In this lecture Fernando Murillo from University of Buenos Aires discusses the “Compass” of cities – a participatory methodology for policy making . It consists of different indicators represented graphically as a “Compass”, combining four fundamental dimensions dealing with the progressive fulfilment of human rights.


AUDIO: Fernando Murillo - A compass for cities


Issues which the lecture addresses
This lecture addresses city planning challenges in urban planning practice, in relation to the implementation of the New Urban Agenda:

a) Progressive fulfilment of human rights with focus on informal settlements – shifting from eviction and massive regularisation to city-wide informal settlement upgrading and prevention;

b) Participation – moving away from public participation towards community self organization and engagement;

c) Public works – reacting to social, environmental and economic needs for more proactive and problem preventive approaches focused on infrastructure and

d) Regulatory frameworks – changing from land use and density rigid zoning towards  pro-poor land market regulations using different land tenure systems.

Why a “Compass”?: Taking into account the challenges presented above, the lecture advocates for the need to reconcile the formal and informal city planning process, carried out by local governments and communities. The lecture discusses application cases in different scales where the participatory planning methodology was applied.

a) Informal settlement upgrade in a metropolitan area of Buenos Aires;

b) City-wide upgrade prevention in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Cochabamba, Bolivia and Suacha, at the outskirt of Bogotá, Colombia;

c) National habitat strategy, the case of high concentration of displaced populations in Kigali, Rwanda;

d) Post conflict planning, designing re-housing projects in Khan Younis, the Gaza Strip, Autonomous Palestinian Territories.

Short analysis of the above issues
Some lessons learnt from the experience highlight the relevance of community self-organization to implement the new urban agenda; the critical importance of linking community and governmental planning exercises to support a progressive fulfilment of their basic human rights; the need for acting simultaneously in multiple scales with a participatory, preventive and resilient approach.

The “Compass” contribute a methodology for participatory planning whose application in different contexts has served to review public policies. So far, results have been encouraging and motivate innovative planning approaches at municipal level, to enable low income neighbours adopting a community approach to address social and environmental problems. Linkages between these process with local authorities have lead to the development of new urban planning regulatory frameworks and public works with successful results indicating the potential of community participation and self-organization overcoming difficulties hard to address by traditional planning approaches dominated by governmental interventions.

Community involvement in public plans results in a very pro-active and preventive urban agenda of recovering public spaces by the people; upgrading slums and recovering social housing by associating public resources and self-organized groups, as well as early recovery strategies carried out by refugees designing their own habitat according to their specific needs.

Propositions for addressing the issue
The “Compass” of cities is a participatory methodology for policy making seeking progressive fulfilment of human rights. It consists of different indicators represented graphically as a “Compass”, combining four fundamental dimensions: Human rights fulfilment, community organization, public works and regulatory frameworks. Each of these dimension measures the same basic habitat needs for land tenure and housing, infrastructure (wat-san), social services (education-health), mobility (public transport) and sustainability (income generation opportunities, disaster risk reduction, etc).

The graph of the compass summarizes the status of human rights in a certain area, resulting of their social organization, public works and regulatory framework success. This contributes to build up a vision for slum upgrading and prevention through participation of their inhabitants, local governments and private sector. It facilitates quick collection of essential and update information for planning purposes through key informants facilitating the understanding and agreement on the most convenient way forward to tackle down informal settlements problems and creation trends.

So far, the instrument has been applied to 25 municipalities from different countries in Latin America, guiding discussion and actions towards negotiated interventions. A coordination team receives periodic reports from teams applying the method in other cities, providing online guidance. This lecture presents comparative research, identifying lessons learnt obtained by the experience applying the methodology in different cities, contexts and scales.


Fernando Murillo is an architect with a master degree and a Phd in architecture and urban planning. His professional career combines academic activities as lecturer and director of a research program at the University of Buenos Aires with international projects in the field of urban planning, housing and settlement upgrading.

His work contributes to different governments and UN agencies, mostly UN Habitat, in Sudan and South Sudan, building public housing with environmentally friendly technologies and strategic urban planning; UNHCR, building 15,000 shelters for returnees and displaced populations, UNRWA, 12000 housing units for refugees in Gaza Strip and UNDP, developing local government plans in Colombia, Nicaragua, and schools in El Salvador. With World Bank in Zambia he prepares a local integration plan for former refugees eligible for citizenship.

With his interdisciplinary team he developed multiple participatory territorial planning tools to help local governments and communities to work out an integrated and inclusive urbanization strategy with a focus on progressive human rights fulfillment and sustainable development, such as the “Compass” disseminated internationally.

Recently, he founded an international network to analyze the impact of migrant corridors on the phenomena of rapid urbanization, called “Migraplan”.

Bibliography about the “compass” can be found at and “Migraplan, at


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