How not to grow a new town

Rush, Elizabeth
Date Written:  2013-09-14
Publisher:  Le Monde diplomatique
Year Published:  2013
Resource Type:  Article
Cx Number:  CX15181

For years the governments of Peru, and the municipality of Lima, had a working deal with rural migrants who flocked to the city: we'll plan the place, you build it, amenities will arrive. Then came the cheap neoliberal substitute of granting land titles -- and the speculation began.



In international development meetings, Lima's pueblos jovenes are often celebrated for their positive informal development. Those founded in the 1960s, 70s and 80s are dynamic, relatively safe communities with devoted citizens. But in the early 90s, under the direction of the neoliberal president Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000, now imprisoned for human rights offences), granting property rights replaced squatter-government partnerships as the main policy for upgrading sums. While granting property titles to those who have none seems altruistic, trying to bring the poor into the market economy hasn't led to urban development. Today, those living in the newest pueblos jovenes fight with private service providers for basic amenities, and it take decades. Meanwhile buying and selling potential lots has become a way for established Limenos to earn money, pricing new arrivals out of affordable housing they once could access.

All around Lima, local leaders are illegally purchasing marginal, indigenous-owned land and extorting bribes from anyone who wants to build on their "property". Often already established migrants living lower in the valley pay a fee, camp on the land for a few months, build a provisional structure, then return to their real homes to wait for someone like Ruiz to buy it. For many working class families, speculating in marginal plots is a reasonable strategy in a country with limited opportunities for asset acquisition.


Under Fujimori, Peru privileged property titles over real, built solutions to the problem of urban housing shortages. Titles cost $60 each, and so were the cheapest possible fix, far less expensive than actual bricks or direct or mortar. Titling also makes redistributive policies -- progressive taxation or direct subsidies to pay for construction -- unnecessary, which safeguards the extremely wealthy. With titling , the state supposedly magically removes the barriers in place that stop poor people from accessing the wealth they already have, the wealth that lies incarnate in the land beneath their feet. But no amount of neoliberal logic cannot change the fact that Lima's recently titled invaders have not acted as was expected, that is, raised credit at the bank and gone into debt.

Speculators now snatch up land on the edge of Lima and get a title, circumventing a lot of the local consolidation processes that were necessary before. The land remains unimproved and the social aspect of making the community is gone. Because of the universal promise of an easily acquired title, annexing land on Lima's edge has become a speculator's sport.

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