Nov 24, 2008

Border Megalopolis

Urban settlements along the US and Mexico border are some of the fastest growing regions in each respective country. This project imagines an east west megalopolis, similar to those currently spread North/South along the coastal United States. By manipulating the space of the border through elongation and compression, various relationships become apparent. In collapsing the string of “sister cities” occurring along this divide, patterns of development and urban form are juxtaposed, highlighting differences and similarities and suggesting future routes of growth. The area between each respective sister city and the border becomes activated as a space of potential connectivity. By analyzing how each urban form addresses the border, either by pushing up against it, even using it as quotidian infrastructure, or by pulling back, creating an additional buffer between the two nations, various characteristics and typologies appear. In the case of El Paso and Ciudad Juarez, and other similarly sized metrapoles, the two border populations have veritably collapsed, with the border practically dissolved by the daily bustle. In smaller cities such as Columbus, New Mexico and Puerto Palomas, Mexico, a gap of three miles exists between the two cities, yet because of the strong reciprocity and interdependence between the two communities, this space is evaporated; the border fence being a weak demarcation of differences not observed. In other instances, such as Sullivan City and Ciudad Gustavo Diaz Ordaz, the proximity of larger urban centers diverts the exchange that would otherwise exist between these two adjacent cities. Every sister city relationship has unique characteristics shaped by local history, industry, geography and location in the larger map, yet in each instance, the space that defines the border in between is charged and presents opportunities for analysis and methods for responsible and just exchange.


Subtopia said...

Hi Emily,

I am, and have been for awhile, intrigued by the interrelationships of sister cities, along the border here and abroad, so this project makes me even more curious to understand further what exactly is the binding potential that cross-border urban zones could share. I would be very interested to hear more of your thoughts on the “patterns of development” and juxtaposed urban forms, “highlighting differences and similarities” that are suggestive of “future routes of growth,” or that “becomes activated as a space of potential connectivity.”
What does the organic morphology of sister cities look like in infrastructural terms, how would it translate into an architectural language? I wonder, could you develop, say, a vocabulary, or an alphabet for a set of relationships – an urban syntax for the sister city phenomenon – that could help evidence some of the specific connections that exists and emerge along the border? I think there is a ton of great analysis to be explored here, and certainly the spatial potential of each city along the US-Mex border may have different characteristics from other borders in the world, as you have suggested, but overall is there a fundamental landscape of reciprocity or imbalance that we could discern from this study? How does this landscape shift? Is there a diagnosis in there we can observe about how global capital is distributed across the border, and how the structures of neoliberal and transnational capital flows exert their pressures on the border, perhaps while relieving other economic functions there? What can we deduce from the urban production of the border about the global financial system? Is there an atlas of sister cities we could draw upon for a spatial analysis of capital’s influence on the border which could be used, grafted, superimposed, mimicked, re-applied, or censored, warned against, deconstructed universally in future urban development there?
I have always wanted to compare and overlay different border geographies from all across the globe very similarly to how you have done here to gauge more of these types of spacio-political relationships.
Are border geographies and sister city urbanism a wave of the future, if so – how can that be properly developed? What are the types of crossover that should be avoided; and harnessed? What are the ideal model sister cities, what are the exemplary inter-relationship functions, and what are the most dismal, lopsided, etc? What is the criterion for answering those questions? How do sister cities emerge spatially as result of border culture, that create different sptializations from those created by border economics, different approaches to border security, labor traffic, etc? Cross-border violence has its own sptialization. Are we looking for an urbanism of the anti-border ? Or, an urbanism that erases the border, or better stitches it with cross-activity?
You’ve heard of the concept of “city states” but what about “sister city states”? Or “border states,” not just states along the border, but border geographies that become their own nations from where two other countries merge? For example, what would be the ideal urban development of Kashmir? I am fascinated by the notion of sister cities succeeding from their respective nations to form their own sovereign identity. How might a ‘sister city urban syntax’ help explain that connective and autonomous potential? Border cities represent huge economic boom along the US-Mex corridor, I wonder about the political potential that could emerge from this, theoretically on a peri-national interest; like a seam that becomes its own entity. How are sister cities inherently balanced, mutually-derived, what are the pistons that drive growth, sustain their partnership? I know there must be tons out there on this stuff, and I need to get into it, but how can the projects we build spur on the foundations for a more broad based model of border justice?

The images here are a little small and difficult to discern, but based on your observations, what then might we be able to do next? What types of projects should we propose with this knowledge?
Anyway, I think this opens up a lot, and would just love more of your exploration.
Thanks for sharing. This has provoked a lot for me.


sellegr said...

I really love your drawings, they are powerful and clearly show the variety of sister city configurations. Most intriguing are the more distant American cities paired with Mexican sisters pressed directly to the border, its almost a psychological profile manifest in the urban development. I am curious how specifically your project is connecting the cities, or if you are leaving it at this level of analysis?
My thesis project is also on the US / Mexico border and proposes connecting the border region via a massive infrastructural corridor / establishing a third independent country between the US and Mexico where Mexicans and Americans could work, live and exchange freely. It is still in development, but some in process work is posted on my thesis blog here if you are interested:
Also, thanks for keeping this blog, it has been very helpful for finding border info / media.