2nd Bi-national Conference on Border Issues
San Diego City College
December 1, 2011
Presentation of the book “Here is Tijuana”
By: Rene Peralta
Borderlands Grassroots Response to Violence: War Zone vs Cultural Renaissance in Tijuana and San Diego
Outline (10 min slide presentation)
The outlook of contemporary urban areas is complex and fragmented - due to the changes at a global scale, one of them being the persistent migration of rural populations into urbanized areas.
This brings into question how we look at cities and through which perspectives we organize a conceptual framework for their understanding.
Here is Tijuana is an exercise to produce a hybrid document between an almanac, underground tourist guide, coffee table picture book and a visual ethnographical research project.
Here is Tijuana is a multidisciplinary view of the city from the perspective of an architect Rene Peralta, writer Heriberto Yepez and cultural anthropologist Fiamma Montezemolo.
Our three disciplinary perspectives intend to formulate a negotiated view of a city that always has refuted any definition.
Here is Tijuana is also a self –represented perspective of the city through two main points of view 1: texts and images of its own citizens (we archived photos from more than 40 different collaborators including; doctors, photographers, cab drivers, family portraits and other representative groups of the community)
2: A contemporary projection of its images and myth within media, popular culture and academic sectors. (We utilized government information, news media reports academic dissertations, conducted interviews and web search) and other relevant information regarding Tijuana at the end of 20th century and beginning of 21st century.
The book is has three major themes (as chapters) Avatars, Desires and Permutations and many subthemes (not listed) one of them being the presence of the Border! The Border as fence, the border as identity and the border as the mechanism of difference that makes the San Diego/Tijuana region operate.
Avatars - focuses on the social, economic and ethnic aspects of Tijuana. It includes views o formal and informal economies, demographic information and many interviews of the general public and foreigners on how they view and use the city.
For instance in this chapter: Mike Davis explains how to Tijuana was not just the place for inebriated recreation but also the incubator of “forbidden” ideas during the 60’s.
“It was in Tijuana that I first began to appreciate the impact of the Cuban Revolution and was first able to see the U.S. civil rights struggle in a larger perspective. Tijuana was or portal to an entire universe of forbidden and wonderful ideas. My first exposure, for example to the immense heritage of European Marxism and Critical Theory was at the old El Dia bookstore off revolution (avenue).”
Desires - is an ironic play on the culture and customs of the border city. It includes much of the local artistic production as well as information on the red-light district and drug cartels that have framed Tijuana as Sin City.
The city produces cultural paradigms by sometimes resisting and other times adopting the tradition of the south and the assimilation of the north.
The Mexican writer Carlos Monsivais mentions in this chapter: “No matter how much border patriotism is trumpeted, what’s significant is the process where the economic connection with the Unites States becomes a life style, or even a musical instrument.”
“In Tijuana everybody seems to be a poet or a painter.” Anthem Magazine
Permutations - is a detail perspective regarding urban development in the last 20 years. This chapter illustrates the impact that manufacturing parks (maquiladoras) have had in the urban growth. Permutations - also presents the urban conditions of squatter settlements versus the formal social housing tracts that later spread like a virus throughout Mexico. Tijuana has always been the social and urban thermometer for many cities around the country.
Once called the laboratory of postmodernity Tijuana is a remix of our contemporary urban conditions in Latin America and its myth as a new type of Post-Mexican City.
In 2002 Newsweek included Tijuana as one of the world cultural meccas.
“Tijuana is in the middle of an artistic flowering that drawn attention from television executives and museum curators from NY to Tokyo. Artist of all stripes are re-examining the hybrid culture of Tijuana that exists between the glitz of San Diego and the factory life Diego Rivera could have painted.”
This Book is a preamble, so that the reader continues its investigation about its form and meaning, and as you can see there is more to Tijuana than the same old news!
I ENCUENTRO INTERNACIONAL DE ARQUITECTURA 2011
“Lo que existe es una pequeña parte de lo que es posible”.
Vivimos en sociedades inmersas en un proceso de globalización creciente y en las que la mayor parte de la población mundial vive en ciudades. El desarrollo de las tecnologías de la información y la comunicación en las últimas décadas ha jugado un papel clave en el proceso de globalización al facilitar los flujos de todo tipo (humanos, financieros, de productos y de conocimiento) que han desbordado tanto las tradicionales rutas comerciales como las fronteras legales y culturales. En los últimos años los conceptos de ciudad y vivienda han estado cambiando y transformándose aceleradamente. De la mano de factores como la explosión demográfica, el cambio climático y la actual movilidad de las personas, los arquitectos, sociólogos y urbanistas [entre muchos otros] continúan especulando y abriendo posibilidades ante la pregunta de como serán esas ciudades del futuro.
