URBAN THEORY LAB RESEARCH
URBANIZATION IN THE AMAZON
Under the Instruction of Neil Brenner, Professor of Urban Theory, Director of the Urban Theory Lab, Harvard University Graduate School of Design
PART I: Uneven Urban Development of the Amazon | Spring 2014
Featured cartographic mapping in "Afuera, ¿donde?" by Manuel Benito in Cuarto Magazine's Series 1 - Disruption | Issue 2: Abnormal: Cuarto Magazine: Abnormal
Following the research methodology of the Urban Theory Lab at the Graduate School of Design, the concepts proposed by Henri Lefebvre and Edward Soja were utilized as a theoretical base to test the hypothesis of “generalized urbanization.” (Lefebvre, 1970)
Along with Lefebvre’s anticipated form of urbanization (that the “urban fabric” would be extended to encompass the entire planet) was geographer Edward Soja’s declaration that “every square inch of the world is urbanized to some degree.” (UTL)
Most recently, it has also been popularly accepted that we have entered a new geological epoch—the Anthropocene, in which our actions are the primary driving force on Earth.
Since the advent of the Industrial Revolution “industrial agriculture and modern transportation have created new forms of human–ecosystem interaction across the full range of population densities, from low-density... to... high-density cities...” (Ellis and Ramankutty, 2008)
Grounding this theoretical framework within the context of the Amazon provides a contemporary understanding of the urbanization processes that inform, not only the ‘cities’ of dense settlements but most specifically the regulatory governance within the hinterlands of production, despite the common misconception that such regions are ‘untouched’ and ‘wild,’ which are falsely represented in the famed Night-time Lights map by NASA and NOAA.
Using cartographic representation, anthropogenic processes of urbanization are revealed through the creation of infrastructural projects that facilitate the extraction of resources to meet the demand towards global commodity and their eventual metabolization into the Capital. This also reveals the regulatory frameworks that necessitate the deployment of such infrastructure; in turn facilitating the agglomeration of urban development across the globe.
Prior to the twenty-first century, the governance of the Amazon relied fractionally dependent on the respective nations it fell under, based on jurisdictional borders. This, however, was not a productive economic generator despite the implementation of the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization (ACTO) in 1978 as each individual nation was still self-reliant in the implementation of infrastructural needs.
The creation of the regional infrastructural project of IIRSA (Initiative for the Integration of Regional Infrastructure in South America) did not only resuscitate the economy of Latin America, particularly of the Amazonian nations (under ACTO) at the turn of the millennium, but also served as a catalyst for regulatory transformation. This included the processes of resource extraction towards the facilitation of a neoliberal agenda of urbanization—concentrated forms (agglomerated settlements) and extended forms (operational landscapes). Eventually, this aided the formation of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR).
However, as much as the aspiration may seem to be towards complete planetary urbanization, the projective infrastructural connectivity that would link the Atlantic and the Pacific to further facilitate international trade—extraction and distribution—are already causing uneven development in the Amazon. This is due to the regulatory shifts in power brought upon by the partnerships of the Amazonian governing bodies and private financial and trans-national corporations. These partnerships are causing marginalization across the landscape brought upon by resource extraction (performed by private corporations that have been approved by the government, in exchange for financial support in the creation of such regional project). In turn, causing an exhaustive degradation to the ecology and the environment, which further causes dispossession of landownership, most specifically to the native indigenous population. As a result, these project implementations cause violent reactions from marginalized groups furthering the uneven development of the Amazon.
PART II: Amazonian Soy as an Infrastructural Catalyst | Fall 2014
In Collaboration with Ana Maria Quiros, MDes '15
The late 1960’s and the beginning of the 1970’s witnessed many neoliberal restructuring in the forms of governance. Brazil, specifically the Amazonas capital of Manaus, was among the regions in South America, which opened its market as a free-trade zone to attract trans-national corporations to aid the resuscitation of its dying economy. In return, these trans-national companies would create a stable job market for its locale; reinvestment of its profit in the region; and investment in technological development. As an incentive, Manaus’ Free Trade Zone offered a special system that allowed international companies to own warehouses and even real estate under tax control.
During the same time, China’s population growth demanded for a larger volume of pork production. In turn, animal feed, specifically made from soy, became a global commodity.
As the Free Trade Zone opened up in Manaus, Cargill entered the city and established itself as an international agricultural exporter. Meanwhile, the invention of glyphosate was patented by Monsanto and marketed as Round-Up, and was eventually used in the production of GMO soy, which had a 4.5x-increase than regular harvest.
Today, an estimate of 72 million acres of land in Brazil have been transitioned from cattle farms or deforested specifically to become soy farms. Manaus’ Free Trade Zone became an integral part in the monopolization of soy as a cash crop; where international exporters such as Cargill and Bunge are creating privatized infrastructural ports along the Amazon river to supply the global demand of Amazonian soy.
As a result, the ecosystem of the Amazon is changing, affecting global climate as lands become deforested or transitioned for the creation of such operational landscapes.