Marginal youth: quality of life and spatial exclusion in bogota

Bucheli Guevara, Juan Fernando (2018). 'Marginal Youth: Quality of Life and Spatial Exclusion in Bogota' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Buenos Aires, Argentina 2018.


Urban poverty as a social problem has usually been studied as a process that tends to manifest itself aspatially, in the sense that its occurrence is unrelated to the place where it is generated. Urban poverty is understood in this sense as a problem that is contained in the urban space but is not a direct manifestation of it. The lack of communication between research on the spatiality of places (located mainly in geography) and the research on how and why urban poverty happens (located mainly in the discipline of development studies) has led to the direct consequence that urban dynamics, and particularly urban poverty, are no longer scrutinised from their own spatiality. 

With the omnipresence of the city as the natural place of urban life, the city becomes not only the space that contains human relations but also a space that defines them, that causes and transforms them. Therefore, in a context of urban deprivation, ‘the spaces of the city’, in addition to containing and holding urban poverty, also contribute to reproducing relations of unbalanced power and an uneven development.

In considering urban scholarly research, urban poverty has been codified in different ways. Since the seminal articles of Wratten (1995) and Satterthwaite (2001) on how to conceptualise deprivation in cities, the way we understand urban poverty has changed from being almost exclusively an extension of improving the levels of income per capita to a wider perspective that acknowledges that urban life requires a much more comprehensive agenda, combining material and non-material assets. Although it is indisputable that the urban agenda has expanded towards objective and subjective dimensions of development, the essence of urban well-being remains tied to a commodity framework which understands economic growth and neoliberal paraphernalia as mechanisms to alleviate urban poverty.

Thus, at the time of measuring and locating urban poverty in city spaces, the ontological debate about its definitions becomes relevant, as developing a definition of urban poverty will inevitably determine its form and characteristics. Nevertheless, scholars generally agree that assessing urban poverty and the quality of urban life beyond the merely utilitarian approach of income contrasts with the limited application of multidimensional approaches to measurement. The application of multidimensional approaches to poverty poses major challenges, particularly in the case of the availability of methodologies and data as well as providing clear evidence for policymakers to make informed decisions based on a more comprehensive understanding of the causes of urban poverty. This critique is also relevant in understanding the effects of urban poverty when fragmentation and socio-spatial relations are considered. Indeed, the effects of urban poverty as evidenced in residential segregation, are considered more often as outcomes than as processes of unequal spaces (Maloutas, 2012). In this regard, a multidimensional approach to urban poverty should help to reveal distinct processes that account for degrees of segregation in urban spaces.

This paper argues that a way to overcome the lack of operationalisation of multidimensional approaches to define and to characterise urban poverty, inequality and segregation is through the application of the capability approach (CA) as an evaluative framework of urban quality of life. Frediani (2015) argues that despite the CA having an intrinsic multidimensional structure, there has been little interrogation about how to apply the CA in the context of linking the role of space in the structuring of urban poverty. To date, the CA has been limited to identifying and locating poverty based on availability and usability criteria, where the importance and role of space as a fundamental mechanism in the configuration of poverty and urban inequality is eliminated from the outset. In most studies, capabilities are measured indirectly as they are a function of the equal/unequal distribution of resources, but they ignore how capabilities influence the production of spaces. In a certain way, the application of the CA in urban theory has been aspatial, both in its way of visualising the spatiality and distribution of unequal relationships, and as the way the space becomes a confounding variable to explain urban poverty and inequality.

In tackling the issue, this paper endeavours to capture the effects of the production of city spaces by looking at how inequalities and segregation are manifested in the space when a multidimensional approach to poverty is considered. The aim is to use the CA as a spatial analytical framework to understand the role of space in creating urban poverty and inequality.

The paper considers the socio-spatial distances of capabilities for young adults in Bogota and assesses whether multidimensional measures of urban poverty exhibit differences with income-driven measurements. To do this, the paper uses a multidimensional composite index which aggregates 10 different dimensions of what is considered a good quality of life in Bogota for young adults– the capability index (CI). The paper applies a spatial analysis framework to determine if multidimensional urban poverty is manifested in the space, giving traction to the idea that multidimensional inequality has a spatial dimension to it.

The paper is designed to detect the spatial distribution of capabilities and to reveal whether, if there is a segregation patterning, it is distributed in the urban structure of Bogota. To answer these questions the paper employs three different but interconnected analyses. First, Exploratory Data Analysis (EDA) is put in place with the aim of testing the presence of spatial autocorrelation among scores of the CI for young adults, and to identify and locate similarities/dissimilarities in terms of capability achievement among young adults. Second, spatial regression is conducted to assess the importance of the spatial components as well as the effects of socioeconomic variables in the CI. And third, a battery of segregation indices is calculated to measure residential segregation levels based on capabilities among young adults in Bogota. In comparison to measurements of segregation based on ethnicity, income or class, the paper uses young adults’ capabilities to reveal the degree of multidimensional poverty and inequality presented in the urban space of Bogota.

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