Viernes 14 de octubre - CECUT usos múltiples 7:00pm
Cristina Diaz Moreno y Efren Garcia Grinda
AMID( Cero9 ) Madrid, España
Profesores de la Escuela Técnica Superior de Arquitectura in Madrid (UPM) y de la Escuela Superior de Arte y Arquitectura of Universidad Europea (UEM) desde 1998
Martes 25 de octubre El Cubo
Jorge Tamés y Batta /6:00pm
27o Premio a la composición arquitectónica Alberto J. Pani 2011 / 7:00pm
UNAM/Instituto Tecnológico de Tijuana
Jueves 27 de octubre LeConatiner 5:00-7:00pm
Degustación de Café en Pro de la ONG Esperanza
Este evento tiene un costo de 400 pesos. Los fondos son para apoyar el trabajo comunitario y de construcción de vivienda digna que realiza la Fundación Esperanza de Mexico. Cupo limitado.
Jueves 27 octubre - CECUT usos múltiples7:00pm
Mesa de discussion, tema: Ciudad y Futuro
Benjamin Bratton, sociólogo
Profesor asociado de Artes Visuales de UCSD y director del Center for Design & Geopolitics del California Institute of Telecommunications and Information Technology
Dr. Tito Alegria
Profesor e investigador del Departamento de Estudios Urbanos del Colegio de la Frontera Norte, Tijuana
Profesor de Arquitectura de la Universidad de San Diego, USD.
Viernes 28 octubre - CECUT usos múltiples7:00pm
Jueves 3 de noviembre - CECUT El Cubo7:00pm
Arq. Francisco Pérez Arellano. Vicepresidente de la Asociación Internacional de Urbanistas (ISOCARP)., Consultor de ONU-Hábitat
"Mejores Ciudades/Tendencias Mundiales".
Viernes 4 de noviembre - CECUT El Cubo7:00pm
Viernes 11 de noviembre - CECUT El Cubo7:00pm
Director de la carrera de Arquitectura en la Univ. de Michigan.
I International Conference of Architecture 2011
Organized by Instituto Tecnologico de Tijuana (ITT), Centro Cultural Tijuana (CECUT) and Woodbury School of Architecture, San Diego.
Lectures, Discussions and Events
October 14 – 7:00 PM
Venue: Main Space, CECUT, Tijuana.
Lecture: Cristina Diaz Moreno y Efren Garcia Grinda
AMID (Cero9) Madrid Spain.
Associate Professors of Architecture at Escuela Técnica Superior de Arquitectura in Madrid (UPM) and also at Escuela Superior de Arte y Arquitectura of Universidad Europea (UEM) since 1998. Their office AMID (cero9) was established in 1997 as cero9 and change into AMID in 2003.
October 25 - 6:00PM and 7:00 PM
Venue: El Cubo, CECUT, Tijuana
Presentation and award ceremony: Jorge Tamés y Batta
27th Awards of the National Student Competition Alberto J. Pani 2011
UNAM/Instituto Tecnológico de Tijuana
October 27 – 5:00-7:00 PM
Venue: LeContainer Restaurant and Bar, Tijuana
Coffee Sampling and Tasting
This event is open to the public and has a cost of 400 pesos. The funds help support
Esperanza de Mexico; a non-profit organization that promotes the development of communities with scarce resources through self-built housing.
October 27 – 7:00 PM
Venue: Main Space, CECUT, Tijuana.
Panel Discussion: Future City
Associate Professor of the Visual Arts Department, UCSD and director of the Center for Design & Geopolitics del California Institute of Telecommunications and Information Technology.
Dr. Tito Alegria
Professor and Researcher of the Urban Studies Department, Colegio de la Frontera Norte (COLEF). Tijuana
Assistant Professor of Architecture, University of San Diego.
Ph.D. Candidate of History and Theory, Department of Architecture, Princeton University
October 28 – 7:00 PM
Venue: Main Space, CECUT, Tijuana.
