The much needed task of shedding light on the invisible

“The slums are invisible because people don’t even know where they are or what they are called” (ACIJ, Asociación Civil para la Igualdad y la Justicia)

The challenge of mapping the slums had always been among the ACIJ’s objectives, since back then, when the Rights and Community Building in Slums program team members consulted the maps of the city and the slums where they worked, those areas were left in green: unidentified. On the other hand, thanks to their intense work, they had large amounts of public information on the slums, but they still lacked a method to systematize that information or give it back to those most concerned: slum dwellers.

It was very clear to them that they needed a technological tool that would allow them to inform the public of the existence of slums, to show their location, and to make everything that happened there visible. Because, more than anything else, thanks to its experience, the ACIJ knows what happens in the slums, and what their dwellers need: the organization has been denouncing untiringly the need for infrastructure works to improve living standards.

1. MAPPING THE SLUMS: Shedding light on the invisible

In this context, Wingu, an organization that seeks to empower non-profit associations and projects in Latin America through the adoption of technology and innovative methodologies, became a natural ally for the ACIJ. The creation of Caminos de la Villa made the dream come true to enable a dweller to, at the very least, locate their home, their block, their neighborhood. Thus, that first achievement was a hallmark for the Project.

They never lose sight of the fact that Caminos de la Villa is for the neighbors. For that reason, the project has helped identify blocks and main streets as much as passageways and homes. After a year and a half, the five slums in the city have been mapped, and their dwellers are now able to locate themselves on the map. Moreover, so far, all processes have been collaborative, as residents have helped explore every corner of their neighborhoods, every healthcare center, every home, and it was them who gave the application its name: they have owned it — an achievement in and of itself.

But that first achievement was, at the same time, a challenge: within one segment of dwellers, the senior population, it was necessary to train people who had had no contact with technology (much less with a digital platform such as the one provided by Caminos de la Villa). Team members needed to leave their role as developers to try and think as users: that was the great challenge for an organization like Wingu.

The partnership between the two associations, the ACIJ and Wingu, joined technical skill and knowledge of the social issues in the slums of the city of Buenos Aires. But these associations were not the only ones convinced that the mapping would foster urban integration as in any other city neighborhood: so too was Mónica Ruejas, the president of the neighborhood council of Los Piletones, Villa Soldati, who contributed to raise awareness of the benefits of platform use among dwellers.

Within the framework of this alliance, which also includes dwellers themselves, proposals have been made to take new steps to follow the first, most necessary task of “putting the slums on the map”:

  1. INFORMATION REQUESTS: Information can be requested on budgets, public services, and public works needed in the neighborhoods.
  2. MONITORING: Dwellers can check whether public works have been completed or whether a service is being provided. These are oversight mechanisms available to dwellers, since the tools are readily accessible.
  3. CLAIMS: Claims can be made when a public work is flawed or if it has not carried out at all, or when the neighborhood needs a new work, or provision of a service is inadequate. Dwellers may demand a response from the authorities.

Caminos de la Villa is still growing: “In 2015 we widened our reach to cover dozens of new neighborhoods, and we worked towards ensuring that the State included them in official maps” (@ACIJ). But who better than the project’s main actors to tell you about it?

The Civic Innovation Accelerator Fund is pleased to present this video summing up the achievements made and challenges ahead for this great platform which, in making the slums of the city of Buenos Aires visible, has not only made quite an impression on the international media, but also, with its lush layout of paths, planted a seed that will now grow in the care of dwellers.