformation of post-Fordist modes of production in emerging economies, many workers are displaced from formal into informal employment. This trend is broadly a common condition in all kind of economical systems; also in developed ones such as the UK, USA or Spain but in smaller proportions. Informal economies constitute a dynamic process, which includes many aspects of economic and social theory including exchange, regulation, and enforcement. By its intermittent nature, spatial regulations change frequently, sometimes hourly, daily or seasonally. Any instance of economic activity can shift between categories of formal and informal with even minor changes in policy. This type of ‘Instant Urbanity’ constructs new urban patterns –transitory, elusive or spontaneous- which flee from any conventional spatial planning. If something can unquestionably characterised any emerging urban economies and, of course, Latin America is its every-day informal system of trade, which is outside state controlled or money-based transactions. It includes barters of goods and services, mutual self-help, unclassified jobs, street and highway vending, and others manifestations. What is the physical impact of these temporal activities in existing urban tissue? How do they mutate? Which types of spatial configurations generate in urban fabrics? Is this type of ‘‘Instant Urbanity’ a key factor in the development of cities in the Americas? How can we deal with these new types of transformable architectures and uses? This study will critically analyse and compare the contemporary urban phenomenon of informal economies along main transport network -the Pan-American Highway- in Santiago de Chile by analysing three distinctive informal commerce spaces: A. Macro-commerce: Food fairs, flea markets, etc. and B. Micro-commerce: Street vendors and push-carts in the strip.

Paper. 'Economy Conference' 2011. WSA Cardiff University

Precarious Congestion: Vendors in an improvised open air fair – called Feira do Rato- upon a railway track in Maceió, Brazil.

Paper. 'Economy Conference' 2011. WSA Cardiff University

1. Introduction In analysing and deconstructing everyday life in Latin American cities, one soon comprehends the complexity of human performances and the affluence with which people move from formal to informal practices and informalised spatial appropriations. This informal environment provides a unique opportunity to read cities as social laboratories of everyday practice. This study attempts to identify, describe and explain the key programmatic and morphological rules and structures of that informal practice which are inscribed in the identity of any Pan-American city. As a case study I have investigated the placement of fast-growth urban agglomeration ruled by informal economies which are situated alongside the main transport infrastructure: the Pan-American Highway1. The current process of urbanisation has upgraded various informal urban economies to adequate standards of production, consumption and exchange. Nowadays Latin America is experiencing a new phase of modernisation towards a more urban-based economy. Due to the rapid externalisation of production and services, capital’s flows, the acceleration of cycle of production and new transport and communication systems; the informal activities have been dislocated and thus transformed cities in updated productive spaces. The new economic development of Latin American cities lies in its accessibility, meaning large and complex networks of transport and communication and diversified services. It contributes to the restructuring of informal areas in cities through efficient transport and communicational networks between them. In terms of regional urban scene, one of the direct impacts of constructing Panamericana (from Patagonia to Alaska) has been the development of informal economical corridors along the formal transport network and an essential factor that has shaped the structuring of formal urban systems such as Mexico City, Lima or Santiago de Chile. However, how can informal cities reconcile a new impetus of economic growth with the preservation of its precious landscape and natural environments? What are the types of the informal spaces in Pan-American cities? This study reflects on spatial concepts and principles of metapolisation2 of informal urban economies in Chile. It is an unprecedented study, which involves direct or indirect observation and fieldwork and also documents the results and conclusions through methods of comparison, analysis and concept generation. The novelty of this study does not lie in neither a taxonomic mapping of informal cities in emerging economies nor a mere catalogue of architypes but rather in conceptualising a range of informal macro-micro spatial schemes and in revealing the structural and functional interfaces between them and with the formalised urban transport fabric. Such as Michel Lagueree (The Informal City, 1994) states that ‘the existence of these informal practices is paradoxical in the sense that they make possible the smooth functioning of the formal urban system yet at times serve as a hindrance to the achievement of ethnic and gender equality”3. 1

