Urban Marginality, Researcher Links Workshop, Mexico City

From 12th-15th July 2016, The Trust Map researcher Catherine Wilkinson attended the Urban Marginality Researcher Links Workshop in Mexico City. The University of Edinburgh, UK, and La Salle University, Mexico, with the support of the Newton Fund, the British Council and CONACYT organised the workshop to explore social, cultural, political and material conditions of urban marginality. Almost forty early researchers and practitioners, half from the UK and half from Mexico, from a range of disciplines including architecture, art, geography, history, and sociology delivered presentations on a range of themes relate to urban marginality, and in a variety of contexts.

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As well as presentations from early career researchers, including Catherine’s presentation ‘Trust in Participatory Budgeting’, there were a number of highly interesting keynote presentations, for instance by architect Marcos Betanzos, presenting on project ‘#BORDOS100’, which was included in the ‘Digital Catalog of the Mexico Pavilion’ at the Venice Biennale. Keynote Antonio Gallardo from Universidad La Salle also delivered an engaging talk about contesting urban marginality and building citizenship through architecture. I found particularly interesting Hector Castillo’s presentation. Hector is a sociologist, and has research interests in garbage, food supply, social development and youth culture and violence, amongst others. Hector presented on Palmitas se pinta, alongside Carlos Silva, Ministry of the Interior and Director of the Crime Prevention Programme in Palmitas, Pachuca.

During one day of the workshop we took a field visit to Landfill Neza II, Bordo Xochiaca, Nezahualcoyotl, State of Mexico. Unfortunately, due to ongoing tensions, we weren’t able to access the site, but could observe from a neighbouring bridge. The landfill was built in 1945, and until its close in 2010 it received more than 2000 tons of garbage from the Metropolitan Area of the Mexican Valley daily. 350 families live and work within the landfill. The landfill has been considered as an irregular settlement which has become invisible, not only to the authorities, but also to many citizens.

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The second field visit was to Palmitas, Pachuca de Soto, Hidalgo, Mexico (mentioned above). We toured the wonderful colourful buildings that were part of the 2015 project “Macromural Pachuca se pinta” (Pachuca Paints Itself)”. The artistic intervention was part of the National Programme for Crime and Violence Prevention, with the objective to reduce violence through art, culture, productive activities and the rehabilitation of public spaces. With the participation of residents, the art collective Germen Crew painted an area of 20,000 square meters, where there are 209 private houses inhabited by 452 families. According to government data, crime rates decreased by 35 % after the intervention.

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The workshop was successful in achieving its objective of charting the ways in which the processes of urban transformation are enacted both materially and symbolically, and the impacts these processes have on the urban poor. As part of this, those in attendance explored the struggles that result from these impacts, and highlighted the ways in which the urban poor negotiate these processes. It is hoped that, through the network of scholars that this workshop has created, we can encourage policymakers and urban planners to construct more people-friendly policies, and raise awareness with academic research and more accessible public-facing documents and engagement with the media, of how contemporary planning decisions and processes of urban transformation are exacerbating existing social inequalities, urban marginality and social disintegration.

Thank you to workshop coordinators and mentors Julie Cupples, Tono Gallardo, and Tom Slater for hosting and organising such a productive and informative workshop.

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