Lecture: Manuel Rosen
Mr. Rosen has over 40 years of experience in architectural practice, including significant academic work as a professor of design at Universities in Mexico and the United States. Architect of the Centro Cultural Tijuana with Pedro Ramirez Vazquez
November 03 – 7:00 PM
Venue: El Cubo, CECUT, Tijuana
Lecture: Francisco Pérez Arellano
Vice-president of The International Society of City and Regional Planners (ISOCARP) Consultant for ONU-Hábitat
“Better Cities/Global Trends”
November 04 – 7:00PM
Venue: El Cubo, CECUT, Tijuana
November 11 – 7:00 PM
Venue: El Cubo, CECUT, Tijuana
Principal architect in the firm studioAPT and Chair of the Architecture Program at the University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning. He received a Bachelor of Architecture from the University of Kansas, a Master of Architecture from the Harvard Graduate School of Design, and a Ph.D. in Architecture from Harvard University
For Directions to Cecut please visit: http://www.cecut.gob.mx/comollegar.php
Tijuana, Baja California
I am sitting at the moment in a middle class suburb in what is now defined as the geographic center of the city of Tijuana. The center where goods and services are produced and the location of political hegemony. I am relatively close to the border where thousands wait hours to cross to the US. I am a short drive away from where the Pacific Ocean patiently awaits for a gesture of acknowledgment from the city, and always jealous of Tijuana’s gaze toward the North. And to the East a New Tijuana is being built and is home to most of the city’s assembly plant workers, an urban edge that grows two hectares daily and is rapidly becoming Post-Tijuana. I sit in my home located behind the great Tijuana Racetrack, the infrastructure that gave this city its raison d'etre in 1915 and its legend as the city of sin, gambling and prohibited recreation originating from the lust, thirst and money of San Diego, creating (as Richard Rodriguez once said) a city of world class irony.
Like many cities today, Tijuana is uncertain of its future. The city is being reconfigured and rethought constantly by globalization, economic disparity and by the struggle of a society to cope with the myth of illegality, which has now become a ruthless reality. It is said that to name something is to understand it, and Tijuana has been subjugated to countless baptisms such as; Tijuana Hybrid, Tijuana Third Nation, Tijuana Cultural Mecca, Tijuana Post Border and so on. Yet Tijuana is not Tijuana, because if all truths are fictitious, or partial constructions, Tijuana evidences that she has thousands of relative truths.1 The city has a mimetic tendency to present itself, at least for a moment, as similar but not quite the same as Banham’s LA, or E.B. White’s New York, or any other urban image it sees fit to camouflage itself as. Mimesis as an adaptive behavior that (paradoxically) as Michael Taussig explains, creates difference by making oneself similar to something else. A difference that constructs a world of illusion and an intangible product – in this case, the city of Tijuana itself. Tijuana’s search for otherness is a type of defense mechanism, a means of survival that allows for the creation of a fictional world. As Rafa Saveddra, writer, DJ and Tijuanologist, explains: "Build your own idea of the city... TJ is too real to be a simulacrum, too artificial to be a legitimizing act. Tijuana is the chip and the software to recreate, feign and sell our own voices". 2
This essay is a rough ride from the coast to the emerging new city-within-a-city to the east, a sampling of histories, geographies and ideas from one of the most dynamic and volatile border cities of North America. How does this 118-year old city deal with culture, identity and future? Tijuana is a city always in search of a past in order to project itself into the future. A city always deceiving, always contrasting, a heterotopia in re-mix. Through this journey, it becomes evident that the city evades all definition. Driving through these ideas, we realize that the city had three major identities: Sin city – Tijuana as Old Mexico, a version of Tijuana as a Mexico imagined by others (US); Tijuana as a cosmopolitan and modern city that for a short time created its own utopias; then, at the end of the 20th century, Tijuana became known as the laboratory of postmodernism, a poster child of urban informality and hybridity. Our journey will encompass many places that are important in understanding the urban landscapes, histories and cultural practices that together form the multiple imaginaries of the city.
