Lucia Fank

Social conflicts and disputes about urban land in Patagonia Austral. Urban Expansion processes and irregular settlements in intermediate cities of the region


Deutsch-Argentinisches Promotionskolleg Stadt- und Regionalforschung


Urban inequalities have increased in many cities since the beginning of neoliberalism. Although they are associated to intra-urban -economic, political and social- dynamics involved in the course of neoliberal urbanization, from a critical perspective it could be said they are also part of broader dynamics of Uneven Development (Smith, 1984, Harvey, 2007). Uneven Development is a process inherent to the production of space within the framework of capitalism, anchored in a basic contradiction: as long as capital expands territorially, it homogenizes spatial aspects, while simultaneously produce differences by privileging certain spaces over others for accumulation.

These dynamics of equalization and differentiation vary over time, acquiring diverse forms at different geographies and spatial scales. However, it is on the urban scale where Uneven Development acquires its most concrete expression, given that cities are consider main spaces for accumulation (Brenner and Schmid, 2015)). Among urban equalization dynamics, Smith (1996) highlights the central role cities have in broader accumulation processes, together with intra-urban dynamics of valorization, such as commodification of land and housing. On the other hand, he points out the place land rent occupies as main determinant of both social and urban differentiation. These dynamics generate disputes and resistance between different actors that produce and inhabit cities, amongst those who conceive it as a good for use of those who consider it a good for profit (Pradilla, 1987)). At this point, urban and housing policies play a central role as regulators or facilitators of differentiation processes. Therefore in the production of space, resulting forms of inequality vary form on place to the other, depending on particular Uneven Development characteristics and the role different actors, particularly State ones play.

In Latin American cities, belated and peripheral insertion to industrial capitalism stimulated accelerated urban sprawl processes under scarce planning criteria. Deficiency of planning and housing policies led to a large percentage of inhabitants to solve their housing needs outside formal channels, deprived of minimum habitability conditions. As an outcome, a characteristic mode of urban space production developed in Latin America: the informal city (Abramo, 2012; Cravino, 2016). With neoliberalism, informality has grown due to the extension of commercial practices over urbanization trends, among which stand out gated communities, suburbanization and gentrification processes. Commodification and the lack of affordable housing, conducted informal settlements to grow over non-urbanizable areas, defining increasingly precarious ways of living (Di Virgilio and Rodriguez, 2016). Marked segregation between formally and informally produced urban spaces constitute the main and characteristic form of Latin American urban inequality.

Regarding the case of Tierra del Fuego Island cities (Argentina), informality began to grow together with the application of regional development policies seeking to increase population in the 1970s. Argentine State generated special tax benefits that motivated the establishment of international industries in the only two existing cities, Ushuaia and Río Grande, which radically transformed productive and territorial structure. Cities grew rapidly and continuously, however, economic impulse was not accompanied by urban planning policies. Rising real estate speculation and the State role in each city were central factors in the development of urban informality. Over time, the relationship each city established with industries and the beginning of new forms of space valorization linked to international tourism, directly affected patterns of uneven development between and within both cities. As a result, three opposing city projects coexist, along with marked inequalities; State urbanization, capitalist developments and informal settlements.

This thesis aims to understand the causes and forms urban inequality acquired in Tierra del Fuego cities under particular dynamics of equalization and differentiation, which led to formal and informal urban production. Related to this, main research questions are: What type of Uneven Development dynamics influenced the production of urban inequalities in Fuegian cities? What are the resultant urban inequality patterns? What role did the different levels of the State play in the production and reproduction of urban inequalities?. It is argued that the great differences between formal and informal city respond to a specific form of Uneven Development, typical of Latin American cities but with particularities of the case studies. Methodologically, a comparative historical study based on spatial analysis is proposed, combined with qualitative and quantitative strategies.


Lucia Fank obtained a Diploma in Architecture in 2012 at the Universidad Nacional de Córdoba, Argentina and completed afterwards her Master's Degree in “Habitat and Urban Poverty in Latin America” at the University of Buenos Aires, Argentina. Since 2015 she is making her PHD as part of “Deutsch-Argentinisches Promotionskolleg Stadt- und Regionalforschung”, held between Universidad Nacional de Córdoba and Bauhaus-Universität Weimar. Between 2015 and 2020 she had been a PHD Researcher from the argentinian National Council for Scientific and Technological Research (CONICET). Currently she works as Urban Planning Advisor at the Municipality of Río Grande office and integrates the research group “CLACSO: fronteras, regionalización y globalización”.