The barrios or squatter cities are the product of migrations from the countryside and the growth of a 'city inside the city,' unattended for decades by the authorities. These settlements, built on public property or illegally on privately owned land, house 60% of Venezuela's population. Because the local government has no housing alternatives to offer, it looks the other way.

Today the barrios of Caracas present the most powerful built image on the city map, and the largest collectively built form of the city. A building process absent of architects, the barrios exist as a myriad of small overlapping cities inside a bigger city. One could say the barrios are a grassroots movement without a manifesto and with only pure necessity in mind. The degree of self-organization, improvisation and inventiveness produced by the anonymous builders of this hillside mega project is outstanding. They are the antithesis of a master plan or of authoritarian academic paradigms.

The barrios represent a single highly democratic building process that promotes qualities that are not found anywhere else in the city. The metabolism of the informal city is impressively positive. Less trash is produced than in any other area of town. The high-density low-rise buildings offer a positive alternative to the high-rise developments promoted by the formal construction industry. The selection and use of building materials is in direct response to climate, with low environmental impact and equally low investment costs. The barrio houses maintain a microclimate that is far superior to structures of comparable density in the formal city. Pedestrian access and its dependence on existing topographic elements are currently treated as negative characteristics but can be easily viewed as creative responses to a difficult problem.

Existing forestation and vegetation can be used to support the microclimate and innovative forms of roof farming should be incentivized and promoted. Special assistance is needed in the area of security and in the supply of drinking water and energy.

The ongoing conflict in neighboring Colombia has produced a large influx of refugees to Venezuela, many of whom settle in the barrios of Caracas. The effect of this is evident in the barrios of Caracas. International assistance agencies should recognize the barrios as self-organized refugee camps, which deserve international attention and assistance. An economic plan to bring the barrios into the capitalized world by registering property titles for the inhabitants was presented at the Pontresina Forum in September 2001. This plan was based on a similar plan by Hernan de Soto from Lima, Peru. If the idea to formalize the ownership of land in the barrios were realized, the barrios could become a great asset to the city.

We speculate that an incredible transformation will occur in the next decade that will turn many of the existing barrios into valuable real estate. This privatization would result in investments to develop the services and infrastructures in these areas. Creation of a schematic to guide this development is a necessary task for the near future. After many years of difficulty in the government housing sector, a research team from the Central University lead by Josefina Baldo and Federico Villanueva organized a plan to provide infrastructure to 4,600 hectares occupied by barrios. The plan encompasses a 15 year period with a total investment of $2.45 billion, of which the World Bank has given $50 million. The proposed area to be developed holds 40% of the total metropolitan population. One of Caracas' five municipalities--Libertador--holds 65% of all the barrio population of the metropolitan area.

TODAY THE BARRIOS OF CARACAS PRESENT the most powerful built image on maps, and the largest collectively built form of the city.