In past years, I've always done top ten lists for my favorite books of the year. Here and here are 2007's and here are the 2006 ones.

Every year I've gotten a little more eclectic in my reading, so the lists have gotten a little shorter. I haven't had time to put together a full list for this year, for obvious reasons, but I thought I'd at least put up my favorite fiction and non-fiction from this year.

Insurgent Citizenship by James Holston
This was a great book on land tenure and the law in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Part ethnography, part history and part planning (much like myself).

In fiction, I think my favorite that was actually published this year is Roberto Bolaño's 2666, which I'm reading right now. His literacy and use of vocabulary remind me of Michel Houellebecq, but without hating the world and everything in it. Really, it's just about assuming that your readers aren't stupid.

Once I've gone through what I read this year and figured out what is actually recent, I may add to the list.



Addendum: First Impressions that I Forgot to Write About Last Time

1. About one in three defeños seems to be a police officer. As I figure it, there are roughly 2 million street corners in Mexico City. Each one has, on average, three cops. That makes 6 million police officers. I think the math works. The last place I remember seeing so many police was in Thailand a few weeks before the 2006 coup.

2. The little walk guys on the stoplight move like they are sprinting. Which you pretty much have to be to cross a street.

3. They read like crazy here. Finding books is like finding handbags in New York. And they don't all suck. The dude on my corner selling photocopies has Habermas and Foucault.

Also, discovered the secret behind the streetscape question. Every building owns their sidewalk up to the street, so it doesn't have to match the stuff around it (in texture, material, height, plantings, ect). It makes for kind of interesting streets, but also messes with the public realm.

ps. still can't upload photos. kinda bummed about that.



Day One: Ciclovia and First Impressions

Every time I fly, it seems to get a little worse. Last summer after our experimentation with long distance Amtrak we decided that we were going to use the train from then on for every possible trip… and if I absolutely had to fly, I resolved to create within myself a zen-like state of inner calm.

Last night almost broke me.

It began with a delayed flight, followed with one of those times when they get you all on the plane and then you sit there for hour before they even move from the gate and moved from there to seating me next to a young marine who went from bragging about his weapon to puking on my shoes. Awesome. Once we finally made it to JFK, Delta gave me the wrong terminal info for my transfer, so I literally had to run through the airport with no shoes on to be the last person on the Mexicana Flight 3… which then proceeded to show Beverley Hills Chihuahua as the in flight entertainment…

Wow. The saving grace was reading the first two books of Roberto Bolaño’s 2666, which I highly recommend.

Anyways, I finally made it and am adjusting to life in the DF. My friend Pablo had suggested several walks through neighborhoods to get a feel for the context of Mexico City, so I spent most of my day just walking, though I did take a break to sit through part of a service at the Cathedral this morning. It says something about my christian-high-school Spanish that I can understand 90% of a sermon but ordering food is challenging.

The newest mayor here, Marcelo Ebrard, is something of a bike enthusiast and he’s imported Ciclovia from Bogotá (if you don’t know what that is, watch this video on Columbia’s). I had a really good time participating in that today. I didn’t find the place where they had the free bikes until all they had left were kids bikes, but I walked a couple miles of the route. I’ll try to get there earlier next week to get a bike.

And I made my first visit to one of my sites: Av. Presidente Masaryk. When I do site visits, I like to do my first one without taking any notes or pictures, but rather just walking to get a sense of the place. I’m going to continue to reserve judgment for now until I’ve seen the second site and the properties that the foundation controls (I’m getting a tour tomorrow).

I took a lot of pictures from Ciclovia today, but unfortunately, Flickr is being buggy, so I don’t think I’m going to get them up tonight.

Overall first impressions:

The city has a lot of really interesting streetscapes. I started doing a bunch of sections in my journal to play around with when I get back. All of the streets are very individual in their layout and there are some fantastic boulevards. Oh! And I have to mention the amazing street furniture… not so much benches as sculptures to sit on. I have many unuploadable pictures of those as well.

It doesn’t feel like a city of 19 million. It’s relatively low rise (though I think some of the outer neighborhoods have a little higher densities) and there are a lot of nice, popular open spaces. Overall, I’d say it handles its size well (other then in its transportation systems, but that’s a post for later). It’s certainly not like going to Hong Kong or even Manhattan for the first time.

There is a ton of variety in the neighborhoods. I walked through places that made me think of Rome, Berlin, Phnom Penh, ect. all within a few blocks of each other.

The Metro is awesome. Unless I’m mistaken they are the same trains as Paris and Montréal, with the rubber tires. They also do this cool thing here where each station has it’s own logo. So you don’t have to remember names like Coyocán and Tacubaya… you can just remember that you get on at the pen, transfer at the grenade (or maybe it’s a water bucket) and get off at the fountain. Also, wicked cheep. I think I got 5 ride tickets for 10 Pesos (75 cents).

And of course the food and weather are great. But I won’t brag…

Sorry again for the lack of pictures... hopefully I'll have more luck later in the week.



