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The challenge of scaling up social experiments and community organisation to build structural change

On April 2019, the Centro de Investigación de la Arquitectura y la Ciudad - CIAC, Lima’s city partner for the KNOW project, hosted a talk with Prof. Susan Fainstein, Senior Research Fellow in the Harvard Graduate School of Design, to discuss 'the challenge of scaling up social experiments and community organisation to build structural change'.

The talk provided a compelling space to unpack and discuss Fainstein’s ideas in relation to inequality, planning, and community organisation, whilst exploring possible pathways to advance structural change towards more equal cities.

Above: Professor Susan Fainstein and participants in a rich dialogue surrounding themes of urban inequality. Image by Deborah Carrera, 2019


Beginning the discussions, Belen Desmaison (Lima City Partner Lead, CIAC) introduced the overall KNOW project objectives, emphasising the role that the coproduction of knowledge could play in building city wide strategies to overcome the structural drivers of urban inequalities. She also pointed out the specificities of urban development in Lima, including the prevalence of self-urbanisation and the role urban settlers’ have in shaping many of Lima’s neighbourhoods today.

The discussion also touched on the prominence of private interests in structuring metropolitan space through infrastructures and private developments in the city, emphasised in key findings presented by Prof. Pablo Vega-Centeno (CIAC), on urban decentralisation in Lima.

Above: Belén Desmaison (Lima’s City Lead) presenting the KNOW project and its main challenges in Lima. Image by Deborah Carrera, 2019


Following the presentations, Prof. Fainstein opened up a dialogue with participants in the room around various issues explored and how they could relate to Lima’s current metropolitan contexts. Among these ideas, she addressed the relevance of metropolitan taxes as a way of redistribution public wealth between urban areas. She also commented on the potential of urban decentralisation (a process already, in some respects ongoing in Lima), as a means to improving urban equality. In this regard, she noted that unless the process challenges the logics of space production in the city, it cannot assure any significant change in respect to the fairness of urban development.

Responding to the possibilities of knowledge co-production, she highlighted that whilst it is important to acknowledge small scale interventions, which often rely heavily on community participation, it is also important to realise the limitations of such interventions. These have a big impact on the lives of those involved, but in most cases they do not challenge the structural conditions that create and reproduce urban poverty or inequality. She noted that structural transformation requires political mobilisation, which could be informed by the knowledge and experiences created by community organisations and NGO’s, however, requires a much broader scope and resources to succeed.

The talk was presented as a side event hosted by CIAC and co-prganised by KNOW and the INCITU Research Group, to coincide with Professor Fainstein's visit to Lima by the Social Sciences School at PUCP, where she delivered the faculties 'Inaugural Lecture' for the academic year.



Prof. Fainstein's Inaugural lecture at PUCP (via Facebook, en Español)

Download the event poster here (en Español)

KNOW Lima's City page (en Español)

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