So-called Panamericana in Spanish, is the longest system of roads on Earth with about 32,700 km. Titanic route with numerous geographical, environmental and urban contrasts, it has captured the imagination (and hostility) of visionary planners, engineers and environmentalists for many decades. It represents a systematic attempt of linking and organising cities and regions in the Americas, through formal and informal dynamics of transportation, economic development and urbanisation’s processes. 2 The Metapolis is constituted as a polarized system of interconnected global metropolises thanks to the proliferation of high-speed means of transport. The consequences of this acceleration are profound: the appearance of the so-called ‘tunnel effect’ among nodes means the end of the phenomenon of transversality that throughout history has served as a basis for the ‘natural’ organization of the territory. ‘Metapolisation is double process of metropolisation and formation of new types of urban territories called metapolis’, Ascher, F. New Principles of Urbanism (2004), Madrid, Alianza Editorial, p.56 3 Laguerre, Michel The Informal City (1994) London: MacMillan Press, pp. xi-xii

Paper. 'Economy Conference' 2011. WSA Cardiff University

Figure 1. Left side: Unfolded mapamundi that reveals the global impact of Pan-American Highway and its unstoppable infrastructural network. Right side: Map of the Pan-American Highway in the metropolitan area of Santiago and its districts. Source: Suau (2011).

For instance, in the Central Valley of Chile hub-cities like Valparaiso, Talca and Concepcion are rapidly reshuffling and expanding their transport and communication networks by creating a longitudinal urban band whilst altering the existing agrarian landscape and hinterlands in the Central Valley. These cities are large formal-informal conurbations; spread and discontinuous; heterogeneous and multi-polarised. The main transport corridor called Panamericana or Ruta 5 in Chile, which longitudinally traverses the metropolitan area of Santiago de Chile, has been selected as the study area. This corridor has a dual condition: Its physical edges constitute a formal urban passageway in the city centre whilst they become gradually defragmented and informalised towards the periphery, revealing the mutation and shifting of an ‘instant city’ within the existing urban frame. However the economic stability and regulated urban planning is formalising these ‘spots’.

2. Informal Shopping in Informal Urban Economies Urban form follows economic trends. According to Manuel Castell (1989), the phenomenon of Informal Economy constitutes ‘a major structural feature of society both in industrialised and less develop countries. And yet, the ideological controversy and political debate surrounding its development have obscured comprehension of its character, challenging the capacity of the social science to provide a reliable analysis’4. Still there are not enough consistent observational urban studies that examine the dynamics of informality along infrastructural urban networks or, even more important, that traces its linkages with the formalised economy and its physical adaptation. 4

Castells, M; Portes & A; Benton,L The Informal Economy (1989) London: The John Hopkins University Press, p1

Paper. 'Economy Conference' 2011. WSA Cardiff University

Figure 2. Type of economic activities. Source: Castells, M; Portes, A & Benton, L (1989): The Informal Economy.

The urban informal economies are characterised by small scale, evasion of formal regulations, flexible sites and family business but they differ in meaning and functions depending on the economical oscillations. In Latin America, the largest informal economy has Bolivia with 67.1%, followed by Panama with 64.1% and Peru with 59.9%. The lowest informal economy is Chile with 19.8%, similar to the OECD-West European countries’ average. However if we compare the informal economy of South America and Africa we find out that is somewhat similar, 42% of informal economy, and higher than in Asia with a 26% of underground economy (Schneider, 2002)5. In the case of Chile, the informal urban economy is still a viable development alternative to the formalised market. However, it is officially perceived as the anti-hero that undermines the growth of the formal economy. The reasons are that it competes with the formal commerce; avoid tax paying and is a terrain of criminality. Following Michel Laguerre’s thoughts in the chapter ‘The Informal Economy’ (The Informal City, 1994), he affirms that “informality is seen in the interstice of the formal economy, either as an enclave or as an extension of the formal economy. Evidently, the way in which the informal is linked to the formal is linked to the formal is finely nuanced. The interstitial niche occupied by the informal within the boundaries of the formal economy help smooth the functioning of the formal economy. That informal function is produced by the formal for formal ends”6. The formal and informal regions of the urban economy meet each other in different ways. The connections are intermittent, permanent, interstitial, central or peripheral depending on the distribution of low-income urban communities in cities.


