Urban planning isn’t new, according to Sharon Bailey Glasco, whose new book examines urban planning from an earlier century.The Latin American and world history professor recently published Constructing Mexico City: Colonial Conflicts over Culture, Space, and Authority.
The book examines the physical and cultural dimensions of life in 18th century Mexico City, when colonial bureaucrats sought to improve and transform the capital of the Spanish Empire. Influenced by Enlightenment ideas, they sought to renovate and reshape their urban environments, addressing issues such as access to water, sanitation and garbage collection, disease control, poverty and the physical environment.
Indians, Spanish elites and those of mixed race background who were subjected to the large-scale plans for the city were not simply passive recipients of the agenda. They often openly contested the vision of colonial leaders.
“As one of the largest urban centers in the world, I have always been intrigued by how Mexico City functions on a practical level,” says Bailey Glasco. “In researching and writing this book, I found that residents back in the 18th century had the same problems and complaints as their modern counterparts. Material concerns, lack of infrastructure and arguments about the responsibilities of city government occupied the debates of the local population, much in the same way they do today.”
Bailey Glasco has drawn on research from numerous archives in Mexico City to highlight tensions over how people define and share public spaces, and how they understand their place within a wider colonial system. She engages the themes of her book in her History Department course offering “The Culture of Cities in Latin America.”