Satellite Cities in the Mexican Metropolis: Public Housing and the Rise of Mexico’s Urban Middle Class

Sunday, January 6, 2019: 9:40 AM
Salon 1 (Palmer House Hilton)
David James Yee, State University of New York at Stony Brook
This paper examines the debates over mass housing in Mexico during the middle of the twentieth century. It focuses on public housing in order to explore how it contributed to the formation of a great divergence among the millions of migrants who arrived to Mexico City between 1940 and 1970. I highlight two housing complexes – Unidad Independencia and Unidad Kennedy – as examples of how the Mexican government approached mass housing in a period of rapid urbanization. Constructed under the tenure of President Adolfo López Mateos (1958 -1964), Unidad Independencia and Unidad Kennedy are representative of the Mexican government’s decision to fuse modernist architecture and social service facilities into a series of “satellite cities” that were constructed on the city’s periphery. A focus on these two housing complexes enables historians to more concretely situate Mexico within a broader, global moment; one in which urbanists, international organizations, and local governments were searching for new forms and methods of mass housing in an era of explosive population growth. The paper draws on archives from the United Nations, Mexico’s National Institute for Housing (INV), and local architecture journals to determine where Mexico stood in the divide between “self-help” housing and modernist, government-built projects. I argue that public housing in Mexico served as a mechanism for upward mobility among Mexico City’s incipient middle-class at the expense of the informal poor.