Transforming Cities: Urbanization and International Development in Africa and Latin America since 1945
Vol. 30 No. 1/2 (2020)
This introduction makes a case for a more forceful dialogue between historians of development and global urban historians. Global processes of urbanization, it argues, have long been an im- portant concern for development actors, but historians have only recently begun to explore the meaning and role of urban spaces within international development. The article suggests that a look at the history of urban development policies provides a better understanding of space as an object and context of development. It also claims that a new research focus fosters new insight into the transnational agency of architects and city planners. Last, it sheds new light on the ways in which development became big business in the post-1945 world.
United Nations experts played an important role in formulating policies of urban development in Sub-Saharan Africa during the late 1950s and early 1960s. Even though the process of rapid urbanization in the region had begun in the 1920s, colonial regimes had been slow to react to this challenge. Thus, governments of the newly independent countries were confronted with a number of structural problems, among them the lack of an efficient building materials industry and qualified personnel or the virtual non-existence of data and statistics. In this context, a discourse on strategies to cope with the challenge developed that went far beyond pragmatic approaches and involved more general questions about the interrelationship of urbanization, modernization and development in Sub-Saharan Africa.
As a so-called “playground of the Cold War”, post-colonial sub-Saharan Africa was contested territory in the ideological power game that dominated the second half of the twentieth century. However, despite the tension between eastern and western blocs, the non-aligned nations of the “South” also provided opportunities for unlikely collaborations. In the realm of urban planning, this can be observed in the development of new capital cities. Abuja, the new capital of Nigeria, serves as a potent example. While including a variety of voices (notably from the USA and UK), in this article we focus on the involvement of the GDR and particularly on the contribution of Heinz Schwarzbach. By providing analyses at both macro and micro scales, we hope to complicate existing Cold War planning histories. And even though the GDR appears as a minimal player, the fact that figures from the GDR took part in the Abuja project at all fundamentally questions the general narrative of the Cold War in Africa.
During Angola’s late colonial period, Portuguese elites tried to put forward and bring together two antagonist means of social control: repression and welfare. While villagization schemes were being deployed across the hinterland, a new form of urban management was taking place at the suburban areas of Luanda, the musseques. This article unearths the links between penal concentration, rural resettlement and slum management, by examining the colonial reception of and the political and professional struggles around the urban design notion of “neighbourhood unit” in Angola. The colonial revival of a concept that was falling into discredit in the “developed world” was critical to legitimize the urban appeal of a rural extractive institu- tion – village concentration – and its deployment in the urban milieu. In Angola, state coercion became integral both to the development of permanent housing and the social knowledge the former entailed.
This article examines an urban planning project for Bogotá, Colombia, that foreign planners formulated after large-scale riots of April 1948. The Bogotazo propelled elite fears of popular revolt, aligning United States anticommunist interests with the public order concerns of the Colombian government. These state actors looked to urban planning as one way to foment order. The article explores plans for Bogotá developed by Le Corbusier, Josep Lluis Sert, and Paul Lester Wiener first by analyzing ideas related to their professional organization, the Congrès Internationaux d’Architecture Moderne (CIAM). It then turns to the planning process, which became increasingly complicated in the late 1940s and early 1950s, amidst ongoing violent conflict, repression, and urban migration. The plans ultimately foundered on practical issues and opposition by Colombian actors, including officials and business interests. The article considers utopianism in political context and posits the historical importance of plans that are never enacted.
This article charts how housing experts dealt with Mexico City’s “housing problem” between 1930 and 1960. In the 1930s, architects and planners understood Mexico City through such North-Atlantic categories as Ernest Burgess’ concentric zone model, an approach that led them to target central “slums” as the city’s most pressing “housing problem.” But these models distorted and rendered invisible one of the city’s most original transformations: the construction of “informal” neighbourhoods in its peripheries and the fact that these neighbourhoods were, against widespread expectations, improving over time. By following a network of architects, planners, and economists working in Mexico while engaging in a broader Panamerican dialogue, I describe how Mexico City’s housing policies and ideas shifted. In the course of two mere decades, the city’s peripheral neighbourhoods went from invisible spaces to problematic and provisional settlements to a viable solution to the housing problem.
Postwar Latin America witnessed a remarkable wave of metro construction as eight new urban rail transit systems opened in Mexico, Brazil, Chile, and Venezuela in a span of less than twenty years. What explains this dramatic transformation in the built environment of Latin American cities? This article argues that French metro boosters played a crucial role in the Latin American transit boom between the 1960s and the 1980s. While international development agencies favoured what they considered more basic infrastructure projects such as ports or dams, France constituted a key source of aid for modernizing urban planners in Latin America. Relationships between Latin American planners and French funders benefitted French manufacturing interests, in addition to Latin American metro proponents. This article draws on sources in Spanish, Portuguese, and French, including archival sources from the French Company for the Design and Construction of Urban Transport (Société française d’études et de realizations de transports urbains, SOFRETU), local news articles, and official reports by Latin American metro agencies. It highlights the role of bilateral aid between France and Latin America, thus complementing work on multilateral organizations and US influence in the region.
The article deals with the Mexican Capital, a city that has been struggling with massive urban air pollution since the 1930s. Within the framework of an environmental history, it considers air pollution from local and pan-American perspectives. The Pan American Air Pollution Sampling Network REDPANAIRE serves as a framework for the study. The REDPANAIRE was set up in the 1960s by the Pan American Health Organization as a development policy response to the challenges posed by urban air pollution. The article also examines local knowledge production and perspectives that played an important role in the emerging global governance discourse on urban air pollution that have been marginalized in previous research. The article argues that Mexico City’s participation in the REDPANAIRE was useful as it not only allowed local decisionmakers to gain insight into urban air pollution issues, but also enabled valuable development cooperation that helped the city in its fight against air pollution.