Schneider, F. Size and Measurement of the Informal Economy in 110 Countries around the World (July, 2002). The paper was presented at an Workshop of Australian National Tax Centre, ANU, Canberra, Australia, July 17, 2002 and financed by the ‘Doing Business Project’ of the World Bank: ,accessed in 20/04/2010 6 Laguerre, Michel (1994) The Informal City, London: MacMillan Press, pp 73.

Paper. 'Economy Conference' 2011. WSA Cardiff University

Figure 3. Comparative table of informal economies in South America. Source: Schneider (2002).

3. The Instant Linear City: The ‘Panamericana’ Strip Informal cities have always been characterized by a strong tension between what is vaguely described as their formal and informal magnitudes. Nevertheless, the terms formal and informal refer not only to the physical materialisation of unregulated economies but also to their entire socio-urban tissue. Informal cities and commerce exceed the structures of order, control and homogeneity that one supposes to find in a consolidated city; hence experts of the built environment - from a broad range of disciplines such as urban planning, anthropology, sociology, ecology, urban design, cultural and urban studies and architecture- focus on alternative ways of analysis in order to study the phenomenon of urban informality. According to Michel Laguerre (The Informal City, 1994), the manifestation of these unregulated spaces ‘may not be under direct control of city government. It can either precede the establishment of formal space or be produced by formal space or the formal use of spaces’7. Then he states that ‘informal space is also a product of the formal use of the urban space. Because the formal space is unable to meet the expectations of every member of the city community, individuals feel it necessary to transform formal space into informal space to conduct their informal activities. Informal space develops in this instance within the formal spatial system. It is an outgrowth of that system’. To him informalisation of urban space can also be seen in terms of supply and demand. If something can unquestionably characterise any emerging urban economies in Latin America is its every-day informal system of trade, which is outside state controlled or moneybased transactions. It includes barters of goods and services, mutual self-help, unclassified jobs, street and highway vending, and others manifestations. What is the physical impact of these informal activities in existing urban tissue? How front and back regions mutate along the main infrastructure? Which types of spatial configurations generate in urban fabrics?


Laguerre, Michel (1994) The Informal City, London: MacMillan Press, pp 26.

Paper. 'Economy Conference' 2011. WSA Cardiff University

Figure 4.Satellite view of Santiago, Metropolitan Area and its main transport network: Panamericana. Source: Suau (2011).

Reflecting on the geography of the informal space, the sociologist Erving Gottman (Behaviour in Public Spaces, 1963) framed out the theatrical performance that applies to vis-ávis –formalised and informalised- interactions in cities8. The front area is the formalised place, the locus of the hegemonic cultural. The rear area represents the informalised or fringe space, is the domain of informality. For instance, the main transport arteries in European cities -such as the main boulevards in Berlin, Paris or Madrid- are reinforced by a formalised active ‘frontage’ or commercial edges, which are always facing the public realm. In the case of the Pan-American city –formal or informal- we can identify an inversed situation. The frontage is fenced off, blinded. It is denied by mono-functional regulations that see the road infrastructure merely as a space of motorised traffic. Programmatic the result is the informalisation of the streetscape, a sort of ambiguous and residual spaces: a linear archipelago of ‘terrain-vague’ along main infrastructures. The Panamericana Highway in Santiago follows the urban principles of linear cities formulated by the Spanish planner Arturo Soira (1894). He believed in a tram-based city fed by a public transport network along an endless boulevard. This strip city consisted of a high-rise front and a low-rise residential back region. During the ’60 the construction of Panamericana Highway in Santiago –a sunken communicational corridor- reinterprets and updated Soria’s premises by inserting a subway line between roads instead. However, it split the existing urban core into new front and back regions. How have these regions interplayed with each other? The face-to-face interaction has also occurred through other mechanisms of communications (soft infrastructure) of what Manuel Castells calls the ‘space of flows’. Is this type of Instant Urbanism a key factor in the development of the outskirts in Santiago? How can we deal with these new types of transformable architectures and uses? By comparing similar infrastructures in Latin American cities, the Panamericana strip in Santiago reveals that the informalisation of its immediate public realm is more subtle. In the city core it 8

Gottman, E. (1963) Behaviour in Public Spaces, New York: Free Press

Paper. 'Economy Conference' 2011. WSA Cardiff University has a low degree of magnitude and visibility. However towards the periphery the edges suffer a rapid degradation of the formal frontage and any vacant gap is a territory for instant marketplaces characterised by fairs, scrapyards, sweatshops, etc.