Tijuana always gazes northward. Its urban growth has followed two main axes: the Tijuana River that flows East to West, and the US/Mexico international border to the north. The urban fabric of the city thrusts against the corroded metal of the international boundary fence, and many homes have been built right up to it, using it as a backyard fence. The Pacific Ocean had always been a secluded “vacation” space for the citizens of the city, requiring a trek across the deep canyons that separate the Tijuana River Valley from the ocean. It was not until 1959 that a few land owners and the state government began the impulse for urban development toward the west side of the city. During this time a second bullring was built adjacent to the border fence where it now plunges into the ocean. The Plaza Monumental de Las Playas de Tijuana, a massive concrete structure was erected in the most northwestern piece of property in the city, often known as the last corner of Latin America. The bullring brought tourism and finally a new middle-class residential suburb, creating the only coastal community of the city with approximately one hundred thousand residents. The beach community began to build a coastal malecon along the water’s edge, with restaurants, shops, residential buildings and a pedestrian strip that gave immediate access to the beach. Yet in the late 1970’s the ocean engulfed and destroyed a complete city block including roads and buildings, creating a sense uncertainty for developers and government considering rebuilding. Since then the coast has been untamed, and awaits new strategies to re-imagine that brief moment when Tijuana made peace with nature’s water edge. Other factors have aided to the incredible idea of rebuilding the malecon, especially ecological problems that are a consequence of informal settlements built in the canyons to the east which dump contaminating sediments into the Tijuana Estuary and shorelines of Imperial Beach (in San Diego) and Playas de Tijuana. This ecological crisis may be the only real bi-national issue that could foster a collaborative solution to one of many shared natural geographies of both countries.
FIGURE 1 / Playas de Tijuana
As development moved inland the ocean-side community remained economically active and became home to prominent citizens and institutions such as the Universidad Iberoamericana, one of the most prestigious private universities in the country. Shopping centers, movie theaters and large parks made this coastal a place for well-to-do citizens to enjoy relative calm and peace from the bustling downtown of Tijuana, just a few minutes to the east. Playas de Tijuana, as it is known to the inhabitants, for a brief time had exclusive gated communities that were home to entertainment stars like the famous Mexican composer Juan Gabriel, and Tijuana’s home-grown rock star Julieta Venegas. Rumor has it that the main lieutenants of the infamous Arellano Drug Cartel also made it their home. In 1994 the US government implemented a fierce anti-immigration program known as Operation Gatekeeper that fenced off traditional cross-border migration routes. The new boundary line was built with left-over materials from the Desert Storm operation in the Persian Gulf. At its end-point, the metal fence plunged into the Pacific Ocean in a gesture as sublime as land art, and as terrifying as the Berlin wall. Playas de Tijuana became home to the symbol of US policy on immigration, and target of pro-migrant groups. Operation Gatekeeper pushed illegal immigration eastward to more arid and mountainous areas; it has been held responsible for a 500 percent increase in migrant deaths. The whole community of Playas has now been reduced to a single line, la línea, a symbol of failed bi-national immigration reform, and a place for activists, artists and organizations on both sides of the debate to promote their views.
To the east of Playas de Tijuana there is a whole different and defiant world within the city known as the Laureles Canyon. Laureles is part of the 33-canyon system in the Tijuana River watershed and the archetype of of informal settlement on the steep hillsides common throughout the city. In contrast to Playas, the Laureles Canyon community is made up of low-income units of illegal origin inhabited by low-wage workers employed by local manufacturing plants (maquiladoras). According to the Tijuana Municipal Planning Institute there are approximately 80,000 people living in the canyon. The predominant housing type consists of self-built homes constructed with a variety of recycled materials that come from the US. Most of these homes are built on steep slopes, using old tires as retaining systems, planters and staircases that together provide access to the many canyon-side homes. Most of the settlers work in formal economies, such as manufacturing plants, so they are entitled to government services. Yet since wages in the maquiladoras are very low, many residents participate in informal economies such as home-based child care, food preparation, and many other business that serve the immediate community. The accelerated population growth of Tijuana (6% per year) and the demand for almost 70,000 new low-incomes homes every year have encouraged developments that lack sewage and street paving, built primarily in high-risk natural landscapes. The general lack of government intervention and oversight has brought about a series of housing development types ranging from squatter settlements, private-developer housing, and even government-relocated communities from other high-risk areas of the city.
