American Society for Environmental History Panel 2013

Jen Hoyt, Ph.D., Department of History, Samford University, has put together a panel entitled, “Between the Park and the Shantytown: Latin American Cities and the Environment during the Twentieth Century” for the ASEH 2013 Meeting in Toronto, Canada, 3-6 April, 2013. Participants include Hoyt, Smaford University; Dawn Digrius, Stevens Institute of Technology; Shawn Miller, BYU; Andrea Moerer, University of Minnesota.

This panel explores the tensions between development and nature in Latin American cities during the twentieth century. Cities represent a particular environmental challenge as leaders and residents struggle to balance the man-made habitat with natural elements. The desire to find equilibrium often stems from the immediate need to sustain the urban masses. The health and livelihood of city dwellers require incredible inputs of energy and resources, as well as opportunities to seek respite in sunlight and fresh air. The sprinkling of green among the sprawling concrete, steel, and glass also reveals a deeper desire to create a very particular vision or aesthetic. Carefully sculpted parks, tree-lined avenues, and ordinances to stem the rising tide of pollution attempt to counteract uncontrolled growth and to present a modern, progressive appearance. The creation of a balanced urban environment does not come easily, however.

Those in power must harness the means necessary for altering the cities and convince urbanites of the exigency of reforms. Unforeseen outcomes often highlight the illusion of control as well as the artificiality of many environmentally-driven actions. From Rio de Janeiro to Mexico City, from Buenos Aires to Quito, these four papers offer unique perspectives on environmental policies in some of Latin America’s largest and most important cities. Each presentation examines particular undertakings meant either to manage resources or to create a specific impression. While each approach varied in its success, the projects underscore the challenges of directing urban development and incorporating nature into the built environment.

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