Informal settlements are today a consistent feature of Latin America. For instance, more than 50% of Bogota has grown from some kind of informal pattern, urban and/or housing development (Rueda Garcia, 2000). Although it is possible to find centrally-based settlements with informal characteristics, informal settlements are normally found in peripheral areas. They are peripheral because land is cheap in there (next or in rural land) or it has flexible controls making it suitable for invasion or for illegal developers to commercialise it. In this sense, informal settlements start in conflict with the environment since their early beginnings, making serious impact on their natural surroundings (Bazant, 2001), “… causing degradation of natural resources and the deterioration of living standards within the urban boundary” (Benitez et al 2012, 163).

However, this is not the only conflictive relationship, green areas and vegetation are seen also controversial in informal settlements: on the one hand they are rarely observed in the barrios, leading to the assumption that they do not matter to settlers. As Monteiro, et al. (2006, 2) found in Brazil: “Vegetation is lacking or only in the form of sparse ground cover”; and when observed such spaces are not always well looked after. On the other hand, when asked about green elements, people tend to demonstrate enthusiasm (Kowaltowski 1998), and express the clear need for green areas and public space (Hordijk, 2013).

With data from six case studies of informal settlements in Bogota collected in 2008 and 2009, this paper aims to explore the relationship between informal settlements, environmental protection and green public spaces. It will discuss the environmental logic of preservation against the social logic of the right to shelter and urban space. Also, it will address the apparent contradiction of the need of green public spaces in these areas and the lack of interest and care for them. Finally, it will be argued that building sustainable societies has to consider the rights of all, including those inhabiting the so called developing countries, and the so called informal settlements.