Informal Urban Cultures: How Informality Becomes Part of the Formal System

Melis Oğuz and Aylin Şentürk

In many cities of the global south, informality is product of a process of rapid uncontrolled urbanization, containing “inequality” in dealing with its citizens, and accompanied by the failing of government’s role in providing appropriate services. In cities, which have a pioneering role for the country in the global competition, informal urban systems such as Informal settlements and informal transportation mediums have been largely ignored by neo-liberal state regimes (Sims, 2011)3. These informal urban systems are overlooked intentionally as the resources of the local or central governments somehow are not sufficient to fill the gap between the formal supply and newly emerging demands. Being laggard in providing formal solutions, these informalities tend to become part of the formal system either by being continuously overlooked or integrating them into the urban legal and formal systems of service provision. As by nature informality is flexible, the role it plays on urban cultures is as a flexor. As informality becomes the urban culture, the governance of the formal system becomes also chaotic turning cities into transgressive organisms.

It is striking, how many similarities can be found in the formation of informal urban systems in various world cities while studying the relation between culture and the urban development patterns. Yet, urban mismanagement in these cities affects daily life significantly in a negative way; new definitions of urban poverty arise, new ways of inequalities come to forth, and new traps of discrimination reveal. Lifestyle influences the organization of the city through whatever variables (race, ethnic, religion, class, and income) so that the city is a collection of different groups, and subcultures. Urban informality turned to be a “new” way of life (Al Sayyad, 2004)4 as also supported by Rapoport with his statement, that culture and space correlate in urban form (1977, 1990)5. Comparing and exploring the relation between the developments of informal urban cultures is the aim of this stream. This demands a critical reflection to the understanding of various disciplines such as urban planning, urban sociology, public administration and cultural anthropology as well as urban law. Theories about informality and imperfection6 are to be criticized by trying to develop a new way of looking at informal urban cultures. We believe that crossing through those theories could benefit the understanding of informality and imperfection gathering different case studies about various cities from all over the world. The main questions of the stream will be:

  • How the urban informal systems could be considered as the outcome of the interaction between cultural factors and the urban context within the struggle of global competition
  • How informalities become a taken-for-granted part of the formal urban systems?

Informality taking different shapes in different geographies, bringing together different cases will be an eye-opener for revealing the taken-for-granted informalities. Understanding the relation between the formal and informal urban systems is essential, as any urban intervention process towards formalization should be able to grasp the underlying facts of informalities properly.