From the Aspirational House to el Convite Urbano

Blog 26th September 2023

In this guest post, previous USF International Fellow Dr Sandra Carolina Pulido-Chaparro discusses her 2022-23 project Convite Urbano, which was supported by the USF Knowledge Mobilisation Awards.

This project disseminates the results of my doctoral thesis, ‘Before we were nothing, now we are not all we want to be. Class positionings in self-built neighborhoods of illegal origin’, which culminated from five years of fieldwork in five neighborhoods of non-legal origin in Bogotá, Colombia. My research highlighted the transformations and material improvements of these neighborhoods and dwellings in relation to social mobility practices and their location in a heterogeneous area. These aspects generate a subjective class positioning as ‘not poor’ among its inhabitants. ‘Not being poor’, I argue, becomes a relational strategy in which a constant temporal, symbolic and material effort is created to move away from the stigmas and stereotypes of poverty. This project aimed to show the different nuances of these self-built neighborhoods and invites to overcome the controversy between the ‘formal, orderly and planned city’ versus the ‘informal, disorderly and chaotic city’ (Torres, 2009). Thus, as Ananya Roy (2005) points out, achieving greater recognition of the complexity and paradoxical nature of urban life and defining new ways of understanding the city in the Global South.

Photograph of an outdoor event, with people sat in rows watching speakers at the front under tents and in front of buildings.
Launch event (source: Nereyda Comas, Juliana León and Sandra Pulido)

The name of the project ‘La Aspirational Cartographies’ was transformed to ‘Convite Urbano’, after the different discussions with the community, including the participation of citizens from the neighborhoods and members of the Kábitat collective. The word ‘convite’ means the action and effect of inviting to a party with food and spaces to share. In many of the self-built neighborhoods studied for this project, people would invite their neighbors to community pots during construction, in order to be able to finish their houses. We chose this name because it exemplifies what we did: we invited different actors and the community to meet, to reflect on and about the research, and to build new ways of imagining and representing the city and to establish networks with citizens, the community and the university.

The final results of the project were: a) a digital environment, b) community laboratories, c) an itinerant exhibition, d) a community web radio, e) a short film, g) a digital community photographic archive, and g) an inventory of Bogotá’s facades.

a) a digital environment: el Convite Urbano

is a transmedia and transdisciplinary device for the dissemination and transmission of knowledge. It aims to be a consolidated archive and digital space open to stories and narratives that provoke other ways of looking, listening and making present the different ways of inhabiting and experiencing the self-built neighborhoods and the city of Bogota.

Photograph of a group of people sat around a table working together in a white room with posters and pictures on the walls.
Community laboratory (source: Nereyda Comas, Juliana León and Sandra Pulido)

b) community laboratories: The laboratories were formulated and developed through methodologies that promoted collective, experimental and collaborative work in which new products emerged according to the needs of the communities. Likewise, we bet on the construction of citizen networks and the inclusion and appropriation of the people of the city, in which new networks emerged, such as with the Ana Restrepo del Corral school and the Kábitat collective. In these laboratories, products emerged that fed the digital environment of the Convite such as video clips, landscapes and sound devices, photographs, etc.

c) an itinerant exhibition: A traveling exhibition on the contents of the digital environment was held with the objective of generating greater access and appropriation of knowledge by the communities that took part in the research and that were unfamiliar with digital media, such as the elderly. The exhibition will continue to rotate in each of the neighborhoods and nearby areas.

Photograph of a person studying a poster in an exhibition
Itinerant exhibition (source: Nereyda Comas, Juliana León and Sandra Pulido)

d) a community web radio: Carmela Radio Comunitaria is a a communication media, created by and for the community of the neighborhoods Delicias del Carmen, Pañuelito, Unicerros, La Esperanza and Bella Vista in the locality of Usaquén (Bogotá). It aims to build and strengthen social fabric with the community through participation, listening, dialogue and discussion of issues of interest to the inhabitants of the neighborhoods.

e) a short film: ‘Ellas’, the short film that emerged from the visual workshops, pays tribute to the women who built the neighborhoods. Delicias del Carmen, Pañuelito, La Esperanza, Unicerros and Bellavista are self-built neighborhoods located in the north of Bogotá (Colombia). Currently, they are part of one of the most revalued areas of the city and are undergoing a process of gentrification. Like a mass that expands in the head, as in the case of my grandmother, gentrification is slowly growing, threatening the very existence of the neighborhoods and the memory of those who inhabit them as well as a part of who we are as a society. This documentary is a vindication of the history and memory of these neighborhoods, mainly that of those women, now elderly, who built their houses, their streets, their neighborhoods with their hands. We hear their voices recalling their efforts, their aspirations to ‘be someone in life’ and their desire to build a home. Individual and collective yearnings and hopes on which was founded, also, what Bogotá is.

f) a digital community photographic archive: the objective of the digital community archive is to create a digital repository of photos and documents about the neighborhoods, in order to contribute to the participatory construction of the memory of the community and the neighborhoods. This archive is important, first, because it tells part of the history of the self-built neighborhoods in the north of Bogotá and, second, because the neighborhoods are undergoing a process of gentrification that threatens to make them disappear. The community archive currently has 135 photos, archived in an open drive that can be accessed from the Convite Urbano platform. It is expected to continue with the archive from the traveling exhibition, since it has a section where people can bring photos and we will scan them to continue feeding the archive. After this process we expect to make a project of organization, categorization and analysis of the photos.

g) an inventory of Bogotá’s facades: a partnership was established with the Kábitat collective, a citizen collective focused on habitat and culture issues in the city. With them we started the elaboration of an inventory of the city’s facades. First, we mapped the facades of the neighborhoods worked in my research, but we wanted to extend it to all the facades of the houses in Bogotá, through a survey in which citizens could upload images of their facades and/or those of their neighbors, and talk about them. We georeferenced it on a map with the aim of being able to see and analyze the nuances, the continuums between the facades and materialities of the so-called ‘formal city’ and the ‘informal city’. With this, we begin to overcome the dilemma between the formal and the informal: together, these two realities give us a panoramic and historical image of the city.

The inventory allows us to make a catalog of what exists, but, at the same time, it becomes a record that remains over time and can give us clues about the future of the city. We believe that this registry of facades is becoming increasingly necessary, due to the transformations and dynamics that the city is undergoing, as well as urban policies that are betting on more vertical constructions, given the high number of people living in these buildings and the limited space in the city. Therefore, this record allows us to talk about practices and ways of inhabiting, experiencing and building the city that may disappear, and with them identities and histories that have been woven throughout the city. A video announcing and explaining the project can be viewed here.