What is a Colonia?

“Colonias” are communities on the United States (U.S.) side of the U.S./Mexico border that suffer from a dearth of utilities, basic services, and adequate housing. Colonias also suffer from issues of second-class citizenship and lack of adequate representation due to their perceived illegality.

Colonia “Informality”

Colonias are not illegal, but extralegal developments (Larson, 2002). This means that they exist at the fringe of what is permissible by law, displaying the injustices in urban planning practices. As a result, colonia informality is produced from U.S. policies and regulations.


Funding + Publications


  • Rivera, D. Z. (Under Review). The Community Union Model of Organizing in Rio Grande Valley Colonias. Special Issue of Environment and Planning C, “Quiet Social Movements & Everyday Life in the Urban Global South: Towards New Geographies of Social Change.”

  • Rivera, D. Z. (Under Review). Reclaiming “Self-Help” Within Rio Grande Valley Colonias. Habitat International.

  • Rivera, D. Z. (2014). The Forgotten Americans: A Visual Exploration of Lower Rio Grande Valley Colonias. Michigan Journal of Sustainability, 2, 119-130.


  • Lincoln Institute of Land Policy (Slated for Fall 2019)

Funding and Support

  • Lincoln Institute of Land Policy

  • University of Michigan - Ford School Center for Public Policy in Diverse Societies

  • University of Colorado Boulder



Research Assistants

  • Constantine Chrisafis (2019-present)

  • Sebastian Bielski (2019)

  • Bradleigh Jenkins (2018-2019)

  • Rebecca Randolph (2018-2019)


  • bcWORKSHOP - Rio Grande Valley

  • CU-Boulder Community Engagement, Design, and Research (CEDaR) Center