Bjørn Sletto: Radical Planning and Studio Pedagogy in Informal Settlements: Working in the Forgotten Corners of Los Platanitos, Dominican Republic
Bjørn Sletto focuses on indigenous land rights, environmental and social justice, and alternative planning approaches in Latin America. As the director of the Research Initiative in Participatory Mapping at theTeresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies (LLILAS), Sletto works closely with partner institutions in South America to further international scholarship on representational politics, indigenous territoriality, and social justice. He is also engaged with research on informality and community development in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, focusing on the role of critical pedagogy for democratic and inclusive planning in low-income neighborhoods that have long been excluded from formal development processes. He teaches international service learning courses where students work closely with community members, activist organizations, and public officials in Santo Domingo in order to address environmental and social vulnerability in the informal settlement of Los Platanitos, focusing in particular on issues of gender and development. His work in the Dominican Republic has been funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. National Science Foundation, and his students have twice won the national American Institute of Certified Planners Award for Best Applied Research Project. Sletto received his doctorate in city and regional planning from Cornell University.
Informal settlements such as Los Platanitos in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, are excluded from formal planning yet subject to discourses of responsibility and disciplinary forms of neoliberal governance. However, decentralized governance under neoliberalism provides opportunities for residents to forge new and supportive relationships, including with educators and radical planners, and to develop alternative approaches to community development. In the case of Los Platanitos, students and faculty members from the University of Texas at Austin have, since 2008, conducted research in order to address infrastructure challenges in partnership with neighborhood organizations, civil society partners, and government representatives. The work has focused on building resident capacity, assisting in the development of community-based projects, and furthering organizing efforts and democratic relationship with external actors. However, such collaborative planning in international contexts places planners and educators in complex, negotiated, and contingent positions, requiring critical awareness of the potential implications of knowledge production and representation.