Figure 5.Key transversal sections of Panamericana in Santiago North: City core, suburbia and rural zones. Source: Suau (2011).

The informality performs like equilibrists ‘swinging’ on wires: the sideways of the highway. This type of Instant Urbanism constructs new urban patterns –transitory, elusive or spontaneous- which flee from any conventional spatial planning and are driven by the premises of continuity, diversity and hybridity defined by François Ascher (2004).

3. Informal Commerce along the Panamericana Strip Informal commerce, mainly categorised by fairs and street trading activities, is a common practice in the urban and suburban areas of many Latin American cities. In Santiago this practice runs differently. It has been formalised in the city core whilst remains still strong in the impoverished suburban areas. So where is the informal commerce accommodated nowadays? Certainly this activity is attached to the low-income social segments (family groups D and E) that are concentrated along the axis of the main transport infrastructure. The spatial dimension of informal commerce has a considerable expansion in towards the North and South periphery of Santiago. Due to the recent privatization of some public roads through ‘concessions’, the metropolitan authorities are increasingly motivated towards 'branding' a formal image of urbanity and still neglect the reality of a crust of urban poverty along the strip of the Pan-American Highway. As result the public frontage has been transformed as a catalogue of billboard-factories and corporative buildings or simply fenced off. So the informal market has been shrunk and expelled and concentrated in less visible spaces backwards.

Paper. 'Economy Conference' 2011. WSA Cardiff University

Figure 6. Distribution of family income per month in Santiago. Source: GeoAdimark (2009) & Suau (2011).

Figure 7. Left side: Typologies of retail spaces along the corridor of Panamericana in the Metropolitan Area of Santiago de Chile grouped them by size and location. Right side: Formal/informal commerce (%) in the north strip of Panamericana in Santiago. Source: Suau (2010).

Although informal trade remains visually displaced and undetected, its every-day activity constitutes a vivid expression of domestic economies which are excluded to coparticipate in the formal sector. Regarding the informal commercial spaces allocated along the strip, we can distinguish the following types: Macro and micro retail spaces in the core or the periphery of cities. The majority of the informal commerce is concentrated in the low-rise and low-income periphery of the city. Revising the literature on Latin American informal cities, it seems that the spatial

Paper. 'Economy Conference' 2011. WSA Cardiff University configurations of informal commercial spaces are generic, almost identical. Nonetheless, in formalised urban economies such as Santiago or Buenos Aires the urban allocation of these activities is peripheral whilst in cities like Lima or La Paz is still central. The informal market is still the every-day alternative of impoverished buyers. The concentration of informal commerce –even do is a minor trend- towards the outskirts of Santiago is higher due to the large low-income segments of population is situated there. Apart from this, the availability for affordable large lots in the centre is scarce and highly regulated. The above mentioned diagrams are an analytic simplification that has been extracted from local survey of North Santiago and it may regionally be compared with similar spatial manifestations towards the urban growth southward.

Figure 8. Socio-economical allocation of family per income per month in Santiago: ABC1, C2, D & E. Sources: GeoAdimark (2009) & Suau (2011).

3.1. Informal Macro-Commerce The concentration of informal macro-commerce grows towards the poor suburban areas in the axis North and south of Panamericana. Such as I mentioned previously this activities support the domestic economy of local residents whom belong to the lowest socio-economic grades. The analysis has considered a radius of 50 kilometres from the city core outwards. We can distinguish the following predominant types: Food fairs, flea markets, fairs of used cars and scrap yards. The apparition of car-junk spaces is part of a growing activity led by local garages, second-hand car dealers, car dismantlers, etc. Due to the spatial magnitude of some activities, I will focus in one key cultural case called ‘Ferias Libres’.

