Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2021
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Columbia University
The Private Logic of Urban Growth. Urban Developers, Transportation, and Real Estate in Mexico City, 1870-1980

This dissertation examines how urban developers reorganized modern Mexico City’s space in ways that produced urban growth and inequality between 1870 and 1980. Developers were private actors interested in making profits out of investments in urbanization. They exercised political and economic power to build transportation infrastructure—tramways in the nineteenth century and asphalt roads in the twentieth—outside the urban core, in areas with without settlements or with low population density. The aim was to gain land for the real estate industry and to control the market when land values were lower. The Valley of Mexico turned into a booming hub of property development in the Americas, not in response to demographic pressures but because developers risked investments ahead of demand. In doing so, developers became a central albeit scholarly neglected factor in a model of national modernization that prioritized the urban economy—with subsidized industrial and labor costs—over a countryside deprived of investments. Scholars of Latin America have emphasized state prerogatives and political clientelism in both the politics of urban development and modernization. Instead, my dissertation contends that private urban developers shaped political decisions consequential for the city and the country. This history dissertation builds on critical geography and spatial humanities to unpack the private logic that structured the urban space. By using map-making methodologies and working with a multi-sited array of archives, this will be the first work that systematically traces Mexico City’s spatial transformations into a city oriented to automobile mobility and house ownership of which a majority of dwellers could not take part. I will intervene in contemporary debates on housing justice, sustainable mobility, and inequality in Global South urbanization by investigating the long-term history of private economic power and the production of Mexico City’s patterns of growth.