How can tourism improve the lives of poor people? Must tourism always destroy existing cultures? Can indigenous people plan and manage their own tourist resources? These are just a few of the difficult questions that CED students in the graduate studio, “Just” Tourism in the Tlacolula Valley, Oaxaca, grappled with during Spring, 2012.
The studio was based on the idea that to be equitable and sustainable, tourism planning needs to build on the existing environment, society and economies of the local area. Sponsored by the Ministry of Culture of the State of Oaxaca and in collaboration with professors and students from the Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City, students from all three CED departments—Architecture, Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning, and City and Regional Planning—traveled to Oaxaca Valley to investigate its rich history and culture and to understand its current challenges.
Raul Cabra (M.A. Design, 2011)—Director of Oaxacalifornia, a cultural exchange program between Oaxacan craftspeople and California designers, who is also a local resident—led us through ten intensive days of fieldwork that covered nearly every meter of the valley. We surveyed local agriculture and gastronomy, craft traditions, markets that date from pre-Columbian times, unique Zapotec governance systems and the techniques of artisanal mescal production—the most important local industry. We met a range of Valley residents including government officials, returned migrants, organic farmers and American expats.
Returning to Berkeley, we incorporated different concepts from the anthropology of tourism, everyday urban design, local economic development theory, infrastructure planning and land-use law to create a strategic tourism plan for the Valley. Organized around flexible itineraries, the plan makes the valley accessible to tourists while protecting its physical and cultural resources.
Multi-dimensional and decentralized, the plan offers numerous options. Since villages value their independence and autonomy, each element can be adapted to local conditions. Last summer, local officials, businesses, and artisans enthusiastically responded to the Mezcal Route strategy, so we are optimistic that the rest of the plan will have an equally positive impact in Oaxaca.
- Daniel Collazos, LA
- Bird Feliciano, Arch
- Jenika Florence, LA
- Alexandra Goldman, DUSP
- Sam Holtzman, Arch
- Tyler Meeks, Arch
- Kate Marple-Cantrell, DUSP
- Siddharth Nadkarny, DUSP
- Priti Pai, Arch
- CED Faculty: Margaret Crawford, Marco Cenzatti
In a now-neglected book entitled Notes on the Synthesis of Form (1964), Christopher Alexander approached design as a question of “goodness of fit” between form and context. I thought about this formulation frequently when I began traveling in 2002 the entire length of the US-Mexico border on both sides, a journey of 4,000 miles. I had the good (or bad) fortune to embark before the US undertook the fortification of the international boundary line and so witnessed the border’s closure, an experience that altered my understanding of both countries.
The US-Mexico borderlands are among the most misunderstood places on earth. The communities along the line are distant from their respective national capitals. They are staunchly independent and composed of many cultures with hybrid loyalties. Nowadays, border states are fast-growing places of teeming contradiction, extremes of wealth and poverty, and vibrant political and cultural change. They are also places of enormous tensions associated with undocumented immigration and drug wars.
Mutual interdependence has been the hallmark of cross-border lives since prehistoric times. After the Spanish conquest, a series of binational “twin cities” sprang up along the line, eventually creating communities of sufficient distinction as to warrant the title of a “third nation,” slotted snugly in the space between the US and Mexico. I came to understand the third nation not as a zone of separation but instead as a connecting membrane. This way of seeing substitutes continuity and coexistence for sovereignty and difference, running counter to conventional wisdom that the border is the place of last resistance against immigrant and terrorist.
In 1848 the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo established the international boundary, which was frequently marked by no more than a pile of stones. A second survey in 1892 added over 200 more boundary monuments. But in the 1990s, responding to increased waves of undocumented crossings from Mexico, large fences sprouted in border cities such as Tijuana and Ciudad Juárez. Following 9/11, the US unilaterally adopted an aggressive program of fortifying the entire line. The new barriers are without historical precedent, and threaten to suffocate the arteries of communication that supply the third nation’s oxygen.
