The World’s Biggest Junkyard: Urban Planning and State Building in Post-1968 Tijuana

Thursday, January 7, 2016: 4:10 PM
International Ballroom A (Atlanta Marriott Marquis)
Christian Rocha, University of Chicago
This paper explores the Mexican federal government’s attempts to build a modern urban center in Tijuana and how these urban renewal efforts were embedded in a broader response to national emergencies. The time period studied is between 1960 and 1982. This interlude included the orchestration of a student massacre, a political crisis, a populist response to quell unrest, and finally a devastating economic crisis. By examining this case study, I posit that the Mexican government pursued urban redevelopment to bolster its legitimacy. The transformation of Tijuana, widely considered to be an immoral border “boomtown”, had the potential to salvage the regime’s tattered reputation. The regime sought to canalize the Tijuana River, build housing for squatters, “beautify” proletarian neighborhoods, and erect a proper gateway into the nation. More importantly, it wanted to extirpate the “world’s biggest junkyard” from the banks of the Tijuana River.

These actions were congruent with the demands of alienated middle and working class Tijuanenses. Failure to fully fulfill the promises of renewal, however, could threaten the state’s reputation in the border region. Ultimately, the story of Tijuana’s troubled urban renewal complicates the dominant narrative of the collapse of Mexico’s post-revolutionary order. The rise and fall of the city’s redevelopment project brings attention to the government’s increasing dependence on expensive infrastructure to obtain the population’s consent. Similarly, it underlines the importance of the 1982 economic crisis on the fortunes of Latin America’s longest-lasting one-party system.

<< Previous Presentation | Next Presentation