The Pressure for Profit: Deregulation, the Santiago Metro, and the Urban Environment in 1980s Chile

Monday, January 6, 2020: 11:00 AM
Bowery (Sheraton New York)
Andra Chastain, Washington State University
In a city that has suffered some of the worst smog in the world, the Santiago Metro is one of the most important environmental measures ever taken in Chile. It moves nearly two million people per day and is the largest transit system in South America, replacing the city’s polluting buses and cars with an efficient, electric subway system. Yet for much of its history since it opened in 1975, the Metro was mostly empty, while the majority of Santiago’s residents used the chaotic network of private bus operators aboveground. Throughout the late 1970s and 1980s, the bus system and the Metro system directly competed with one another. What explains this tension, and how does it shed light on urban development, changing economic paradigms, and the environmental impact of urban growth in late-twentieth-century Chile?

This paper takes up these questions by examining the history of the Santiago Metro during the 1980s. It argues that the Metro’s history in this period illuminates the conflict between two competing models of development. On the one hand, the subway was based on the premise that state intervention could rationalize the city and harmonize different modes of transit. This view was supported by the Metro’s French funders and advisers, as well as its Chilean planners and architects. On the other hand, the neoliberal model pushed by the Pinochet dictatorship (1973–1989) promoted increased competition and a limited role for the state in all sectors of the economy. Although this conflict hindered the Metro in the 1980s, the vision for a rational city remained alive and would reemerge after Chile’s transition to democracy. This study shows that the shift from state-led developmentalism to neoliberalism was contested by both Chilean and French actors and argues that urban development was a key arena for these struggles.

Previous Presentation | Next Presentation >>