From Segregated to Parallel Cities: Political Polarization and Public Space in Caracas, Venezuela, 19892014

Saturday, January 5, 2019: 4:30 PM
Salon 12 (Palmer House Hilton)
Alejandro Velasco, New York University
It is common to claim that Latin American cities are highly segregated spatially, in turn reflecting and generating other forms of segregation – economic, social, political. But what has been the impact on this dynamic of the region’s so-called “left turn”? At the start of the 21st century, the rise of left wing governments upholding banners of social justice, political participation, and redistribution of wealth toward those long sidelined generated great expectations of change across the region. That this left turn coincided with an unprecedented commodity boom gave added impetus to those expectations, and to ideas for large scale projects aimed at reversing centuries of inequality shaping the configuration of urban spaces. Now at its ebb, it is possible to state that insofar as urban inequality is concerned, those expectations largely did not happen. At times, even, the same spatial segregation that served as launching pad for progressive movements to reach power became the foundation for remaining in power, insofar as political polarization and urban geography grew tightly linked. And while the literature on urban Latin America has examined the relationship between politics and space, the particular influence of political polarization on urban space and vice versa has received scant attention. In this sense, Caracas is an exemplary case. On one hand, it is marked by longstanding spatial segregation, considerably deepened in the 1990s era of neoliberal reforms. On the other hand, the 1998 election of Hugo Chávez as President, promising a popular revolution, ushered in intense political polarization that closely followed preexisting patterns of spatial segregation, marked by race and class differences. This paper traces how the development and deepening of this segregation in the 1990s created the conditions for the emergence under Chavez of a distinct and underexamined phenomenon: not segregated cities, but parallel cities.
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