Paper. 'Economy Conference' 2011. WSA Cardiff University

Figure 9. Dotting informal commerce along the ‘Panamericana Norte’ (North Strip) in Santiago, Chile. Source: Suau (2011).

A. ‘Ferias Libres’ or free trade fairs In the periphery of Santiago the streetscape is not just a circulation/traffic space but culturally it is conceived as a public place for trade and gathering. Therefore the‘Ferias Libres’9 (or open-air food fairs) contains a polyvalent usage allowing different manifestations of commercial activities in local street weekly or seasonally. The mechanical feature of the street is replaced by livable programmatic accidents. The phenomenon of informal macrocommerce consists of domestic or in-situ trade, which resembles the public extension of dwellers’ backyards. It is the locus where informal communal and economic interactions occur weekly. From an architectural viewpoint, the shape of the ‘Ferias Libres’ followed the street edge or any vacant lot along the streetscape. They are the principal marketplace that spatially activates the public and civic life. In the suburbs fairs not just provide food markets but also flea markets so-called ‘Persas’. In the periphery some fairs are linked fairs of used cars towards the periphery or parasite areas nearby shopping malls. Informal trade in marginalised areas of this city enhances the sense of every-day appropriation of public spaces by revealing the hidden rural idiosyncrasy of the Chilean society. Its existence dates from the time of the Colony. The adaptability of the street life has to do with the ability to support formal and informal activities and interactions beside functional standards of communication. Therefore the ‘ferias libres’ are equivalent to the European marketplaces. It is the political arena, which competes face to face with the hegemony of supermarkets. These informal spaces are the catalysts of social intensity and variety of interactions that occurs in the streetscape level. Each trader has a sector marked on the street designated by the municipality or a sector occupies won over time.


According to the report of the National Chamber of Commerce’s report (CNC) ferias libres sell about CLP 173.000 million pesos (USD 350 million) per year. Source:

Paper. 'Economy Conference' 2011. WSA Cardiff University

Figure 10. Atmospheric views of a ‘Feria Fibre’ in Santiago, Chile. Source: sketched by Leiva, F. (2007).

Vendors employ collapsible awnings for climatic protection. Nowadays public initiatives led by SERCOTEC and the Chilean Association of Free Trade Organizations are implementing intrepid trade programmes to increase competitiveness (seeking alternative models of fairs) of informal local markets by upgrading organisational skills and developing technical assistance in business model, marketing and entrepreneurial culture. The achievement of these actions lies in the fact that ‘all informal merchants are local residents or neighbours, not faceless corporations’.

Figure 11. Left side: Historical prints of indigenous street vendors in the post-colonial Santiago de Chile (1842), size of each page is approximately 395mm x 280mm. Right side: Types of informal retail along the Panamerican’s strip. Sources: Print by Herbert Ingram, The Illustrated London News (1842) & photography by Suau (2011).

Paper. 'Economy Conference' 2011. WSA Cardiff University

3.2. Informal Micro-Commerce Informal micro-commerce is situated in the centre and suburbs of the city. It intensifies towards the poor suburban areas and main transport arteries. Micro-Commerce is an individual and nomadic activity that occurs daily. It supports the domestic economy of remote residents whom belong to the lowest socio-economic grades. The analysis has also considered a radius of 50 kilometres from the city core outwards. According to the proximity to the city centre we can distinguish two types: Street vendors (core) and push-carts (suburbs). A. Vendedores ambulantes (or street vendors) In Santiago they are located in mainly the city core and in the lateral streets along the main arteries. This activity occurs mostly in streets but also in highways and inside buses or subways. Street vendors normally deploy and sell food, electronics items, clothes, newspapers, etc. They can also be street entertainers (acrobats, claws, etc.) who offer instant shows in congested corners or during long-time traffic stops.

Figure 12. Collaborative initiative to rule street vendors in the street sideways of New York. Source: Center for Urban Pedagogy, New York (2009).

