4.241J | Spring 2013 | Graduate

Theory of City Form

Lecture Notes

Lec 18: Spatial & Social Structure III: Colony and Post-colony

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Lecture Summary

In the first of these three case studies, the focus is on the form of cities polarized as national cities co-existing across an international border. The US/Mexican border is almost 2000 miles long with paired cities all along its length, ranging from small towns of about 50,000 (Douglas/Agua Prieta) to metropolitan regions of over 2 million (San Diego/Tijuana). One view is that these couplings are part of a special border region, different and separate from each nation, and these cities should consequently also be treated as special. Despite their national allegiances, in these cities people speak two languages, share money and telephone services, have industries of one country located in the other, and people sleep in one but work in the other country. The Mexican cities are generally larger than the American and among the fastest growing in the world. Border cities share the same natural resources, yet deal with them in different ways, the lack of cooperation often affecting the other negatively. While the American cities are often poorer than other cities in the US, Mexicans migrate to the border where the cities are often wealthier than elsewhere in Mexico. There is a flourishing enterprise of cross-border activity. Interaction across the border is multiple and varied: if Americans travel south as tourists or in search of items illegal in their own country (Paz: “Americans come to Mexico in search of their own obsessions”), Mexicans move northward to buy commercial commodities not available or more expensive in their own country. The border zone is known in the US largely as the unresolved site of illegal entry, often accompanied by conservative political resentment to the Hispanization of the American Southwest. The form of the American city rests largely on automobile travel and low-density market distribution, while the denser, bus-oriented, Mexican city is subject to much higher state control. One might speculate about what kind of city a quasi-independent border region might produce, but that remains, at present, an interesting but far-fetched vision. In the meantime, these cities try to squeeze out benefits from their polarized status.

Colonial cities and efforts to rationalize the post-colonial city are the subject of the last two cases. Different traditions of colonial urbanism differ among others in their attitudes toward the creation and maintenance of “critical distance” (see Engels’ Manchester observations) between colonial and native. Delhi is a model of the British invasion of a seventeenth-century city, Shahjahanabad, the site of many previous native cities, and its subsequent transformation to a colonial city. This process involved the building of a military cantonment at a distant from the old city in 1803, followed by a civil station for colonial administration in 1850, and the subsequent partial renovation of the old city and the creation of a colonial capital, New Delhi, in 1911. For the British “critical distance” offered partial avoidance of diseases due to air and water, to diet and alcohol, and to sexual transmission. Ventilation and environmental controls consequently affected architecture in the production of the vernacular bungalow, for instance, which stood in opposition to the colonial wish to pronounce British cultural superiority through neo-classical forms. The ultimate choice of architectural and city form arose when Delhi became the national capital and had to be shaped to this purpose. The Geddesian view of incorporating the native city was an unacceptable alternative to the direction chosen and implemented by Lutyens and Baker, which, in creating a powerful colonial presence, embraced axiality and symmetry of site layout, elongated approaches such as the Raj Path, wide avenues and circular enclosures such as Connaught Place, and some inclusion of Indic imagery in the neo-classic language of the architecture. Perhaps the colonial form emanated from Lutyens’ world view that saw nothing in the native culture worth inheriting: “Indian buildings…. (are) pervaded by a ‘childish ignorance’ of the basic principles of architecture. There is no trace of any Wren.” The remnants of the colonial city now represent well the order of an independent post-colonial government. A vastly larger post-colonial Delhi, saturated by migration, now struggles to deal with the form of a new city type, the non-Western poor city of hyper and mega-urbanism.

A brief look at the case of the reforming of a previously colonial Spanish city, Havana, after the Castro-led revolution of 1959, suggests an attempt to recalibrate the polarized relations between city and country, a goal set for Soviet cities but seldom achieved. The idea of civilized city and uncouth country is challenged by major efforts to redistribute activity from Havana and to educate and enculture rural citizenry. In attempting to counter Havana’s overwhelming pre-revolutionary dominance (25% of the country’s population, 50% of industrial production, 60–70% of higher education, 70% of hospital beds and hotels) Havana is made into a “frustrated” city, so that its pre-revolutionary annual growth rate of 2.9% is reduced to less than 2% and exceeded by growth outside Havana in the years following the revolution. Some of the country’s agricultural landscape is transformed from sugar to milk production, as in the replanted Picadura valley, and farmers’ huts are collectivized into communities of about 2,000 people, housed in modern buildings and separated from one another by about 10 kilometers. Migration to Havana is controlled and its housing needs are partially supplied by panelized medium to high-rise buildings constructed by micro-brigade labor taken from industry. On the outskirts of Havana a cultural greenbelt is imagined for communal recreation and entertainment, in some ways like that imagined by Shirov for Moscow. Over the whole island a white modern architecture, often with colored supergraphics, and devoid of the mark of individual authorship, attempts to bind the form of city and country into one.


Handout for Lecture 18 (PDF)

  • Page 1: The 2,000-mile ribbon of paired cities on the Mexican/American border

Referenced Texts

Benham, Joseph. “Where Yanks, Mexicans Live Together and Like It.” U.S News & World Report, Sept. 14, 1981.

Examples, Precedents, and Works

Tijuana settlement; San Diego, and La Jolla (California, United States); Ciudad Juárez, and El Paso (Texas, United States); Shahjahanabad, New Delhi, and Calcutta (India); Havana (Cuba); Law of Indies plan

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