This project, which was funded by SHLC’s Capacity Development Acceleration Fund, employs a comparative neighbourhood framework to examine informal land occupations across different neighbourhoods in Bogota, Cape Town and Sao Paulo.

The study will generate new academic and policy-relevant knowledge, contribute to learning across Latin American and South African actors and build capacity in the Global South.


Informal land occupations are a significant challenge in cities of the Global South. The UN-Habitat’s ‘New Urban Agenda’ highlights the importance of developing better responses to informal urbanisation.

Through conducting a historical and geographical analysis of land occupations, the study traces the political ecology/economy of informal city-making, variegated state-society relations, and contested citizenship practices, within and across cities.

In studying how state practices intersect with the everyday and ‘collective organising’ practices of occupiers, the study examines the coproduction and transformation of informal neighbourhoods.

Aerial view of informal settlements of the Cape Flats, Cape Town, South Africa. Shutterstock - Andrea Willmore
Aerial view of informal settlements of the Cape Flats, Cape Town, South Africa. Shutterstock - Andrea Willmore

The project objectives are:

  1. Trace how informal land occupations have emerged, evolved, and how these relate to state and private sector interests in the city
  2. Document the everyday land occupation and infrastructure practices employed by occupiers
  3. Capture the ‘collective organising’ relations and tactics employed by occupiers across the city; and how these intersect with public and private actors
  4. Reflect on how these sites compare to each other, and what insights they offer toward the advancement of urban governance for more equitable and sustainable cities

Project Outputs

The project was led by Suraya Scheba from University of Cape Town, Diana Sanchez Betancourt and Andrea Scheba from Human Sciences Research Council, Nate Milligan from University of Manchester.

This research project ‘City occupied: A neighbourhood based comparison of informal land occupations in Bogota, Cape Town and Sao Paulo’ was funded by the Centre for Sustainable, Healthy and Learning Cities and Neighbourhoods (SHLC)’s Capacity Development Acceleration Fund. SHLC is funded via UK Research and Innovation as part of the UK Government’s Global Challenges Research Fund.