B. Carretoneros or push-carts Carretoneros are informal sole traders on wheels. Outside the city core, the suburban streetscape is also occupied by these mobile sole traders who sell agricultural products or carry paper cards, bottles or metal stuffs but also offer short-distant moving or building services. They normally park aside streets or highways and display their billboards, vehicles or elementary sheds strategically in junctions; nearby petrol stations or traffic lights. Despite of it is an extinguished activity nowadays; it is the toughest, riskiest and lowest paid service among the informal urban economy in Santiago.

4. Conclusions on Subversive and Instant Shopping The principal research problem was the difficulty in identifying and locating the object of study. There are still many obstacles to be overcome to measure the shapes and size of the informal shopping within instant urbanism and thus to analyse its consequences on the formal tissue. Informal shopping triggers ‘instant urbanism’, especially along the main transport and communicational artery. The informal system is seen as an adaptation of the formal one. Due to its non-rigid structure, its flexibility and fluidity allow it to move back and forth within the formal system and to dilute or occupy restless marginal positions.

Paper. 'Economy Conference' 2011. WSA Cardiff University The study of informalised urbanism along the Panamerican Highway in Chile has a high level of novelty due to it is not exclusively based on any reviews or synthesis of earlier publications on the subject of research. This material is of a primary source character made by the author during years. The proposed study will benefits and orient the process of metapolisation and future infrastructural and territorial planning of urban territories in the Central Valley of Chile by dealing with the factors of ‘instant urbanism’ as mediating spaces along the main transport corridor from the city core to the semi-rural periphery.

Figure 13. Sequence of existing informal macro/micro commerce along the Panamericana strip in the core, suburban and semi-rural areas of Santiago. Source: Suau (2011).

Instant Urbanism questions the prevailing notion of urban planning and architecture. The social consequences of contemporary urbanism call for temporary and mobile solutions, spontaneity and social innovation in activating urban spaces. We need to rethink and redefine the city, to create new ways to occupy and inhabit the city by: A. Empowering temporary and playful informal architecture How it is possible to redefine the city in alternative ways? The informality allows mobility, adaptability and transformability of the socio-economic networks. Marginal places can be converted into a locus for play and action. B. Transfiguring of every-day life Instant Urbanism articulates the front and back regions of every-day urban life. It invigorates the city based on the simple premise that residents themselves can decide the spaces they want to trade and live in. The multivocality of the urban informality of commerce is characterised by the following premises: 1. Elasticity. It is used to maintain a ‘soft’ exchange process and can also be adapted to unexpected dislocations/insertions alongside the corridor.

Paper. 'Economy Conference' 2011. WSA Cardiff University 2. Latent or active. Its performance either remains in a dormant state (intermittent activation) or active one when it is used regularly. 3. Transformative. It is resilient with a view to changing any aspect of formal social layer. It can initiate collaborative partnerships between community interests and the formal retail sector, allowing for more inclusion. 4. Subversive. It provides a latent structure of resistance. Here the formal infrastructural layer creates substitutive informality in order to continue to operate smoothly. This ‘safety-valve function’ offers a place where informal traders plot out their strategies to destabilise or disrupt the formal infrastructural network.

5. Bibliography Rennie Short, John (2006) Urban Theory: A Critical Assessment, New York: Palgrave MacMillan Virilio, Paul (2005) City of Panic (Ville Panique), New York: Berg Jayne, Mark (2006) Cities and Compsuption. New York: Routledge Laguerre, Michel (1994) The Informal City, London: MacMillan Press Stevens, Quentin (2007) The Ludic City, New York: Routledge Castells, M; Portes, A; & Benton, L (1989) The Informal Economy, London: The John Hopkins University Press Brillembourg, A; Feireiss, K & Klumpner, H (2005) Informal City: Caracas Case, Munich, Prestel Publishing Davis, Mike (2006) Planet of Slum, New York: Verso Ascher, F (2004) New Principles of Urbanism, Madrid: Alianza Editorial Hernández, F; Kellett, P & Allen (2011) Rethinking the Informal City, Oxford: Berghahn Books Gottman, E. (1963) Behaviour in Public Spaces, New York: Free Press Revista Foco, Issue 10 (2009) Santiaguinos, Santiago: Publicaciones Lo Castillo:

The Panamericana Strip: Informal Urbanism  

Pan-American cities, Informal urbanism, Instant urbanity

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