Skip to main content

Working around the world: Santiago, Chile

Published on: 6 Nov 2017

. [square]Kate Houghton, former urbanist at Junto Al Barrio in Santiago, Chile, talks about her work there and the issues that faced the area, including social and environmental inequalities in society.

While studying geography it became clear to me that place is hugely important in tackling social and environmental inequality, with planning offering opportunities to use place to improve quality of life. Chile suffers from high levels of inequality, vulnerability to natural disasters (particularly earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions), and urban quality-of-life challenges (like sprawl and air pollution), and therefore there is no shortage of challenges that planning could help to mitigate.

I work part-time in the research team of Chilean NGO, Junto al Barrio ( The organisation works in several vulnerable neighbourhoods in Santiago, Valparaíso and Coquimbo for three-year programme periods, delivering community-led urban improvement and social projects. I have supported the organisation with its development of internal GIS analysis, and worked with an external partner to use GIS to identify neighbourhoods that could benefit from JAB’s support. I also developed a project to tackle at the community level the serious waste management failings that are seen throughout the country.

The planning system is mostly limited to municipal zoning and building permits, and an effort to scale up planning from approving individual buildings to a strategy for its rapid ongoing development would help. An opportunity to start this discussion could be developing natural disaster risk mitigation from a conversation solely about building standards to one about wider land use and urban design.

I would also like to see the successful kind of community-led urban improvement projects that JAB carries out used much more widely across the country – both to improve access to green spaces and community facilities, but also in doing so to empower Chilean people to take the lead in implementing improvements to their environment.

* Kate Houghton now works at RTPI Scotland as policy and practice officer.

* This article first appeared in the March 2016 issue of The Planner.