Informal urbanism focuses on communities’ ability to absorb, recycle, offer services, set up networks, celebrate, work and play outside the structures imposed by formalized rules. It stems from the need or want to correct or compensate for the shortcomings in existing (or formal) urban plans, whether it be expressed as a worn shortcut through a park that is off the paved path, food trucks, or shanty towns in Caracas.
Whereas traditional urban planning tends to follow a formal, top-down approach, informal urbanism is about invention born out of frustration with the status quo. It views the city not as a grand vision to be imposed but as gradual adjustments to be revealed based on need. As a result, informal urbanism creates environments that are versatile and flexible—and usually more robust that their formal counterparts.
Instead of viewing informal urban interventions as conditions that needs fixing, they should be viewed as learning opportunities. Urban leaders can embrace their robustness by looking, not at what ‘should work’, but at what is actually occurring from day-to-day and season to season around their city. The informal patterns that emerge from such observations will often lead to more sustainable urban interventions.