On the US side, the border was transformed into an archipelago of law enforcement agencies dedicated to the apprehension and deportation of undocumented migrants, and supported by private manufacturing, detention and security corporations. On the Mexican side, the federal government’s war against drug cartels resulted in tens of thousands of deaths and may even have consolidated cartel power.
In places, the new Wall is sinuously beautiful as it snakes through desert, but it can hardly be construed as a good fit! Yet the environmental design responses it has provoked are immensely intriguing in their diversity. The Wall provides a canvas for artworks, or becomes an instrument to be played by musicians; and ‘windows’ cut into the Wall reduce cross-border incidents of rock-throwing. Design professionals are directly engaged in building the rising number of official Ports of Entry that establish new portals in the Wall that shuts out Mexico. My CED colleague Ron Rael has designed water, energy and anti-pollution schemes along the Wall’s length. And people invent surprising ways of going over, under, through and around the Wall.
Ultimately, the Wall separating Mexico and the US will come down. Walls always do. The Wall won’t work because the third nation has strong connective tissue that cannot be undone. The third nation is the place where binational lives and values are being created – organically, readily, and without artifice. It is the place of being and becoming between our two nations.
What should be done about the Wall that so rudely interrupts the third nation? The Berlin Wall was torn down virtually overnight, its fragments sold as souvenirs of a calamitous Cold War; and the Great Wall of China was transformed into a global tourist attraction. Left untended, the US-Mexico Wall would collapse under the combined assault of avid recyclers, souvenir hunters, and people offended by its mere existence. Nevertheless, we should preserve sections of the Wall to commemorate that fraught moment in history when the US lost its moral compass.
by Elena Tomlinson, M.Arch Student
The first encounter with Distrito Federal, Mexico is marked by the endlessness, monotony, and grittiness of its metro system. The first impression however, had already been made ahead of time. The existing conditions of our site were charged with the familiar discourse of crisis — the ominous presence of “la mancha urbana” threatening to put an undeserved end to the “Venice of the New World.” Such was the premise of the Mexico City studio — a joint effort between UC Berkeley, Universidad Iberro-Americana, and the California College of the Arts. Our field trip was intended to be a search for Mexico City’s beauty, but also an anticipated encounter with some of its grim reality. The biggest surprise was that Mexico City lives with its abjection in relative peace — a compromise that seemed to mock our Panglossian zeal as architecture students, our belief that everything will be designed for the best and that we would stop encroachment on the canals of Xochimilco with the best of all possible archaeology museums.
Professor René Davids’ assigned program was provocative. He prompted us to re-think the city and the chinampas through alchemical experimentation, film-making, and landscape interventions. In other words, employing a cross-disciplinary methodology of design would allow us to transgress the space of the archaeological museum and challenge its status as merely a venue of entertainment. Instead, we were to act as curators by critically questioning the art object. The program was designed to unsettle our indifference for the artifact and to help us overcome our museum fatigue. The studio also prompted us to accept the two mutually exclusive but intimately connected forms of urbanity in Mexico City — characterized by informal settlements and unsustainable growth on one hand, and affluent enclaves and gated communities on the other hand. Ironically, the site of our museum mirrored the fragmentation of its larger urban context by being divided into a fenced off island or chinampa on the western half, and an informal settlement on the east.
The design process for the Xochimilco Archaeological Museum was fraught with resolving the tensions between formal and informal, cultural anxieties and political biases, and rural traditions and urban futures. The catalog of all possible solutions that was presented in our final review, speaks to the irreconcilability of some these elements. For example, in some cases the informal settlement was romanticized and left intact, while in others the site was treated as tabula rasa. Our design solutions attempted to bridge the divide between existing living patterns on the site and the actual topography and urban form. But what if we had considered our informal settlement less as an image, but more as a narrative, a process? Less than a space, or built fabric and more as a boundary? All in all, the Mexico City studio strenuously challenged our beliefs in physical determinism and our optimistic design approach by urging us to surrender to the complex, intricate, and contested nature of urban design.