FIGURE 2 / Laureles Canyon
Laureles Canyon is adjacent to the international border and the Tijuana River Estuary which located in San Diego County and is a national ecological reserve. The main environmental issues are the excessive sediment deposited from the canyon across the border, and the contaminants that end up in the ocean and cause an almost year-round closure of beaches. Yet in this part of the city there is hope for bi-national cooperation, and a dream about a larger region. It is by jointly re-imagining Laureles Canyon and the Tijuana River Valley with our neighbor to the north that a truly ‘post-border’ future can emerge. This idea was best expressed by Kevin Lynch and Donald Appleyard in their report to the San Diego City Planning Department in 1974:
“ San Diego/Tijuana could be the center of a large international region, a vital meeting point of two living cultures. The metropolis would share its water, its energy, its landscape, its culture, its economy. The border would be converted into a zone of confluence.” 3
Laureles Canyon and its community represent a new way to look at development in Tijuana as well as the relationship across borders. In planning policies and bi-national cooperation, there must be a re-thinking, changing a region of contested geography to a shared zone of natural diversity and cultural interchange.
West from the Laureles Canyon is the oldest part of Tijuana, El Centro. In 1889 Mexico City engineer Ricardo Orozco was hired to give order to the various ranches that had been established since the Mexican-American war of 1846-48. Orozco was trained at the famous Academy of San Carlos in Mexico City, and his education was influenced by French Positivism and urban ideas of Garden City planning from the US. His vision for a new border city broke from older colonial plans and negated the generic homogenous block plans of neighboring San Diego. Orozco created the Zaragosa Plan on the edge of the border and next to the Tijuana River Valley. The plan included a series of diagonal boulevards that connected parks and public spaces, as well as a diverse set of blocks and lots for residential and commercial functions. The positivist ideals in the new plan for Tijuana marked the beginning of the myth of the city, and the birth of an awareness of otherness, not totally Mexican but not entirely American either. Antonio Padilla, Tijuana urban historian mentioned:
“one of the prime relations between the map and the ideals of positivism influenced by Agusto Comte, was the rejection at the outset of a return to a historical tradition typified by the Hispano-Colonial model conformed by a grid with a center as the seat of religious and political power. The plan of Tijuana is part of a rational and philosophical order based on man’s liberty and not only subjected to rational logic.” 4
The Zaragosa plan was an ideal, a utopian endeavor of Orozco and his predecessors. Yet as soon as the plan was laid out and implemented, it went through radical changes. Topography interrupted the philosophical order and changed its form, while the desire for greater profits became the stimulus for illegality. Violent confrontations arose in places where the street diagonals touched a parcel. Landowners began to transgress the axial paths by building into them in order to obtain a greater amount of land. By 1921, the diagonal boulevards had become a crippled dream of order and control, a failed plan to achieve Cartesian logic.
After this transgression of order, Tijuana reincarnated into a more Americanized urban space due to the influence of two major entertainment infrastructures located in the Tijuana River Valley: the Tijuana Racetrack, and the Agua Caliente Casino. In 1928 American entrepreneurs, trying to make a profit by turning Tijuana into an early Las Vegas, founded the Agua Caliente Casino. They employed Wayne McAllister for the design of the building, an 18-year old San Diegan draftsman who later became an important designer for the major casinos in Las Vegas and Havana. Casino-pampered Hollywood celebrities such as Buster Keaton and Rita Hayworth won racetrack jackpots in the thousands of dollars, and encouraged the opening of bars and hotels in downtown Tijuana’s infamous Avenida Revolución. The casino was such a success that the U.S. government tried to stop citizens from enjoying themselves by closing the border at 9 p.m. every night, which only helped the downtown hotels as more and more Americans stayed overnight. Even during the Depression the casinos and the commercial strips of downtown Tijuana flourished, but all of this came to an end in 1939, when by Mexican presidential decree gambling was prohibited in Mexico. The Casino was converted into a school.
Even after the Casino moved its operation to Las Vegas, downtown TJ had enough night life to continue flourishing. Its economic base was entertainment. Big bands, piano bars, cocktail lounges and affordable booze catered 24 hours a day to visitors from the north – and ‘sin city’ was born. Musicians such as Jelly Roll Morton, Jack Johnson, and Nat King Cole, and literary figures such as Earnest Hemingway gave a fresh, jazzy flavor to the city. Tijuana became hot-bed for local and foreign jazz musicians. Many local residents benefited economically from the music and entertainment scene. During this period many west coast jazz players would come south of the border to party, play or simply in search of inspiration. The jazz base player Charles Mingus dedicated an album to the Latin sound of Tijuana with his ‘Tijuana Moods’ LP, inspired by the vibe of the city. Other musicians either came to Tijuana to experience the music scene or were inspired to recreate the ‘Tijuana sound’ in their compositions; such was the case of the 1965 album ‘Tijuana Jazz’ by Gary McFarland and Clark Terry. Legendary musicians such as Art Pepper and the Miles Davis Quintet were sometimes seen enjoying their nights south of the border, taking in the bar scene while local musicians played their night shifts. Between 1962 and 1968, LA trumpet player Herb Alpert won six Grammies with his famous Tijuana Brass, inspired by bullfights, curios shops and the mariachi bands of Plaza Santa Cecilia (a city square named after the patron saint of musicians). A nonstop kaleidoscope of music, cabaret and inebriation kept the local economy affluent, the city alive, and its musicians working. Today, downtown Tijuana has lost some of its luster and has become a center of strip clubs and cheap bars catering to tourists. With the decline of work beginning in the late 60’s, many bands and orchestras began to disintegrate, and musicians opted to work in piano bars or bands of a different genre in order to make a living.
