I began my project intending to realize a micro-history of el Pedregal de Santo Domingo, a paracaidistaneighborhood in Mexico City, relying mostly on oral histories with residents, and supplemented by archival research. I wanted to understand how residents had constructed and organized their neighborhood from scratch, both by petitioning local governing authorities and by working autonomously in neighborhood associations. After involving myself in Santo Domingo and beginning my exploration of the Archivo General de la Nación (AGN) and other archives, I realized that by limiting the project to study only the internal organization of a single community I would be missing much of what is interesting about the paracaidista phenomenon that engulfed the city during the 1960s and 1970s. I also realized that my knowledge of Santo Domingo’s history was far too limited to immediately begin oral histories with original residents.
The result is that my project has changed in two important ways. First, the scope of my project has broadened to include several questions about the paracaidismo of the city’s metropolitan area. How did citizens and urban governance (elected officials, organizations, programs) participate in the physical and social organization of Mexico City’s growth? How did economic and social policy (changes in government structure, creation of new laws and programs, etc.) reflect the vision held by urban governance for the city’s growth? How did these policies contribute to the demographic explosion and the organizational and social crisis of the city? By adding these questions, I will expand the results of my research to include conclusions about the nature of the urban process, namely the extent to which different actors control its direction, and with which mechanisms, tools, and tactics.
Second, archival research now makes up much more of my source material than I had originally planned. Oral histories are still indispensible for achieving the goals I originally outlined, but in order to understand the whole story of the organizational upheaval that the city underwent during this period, and in order to ask the right questions in my oral histories, other varieties of source material now constitute a much larger portion of my source base. Since my project aims to gauge the nature and influence of citizen participation, the histories and perspectives of individual residents are still an integral component of my research.
// SEF // Mexico City, Mexico
I am currently reading Urban Leviathan: Mexico City in the Twentieth Century by Diane Davis, and was impressed by the data table she developed to show the change in population of greater Mexico City during the twentieth century. Her table is especially interesting because it separates the census data into three geographical jurisdictions: Mexico City, the Federal District, and the Metropolitan area. This allows for a more thorough look at the demographic patterns of the region, since demographic change was not uniform. I simply plugged her data into an excel sheet and created this visual representation. (Click on the graph to more easily read the definitions for the three geographic jurisdictions.)
While the region’s population growth is generally impressive, the growth of the Metropolitan Area from 1960-1980 is staggering: during the 1960s and 1970s, the Metropolitan Area grew from 5.4 million to 14.4 million. The four centraldelegaciones that comprise Mexico City proper (the original city center) actually saw a slight decrease in population during the period in question, which means all of the 9 million new residents settled in the greater Federal District and in the urban periphery. Less than half (around 4 million) settled in the 12 great greater delegaciones of the Federal District, and around 5 million arrived in the surrounding municipalities, mostly in the state of Mexico. Also note that the populations for the Federal District and the Metropolitan area are nearly identical until the 1960s, meaning that the population spilling beyond the borders of the Federal District before this period was negligible.
This means that the city’s urban footprint grew enormously during this period. New residents, mostly coming from Mexico’s rural and economically depressed regions, were forced to the city’s periphery. The explosive demographic growth meant that urban government was unable to supply basic services (utilities, housing, transport, etc.) to these new, often poor, populations located far from the city center. With government unable to meet their basic needs, residents took matters into their own hands. The 1960s and 1970s saw an explosion of colonias paracaidistas and other forms of irregular settlements, which were often hotbeds for political activity and engagement, usually around questions of urban services.
// SEF // Mexico City, Mexico
Sarah Farr is PhD student in Sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
The views expressed in this blog and on this website are my own.