Sandra Valencia’s PhD thesis in Sustainability Science – Caught Between Spaces

Sandra Valencia successfully defended her PhD thesis in Sustainability Science,
Caught Between Spaces: Socio-Environmental Vulnerability in Formal and Informal Peri-Urban Bogotá and Soacha, Colombia

Her doctoral thesis focuses on the peri-urban dwellers, those who live where the city meets the countryside, in Bogotá and Soacha, Colombia. The thesis shows that peri-urbanization influences the wellbeing and vulnerability of peri-urban dwellers who are caught between urban and rural areas, informality and formality, conflict and collaboration, recognition and marginalization.

Sandra’s thesis investigates the following questions through the eyes of peri-urban dwellers.

  • How do inhabitants of traditionally rural areas experience the growth of the city into their territory?
  • How do people who have recently settled at the peri-urban interface experience and contribute to the social and environmental changes that come about through urbanization?
  • What are the social and environmental changes that take place as the city encroaches on the countryside?


The world is rapidly urbanizing. To contribute to the understanding of the socio-environmental changes brought about by urban sprawl and densification, this thesis examines wellbeing and vulnerability in low-income peri-urban areas in and around Bogotá, Colombia. For that purpose, I develop a typology of peri-urban settlements that includes four main settlement classifications: agriculture-based, informal, formalized, and state-subsidized housing. Inhabitants of agriculture-based settlements, which includes a community of Muisca indigenous people, have become legally and physically marginalized and are the most negatively impacted by peri-urbanization, as their key resources, land and water, are increasingly degraded. Inhabitants of informal settlements are often exposed to a variety of social and environmental stressors and face significant difficulties in accessing basic services, such as water and sanitation, while, at the same time, have grasped the opportunity to build new homes in the peri-urban landscape.

Both in the development of these settlements, and as a method to pressure the state, I show how collective action has been a central strategy for claiming access to basic services and formalization programs. In response, the state has increasingly recognized the rights of informal dwellers. This recognition has been realized through formalization policies, improved access to basic social and physical services, and the introduction of subsidized housing to counteract informality and housing deficits. However, some projects have been developed in areas exposed to environmental hazards, and are characterized by their deficient and low quality physical and social services. Further, I show that the speed and quality of formalization is contingent on institutional capacity, geography and social mobilization, yet another indication that peri-urban areas are complex areas full of contradictions and challenges, but also opportunities.

The link to the full thesis (at the Lund University Publications website):

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