Environment and Urbanization 33(2) pp 478-495

While advances in participatory planning have led in many cases to the more inclusive rebuilding of informal settlements, the debate regarding participatory planning has focused largely on the improvement of current informal settlements without asking “what next”. Declining living conditions following settlement consolidation, however, provide evidence of the potential shortfalls of temporary participatory approaches. Drawing on an ethnographic case study of a former informal settlement in Iztapalapa, Mexico City, this paper analyses the erosion of resident participation in neighbourhood development over 40 years. Comparisons between residents’ accounts of neighbourhood formation, mostly in the 1980s, and contemporary experiences show a gradual decrease in resident engagement. The data collected in 2016–2017 highlight this diminishing local participation and suggest that the disappearance of earlier local practices of engagement is linked in various ways to the failure of formally supported practices of citizen participation. The paper shows what can be learnt from residents’ memories of transforming informal settlements.