The story of urban migration in Peru

Most of the HOOP families live in Flora Tristán, a type of community also often defined as an informal settlement, asentamiento humano or pueblo joven. The stories of our families, among many more, are often the stories of migrating to urban areas in the prospect of a better life. In this blog Richie Dean, currently studying a masters degree in Urban Planning, gives us an insight into rapid urbanisation and the growth of informal settlements such as Flora Tristán.

Peru, like many countries in Latin American has experienced rapid urbanisation over the past 50-60 years undergoing a transition from a predominantly rural population to an urban one. Latin America has in fact become the most urbanised region on the planet with over 80% of people now living in urban areas. High levels of rural poverty and periods of violent political conflict in the past have resulted in a pattern of rural-urban migration with the majority of migrants coming from Andean regions seeking better conditions and greater opportunities in Peru’s cities. Lima and Arequipa, the two largest cities, have both received a significant influx of internal migrants resulting in phenomenal and rapid urban growth with vast extensions of their cities’ fringes.

Flora Tristan

The growth of additional settlements on the edge of these cities has largely evolved informally often without the direct support or legitimacy of city governments. In the study of cities, these types of settlements are referred to as ‘informal settlements’ or ‘popular settlements’, and also sometimes less formally known as shantytowns, common across many Latin American cities and the global south. In their early stages of development in Peru they are commonly referred to as ‘pueblos jovenes’ (young towns) or ‘asentamientos humanos’ (human settlements). Informal settlements tend to evolve through a process of residents initially occupying (also sometimes referred to as ‘invading’) undeveloped and seemingly vacant land that is usually state or privately owned. Land is unofficially sub-divided and very basic dwellings are initially constructed by settlers. Virtually no services or infrastructure will exist in the initial stages, resulting in highly challenging living conditions. Often, families who have migrated from rural areas, will find themselves in conditions similar to or even worse than they had before, highlighting the reality and growth of widespread urban poverty in Peruvian and other Latin American cities in conjunction with the rise of rural-urban migration.

Gradually, many informal settlements tend to undergo change and transformation, particularly if they are accepted and formalised into the official city zoning, also with the potential of receiving proper infrastructure and services thereafter. Many residents will also typically upgrade and improve their own dwellings over time once resources are more available. Land tenure may also eventually be granted or sold to residents providing greater security and a sense of inclusion into the formal city. The rate of change and the transformation of informal settlements and when and whether this happens, however, varies enormously depending on the city and the area, with economic stagnation and enduring social issues common across many young urban areas.

Rubbish in Flora Tristan

Flora Tristán located in the Cerro Colorado area on the northern edge of Arequipa is a fairly young urban settlement established in 2007. It is home to a small population of migrants originally from the Puno and Cusco areas. Despite the development of some urban infrastructure, Flora Tristán and its immediate neighbouring settlements are still lacking in basic services such as running water and garbage removal. This is in addition to problems with sewage services and the absence of any sealed roads, resulting in an extremely dusty environment with poor sanitation.

With very little employment opportunities in the immediate area, many residents require long commutes to other parts of the city or beyond for work. Residents from these types of areas also often find themselves stigmatised and discriminated against by other parts of the city resulting in difficulties with access to employment and education, and their general sense of a lack of social inclusion within the greater city. Urban fringe populations like Flora Tristán with indigenous backgrounds and heritage also commonly experience racial discrimination and find themselves relegated to a lower status in the social and cultural hierarchy of the city. Living, social and economic conditions therefore remain difficult for the community who desire to attain a basic and decent standard of living like many of their other urban counterparts in Arequipa.

Despite their hardships, Flora Tristán’s residents are resilient and aspire towards better conditions and services for their neighbourhood. Hopefully, Flora Tristán and similar young urban areas will undergo change and a positive transformation in the future.

Words by Richie Dean
Photos by Elise Fjordbakk

Interested in the human side of migration? Have a look at our past blog.

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