In truth, El Centro had already begun to suffer after the decline of the postwar tourist crowd and due to large-scale developments in the eastern parts of the city. Like many cities in the US, the postwar development of the suburbs became the dominant urban model. The original inhabitants of downtown began their journey eastward to residential communities based on the American suburban dream. Later, the federal government would begin construction of a new economic and commercial center in the former Tijuana River basin that would forever change the structure of the El Centro. Today, El Centro is in precarious state because tourism has declined due to new border security after September 11, and because of the never-ending roll-out of residential communities being built by government subsidies in the east. The creation of a new tourism corridor along the coastline, connecting TJ with the cities of Rosarito and Ensenada, has shifted economic development and attracted more affluent visitors interested in purchasing beach front property at discount prices away from the central areas. Along Avenida Revolución the economic downturn is evident in the many ‘for lease’ signs along what used to be the most important commercial strip in the city. Curio shops that would sell leather and velvet paintings can no longer sustain themselves, restaurants are closing, and bars are desolate. Buildings all around are empty and obsolescent. Yet, there remains a sense of optimism; that the space where many myths of the city were forged will eventually be re-imagined. Land throughout the city is scarce and private developers are suffering loses due to the increasing costs of bringing infrastructure to new projects as the city expands east. Downtown is still the prime location near the border and the economic heart of the city, as well as being equipped with the infrastructure to sustain the new vertical housing prototypes. This is where the fronterizo begins, a realization of a ‘third consciousness’ that aimed to forge an identity based on desires and forbidden dreams. El Centro is where the most authentic cultural production occurred. A place that inspired locals and visitors alike, from Charles Bukowski to Charles Mingus; a place that continues to kindle a desire to understand new ideas. As Mike Davis recalled:
“My first exposure … to the immense heritage of European Marxism and Critical Theory was at the old El Día bookstore off Revolution Avenue. It was in Tijuana that I first began to appreciate the impact of the Cuban Revolution and was first able to see the U.S. civil rights struggle in larger perspective. Tijuana for us was a little bit of Paris, our personal Left Bank, and my fondness for the city and the cultural freedom it represents has never waned.”5
Today Tijuana has a new, transplanted urban center and a diametrically distinct peripheral New Tijuana to the east. The Zona Río (River Zone) is where the Tijuana River once flowed and the place where the first two important leisure infrastructures, the Racetrack and Casino were built, initiating an economic boom for Downtown. The river had always been a force to contend with; its natural force once destroyed the first racetrack and many bridges. It became an area where informal settlements, for the first time, developed into a radical social force. Since the 1940’s squatters along the river had defied the authorities, and government-enforced relocations never worked. Up to the 1970’s these settlements were known as Cartolandia (‘Carton-land’) for the material employed to build the small housing shacks. After a severe flood, Cartolandia lost the struggle for survival, and its inhabitants were relocated to make way to a new vision for the city. A new urban plan included tree-lined boulevards, a cultural center, and a large concrete channel that would prevent further flooding of the Tijuana River. The plan was drafted in Mexico City by renowned urban planner Pedro Moctezuma following a request from the federal government to Mexicanize Tijuana. “Tijuana is not Mexico” Raymond Chandler wrote in The Long Goodbye, and to the Mexico City authorities Tijuana lacked a sense of national identity and presented to foreign visitors a strong rupture with what was perceived as ‘Mexican.’ A wide boulevard was proposed, similar to the Paseo Reforma in Mexico City, with roundabouts and large-scale statues of national heroes intended to bring national pride to the border. The concrete channel bisected two of the original communities of the city; Downtown and Colonia Libertad, TJ’s first neighborhood. The channel erased the river and ruined any chance that the city could relate to its core natural amenity.
