Bridging Academia and Practice in Participatory Action Research

Urban Informality, or those “practices and activities operating beyond what the state would define as “normal” and/or which exist contrary to stipulations laid out in law” (Donaghy 2002, 271), is present across the globe not just in marginal conditions, and how Friendly and Stiphany (2019) pointed out it “refers to the specific structural platforms that cultivate ‘a differentiated process embodying varying degrees of power and exclusion’ (Roy, 2005: 148).”

In 2019 we open a new site for our fieldwork in what is known as informal settlement. “La Campana: Bridging Academia and Practice with Participatory Action Research” is a project using this leading method for social planners who want to address issues of social inequalities.

La Campana, located once an outlying hill that is now part of near the central business bustling city of Monterrey, Mexico, is a well-established informal settlement. Where its residents possess a strong sense of community pride, which proves beneficial when tackling local infrastructure projects. For their latest effort, community members and local NGO Barrio Esperanza have invited us, an interdisciplinary team from the University of Texas’s Community and Regional Planning Department, to collaborate with them. They are in the process of transforming an abandoned trash-filled lot into a treasured pocket park. Since January, our class has been using participatory action research methods to work with La Campana neighbors, catalyzing their planning processes so that they can envision, design, and execute projects based on their own unique priorities. First, in order to be most effective, we set out to discover all that we could about the community, its context, and the various actors involved in its ecosystem. In January we spent a week in Monterrey familiarizing ourselves with La Campana, learning about the work of Barrio Esperanza, and talking to key members of the private and public sector. Upon returning to UT, this insight guided us in our subsequent individual and group efforts throughout the semester. Our objective leading up to our second trip in March was to capitalize on our group’s interdisciplinary knowledges and abilities and to hone our community engagement skill set so that we could incorporate ourselves effectively into the community’s rhythm; we and the community would collaborate, learn and grow together. This cross-border partnership was made possible by a ConTex grant, our supportive partnership with Barrio Esperanza, and our collaboration with la Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León’s architecture department. Follow the process here.