“Social capital” (Putnam 1993) has been identified as an indicator for the “success” of urban neighborhoods, especially those with high conflict potential. This paper presents findings from a research project examining special programs designed to generate social capital in residential projects in Bogota, Colombia.
Lower land prices and government policies aiming at stimulating home ownership have resulted in the construction of large numbers of simple and standardized residential housing projects in the capital’s peripheries. Here units are offered at market prices but with favorable, government subsidized mortgage plans which allows members of lower income classes to access the properties. New home-owners come from diverse social, cultural and ethnical backgrounds; many live for the first time in an apartment in a residential compound. As a result, tensions and conflicts run high. In addition, the housing projects often experiment rapid deterioration of their environment, invasion of public space by street vendors, misappropriation of residential space, petty crimes, and disturbances of public order. To address the issue, programs have been developed with the intention to generate “social capital” among residents, including social cohesion, good neighborly relations, and improvement of residents’ general living conditions. While these initiatives have been successful in some complexes, in others residents have been either non-responsive or actively opposed the programs.
Based on qualitative and quantitative research, this paper examines the factors that contribute to the success and failure of the social capital programs. I show the schism that exists between the social programs and the specific necessities and desires of social housing projects’ residents. Moreover, I argue that the social capital programs are in large part motivated by economic interests and effectively work as a normalizing mechanism of “unruly” urban population segments. Residents’ resistance to the program can thus be interpreted as resistance to privatized urban housing policies.