Cali, Colombia

Cali is the third major financial centre in Colombia, after Bogota and Medellin. This city has a population of approximately 2.5 million inhabitants, of which 98.5% live in the urban area.

The prosperous economy of this city, located in the fertile valley of the Cauca river, is linked to the agricultural production of sugar cane, industrial development and its proximity to the most important port of Colombia in the pacific ocean (Buenaventura).

However, as in many Latin American cities, wealth is concentrated in a few hands, making it an unequal city with large peripheral areas occupied by poor households.

Cali is divided in 22 Districts and official figures show that around six percent of the urban area is occupied by informal settlements,
which means that nearly 50,000 people currently live in substandard conditions.

It is there, in some of those informal settlements located in District 18 where GREAT is being carried out.

The fact that Cali is a highly urbanised city generates major pressures on the neighbouring municipalities and environmentally protected areas, not only for the construction of large-scale social housing complexes, but also for the continues growth of informal settlements in the city outskirts where poor families have found an alternative to build a home.

District 18 appeared in the 1930s with the construction of middle-income neighbourhoods in the east side (flat area), and the emergence of one informal settlement in the north side of the foothills in the west.

A Few Facts

Case Studies

Currently, this district has 16 neighbourhoods that share spaces with 20 informal settlements that have completely covered the slopes, overstepping the western city growth boundary. In the upper part of the southwest are located the four settlements selected as case studies.

Brisas de Las Palmas

Alto Polvorines

La Arboleda

Pampas del Mirador



Francy is a 38-year-old Afro-descendant woman, a social and community leader, founder of the neighbourhood where she has lived for around 20 years, Brisas de las Palmas in Cali’s Distric 18. She arrived in Cali forcibly displaced from El Tambo in the department of Cauca, which borders Valle del Cauca to the south.  Francy is part of the 5% of the country’s population that has suffered forced displacement in the context of the national armed conflict.

"One arrives here with one hand behind and the other in front, disorientated, not knowing what to eat, what to do, nothing.... The first thing you do is to look for a place to rent, you have to put up with humiliations and many things simply because you have different customs... you have to adapt the hard way, by force. That's the hardest thing, there was no time to assimilate. I came here to work in a family home because I had no schooling, I only had 3rd grade. After my children arrived, I started to study because I thought it was important to have that knowledge, I finished studying...".

Currently, Francy is the president of the community action board (Junta de Acción Comunal) in Brisas de las Palmas. She runs a community canteen that serves lunch to up to 120 people daily. To keep the place up and running and financially possible, Francy collaborates with research groups in the Academia as well as other organisations interested in working within the community.

Key Concepts