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  • Building a Just City: A Retrospective of Social Segregation in Metropolitan Lima
  • Paul A. Peters, Maria Tovar Hidalgo, and Emily Skop

The story of urban development in Metropolitan Lima can be told by barriers. In 1985, construction began on a ten-foot-high wall of concrete and barbed wire that stretched across four municipalities, dividing the wealthy housing of the Peruvian elite from the informal settlements of rural migrants that encroached to the tops of the hillsides (Silva, 2020). Begun at a private academy in the Municipal District of Surco, this wall was installed as a security measure to protect the campus from encroaching migrant settlements. The wall was quickly expanded by residents and communities, with support from municipalities and the regional government. The story of this wall is not just that of a physical barrier enforcing race and class segregation; it is also emblematic of the social, political, and economic forces that have shaped the social and spatial segregation of the Latin American city.

The foundation of the Latin American city was built on strict social and cultural structures, where the ruling elite controlled not only the means of production, but also the patterns of urban construction (Portes & Roberts, 2005). Cities such as Lima have always had a tension between formal development of elite housing, infrastructure, and economic activity and the informal sector of slums, makeshift services, and informal livelihoods (Peters, 2009). When we conducted our analyses thirteen years ago on segregation in Peru, we sought to quantify and visualize the massive social inequalities in major Latin American cities such as Lima (see Peters & Skop, 2007). Our work built on the indices of racial segregation used in the [End Page 269] United States, extending them using updated geographic methods and applying them to issues of social inequality. On the ground we had seen first-hand the physical walls separating wealthy and poor neighborhoods and had felt the social injustices faced by residents within these marginalized communities.

That paper focused on three potential insights. First, that the fragmentation of space between low, middle, and high socioeconomic status neighborhoods was not equal. We used the composite poverty index quintiles at the household level for our definition of socioeconomic status, or SES (INEI, 1993; Peters & Skop, 2007). Both low and high-SES neighborhoods exhibited emerging fragmentation of space, with pockets of less segregation within them. In contrast, middle-SES neighborhoods (small areas) were typified by the highest degree of homogeneity. Second, we found neighborhoods that were often considered to be homogeneously low-SES were in fact more varied. We noted multiple fragments where pockets of higher SES appeared (moving from low to low-middle SES) at the block level, highlighting the piecemeal nature of urban development. Third, we found that the distritos (municipal equivalent areas in Peru) with the highest overall SES were not those that were the most segregated, both between and within distritos. Rather, these distritos had more variation in SES than others, potentially due to the very small high-SES population in Lima or, more likely, due to the urban development of elite enclaves at the urban fringe near lower-SES informal expansion.

Two areas from our initial conclusions are worth considering in more depth in this retrospective. First, the patterns and trends of socio-spatial segregation continue to exert influence and intertwine to continually remake the social fabric of the city (Joseph et al., 2006). As the poor seek to improve their well-being, improvements in physical infrastructure and housing will appear in pockets throughout formerly homogeneously poor neighborhoods. At the same time, as elites seek new areas of housing development, they will contribute to the fragmentation of urban space and may bring elite or upper middle class enclaves closer to poor areas at the urban fringe (Sabatini, 2003).

Second, the consequences of urban fragmentation disproportionately affects the poorest and most vulnerable in society. Fragmentation here refers to small-scale pockets of homogeneous social groups, surrounded by otherwise heterogeneously settled areas (Peters & Skop, 2007). Reductions in rural-to-urban migration, decreases in urban fertility rates, periods of economic recession, the return of democracy, and the rise of neo-liberalism significantly modified urban structure throughout the mid-twentieth...


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pp. 269-279
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