One Day to Go

Fantasmas en CU, originally uploaded by Eneas.

I'm just finishing up all of my prep for the trip tomorrow. I've gotten to spend a good part of the last few days collecting materials and reading. By coincidence, J got me the book The Endless City for x-mas, which has Mexico as one of the 6 cities that it focuses on (along with Berlin, New York, London, Shanghai and Johannesburg). And it's been pretty interesting reading. In fact, it's really challenged my perceptions of some of how cities in the developing world are shaped.

Endless City Mx Page
the mexico city info page from endless city

For a long time, I've been influenced by Manual Castells, who has said that we are moving farther and farther away from actually having developed and developing countries. Rather, throughout the world, we can see a greater tendency towards what might be called "first world" cities surrounded by "third world" peripheries and rural areas. Even in the US, which is often seen as being the "opposite" of the rest of the world in spatial terms (poor cities/rich suburbs rather then rich cities/poor suburbs), I feel that we can see the beginnings of this orientation asserting itself in NY, Boston, and even in LA. I still hold that in general, this is probably true. What I've been realizing, however, is that this has led me to think of peripheral urbanization as the only part of cities in the global south that needs "community development."

In the case of Mexico City, there seems to be two different population trends that are both putting a lot of pressure on the city. The first, as I've commented, is the poorer (and largely informal) development at the edges of the metro area. The second (and one that I'll be coming into more direct contact with on this trip) is the loss of population at the center, in what would still be considered upper middle class areas of the city. So instead of this two tiered system of rich at the center, poor on the outside, Mexico is become more of a three tiered city: poor on the outside, rich in the middle and a hollow center.

From a community development standpoint, I think this leads to a lot of interesting questions. Is an empty center part of the solution for the pressures of urbanization at the outside? is it recolonization by the rich who have been leaving? worker housing? and, of course, what is a politically palatable solution in a city that is simultaneously the eighth richest in the world, but still has more then 30% of it's residents living well below the poverty line?

Anyway, that's some of what I've been thinking about over the last few days. I will be getting into MX late tomorrow night, and on Sunday, my friend from the foundation gave me a bunch of walks that he said would be good to get a feel for the city. I'll probably try to blog again on Sunday night.

Finally, here's a little of the most interesting reading I've seen so far:

First, check out Alex's comment on the last post.

After that, the most directly related book has been Keith Pezzoli's
Human Settlements and Planning for Ecological Sustainability. Keith happens to be a Planners Network guy as well has having been my friend's-girlfriend Melissa's advisor at USC. I've also found a bunch of his articles in Progressive Planning magazine that i'd be willing to spread around.

Some other ones I've liked on Latin American urbanism are:
Mike Davis' Magical Urbanism and Joseph Scarpaci's Plazas and Barrios.

If you are into Anthro, Claudio Lomnitz' Death and the Idea of Mexico is really good.

I'll probably add some links to more articles as time goes on. The next post will be from Mexico City.



What I Did Will Be Doing For My Winter Vacation

For those who haven’t heard, I was lucky enough to receive a GSD International Community Service Fellowship Grant to do research / work on a project in Mexico over the holiday break. The grant has a couple of stipulations that go along with it. Most significantly, I’ll be giving a talk in the GSD’s student lecture series next semester (which I’ll expect you all to be at), but along with that, I have to blog about the project while it’s going on.

For the project itself I’m working with a community development foundation (the Fundación Horizonte) in Mexico City to develop a “green street” project. I know the founder of FH from my time at BU. He used to work with the Fundación Centrohistórico, which is the CDC that has been working to revitalize the Centro Histórico, the oldest part of the city.

The idea behind the project is essentially to use the concept of a green street to stimulate sustainable development in Mexico and test out the idea of green development as a community development strategy. The street will be a showcase of sustainable technologies, but beyond that, the foundation will work towards getting organizations, community groups, businesses and artists that work on environmental issues to move into the space as well so that it becomes an incubator district for green thinking in the DF.

Green Street Project Site Map

My place in the project is to evaluate a couple of sites for their suitability. I’ve been asked to generally ignore the technical aspects of “greening” the streets and to think about the project more from a social, community development, perspective. I’ll be looking at traffic, social structures, the physical form of the areas, possibilities for urban agriculture, ect.

I leave on Dec 27th and I’ll be in MX for 10 days. My goal is to blog every day if possible while I’m there. Between then and now, I’m going to be doing research on the city and developing a better framework for evaluating the areas, so I’ll probably be posting a few times between then and now as well.

I look forward to hearing your comments (on the project, restaurant and museum suggestions, whatever else).


Studiowork: Final Project

We finished up the final review of our first semester last week. The project itself should look familiar from the last set of boards I posted. Essentially we took our work from the last project, added implementation stuff and reworked the things that weren't working well in the last presentation.

SBW District Plan and Research

SBW Implementation One

SBW Land Use and Stakeholders

SBW Implementation 2

SBW Site Plan


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