FIGURE 3 / Cartolandia
FIGURE 4 / Zona Río
It was during this period (the late 1970s) that the first maquiladoras (manufacturing assembly plants) begin to appear around Tijanana. The PRI, Mexico’s ruling party for 70 years, had gambled on globalization and opened its border to free trade, creating a manufacturing oasis for companies looking for cheap labor and relaxed environmental laws. The economic crisis of the 1960s in industrialized countries also forced companies around the world to look for locations where labor and operating costs could be minimized. Tijuana became one of first maquila zones due to its proximity to major urban centers in the US. Even though the city did not possess all the necessary infrastructure, companies still opted to settle near the border to enjoy direct accessibility to the US markets. Tijuana became one of Mexico’s fastest-growing cities with very low unemployment rates that attracted hundreds of migrants from southern states to the borderland’s manufacturing centers. The new workers settled in canyons and riverbeds in the city. When industrial parks began to appear, they generated informal residential communities around them. At that moment, the paradox between government-sponsored urban projects in the cause of nationalism and the opening of the borders to international industries became the moment for the re-codifying of Tijuana. For some, the city had now become cosmopolitan; as Nestor García Canclini describes in his seminal text Hybrid Cultures:
“From the beginning of this century until fifteen years ago, Tijuana was known for a casino (abolished during the Cardenas government), cabarets, dance halls and liquor stores where North Americans came to elude their country’s prohibition on sex, gambling and alcohol. The recent installation of factories, modern hotels, cultural centers, and access to wide-ranging international information has made it into a modern, contradictory, cosmopolitan city with a strong definition of itself.” 6
FIGURE 5 / The new TJ in the east
Concepts of cultural hybridity resonated with local writers and artists who began creating work that represented the struggles within the two new forces that defined the city at the end of the 20th century. For instance, works by installation artist Marcos Ramirez “ERRE” showcased the political conflicts between two countries and two cultures that were seeking (at least practically) to become interconnected. At the bi-national art event INSITE 94, Ramirez constructed a small self-built home similar to those found in squatter developments; it was installed in the main plaza of the Tijuana Cultural Center, a component of the Rio Zone urban redevelopment plan of the 1970’s and distinguished by a strong modernist and monumental formal architecture. The two structures in juxtaposition represented the discordant realities brought about by modern industry and nationalism, and the constricting effect it had in defining Tijuana’s hybridity. An alternative view of a postmodern idea of hybridity came from a young writer/philosopher, Heriberto Yepez who argued that Tijuana does not define itself through fusion or synthesis, but instead through its contrasts and contradictions. In Made in Tijuana, Yepez writes:
“It’s the asymmetry, stupid. The asymmetry, get it? The Fusion does not define Tijuana, but its contrast. Process City//of post-synthetic dialectics// antinomian laboratory of the glocalization. Maquilandia+Farmaceuticals+Migration= Polemic Metaphors.” 7
Confronting these debates, sometimes in their interstices, a new generation of Tijuana writers, artists and musicians have integrated their work into what is known as ‘Art from the North,’ a definition that moved from Fronterizo to just being Norteño. The imposed consciousness that was inherent in the government-inspired Mexicanization projects of the 1970s as well as the rhetoric of globalization – promising a kind of Hegelian national synthesis – failed because it was a fundamental misconception of the border by national as well as international investors and media. Tijuana remains true to nothing more than itself.
1. Montezemolo, Fiamma.2005. Tijuana is not Tijuana: Fragmented representations at the edge of the border. World View Cities, Tijuana. The Architectural League of New York, http://www.worldviewcities.org/tijuana/fragmented.html
2. Montezemolo, Fiamma, Peralta, René and Heriberto Yepez. 2006. Here is Tijuana. London: Black Dog Publishing.
3. Appleyard, Donald and Lynch, Kevin. 1974. Report presented to the San Diego City Planning Department on the regional reconnaissance of San Diego, September 15 in San Diego, CA.
4. Padilla Corona, Antonio. “El centro histórico de Tijuana”: su significado cultural. In Tijuana Identidades y Nostalgias, ed. Fco. Manuel Acuña Borbolla y Mario Ortiz Villacorta Lacave, et al, 121-136. Tijuana: XVII Ayuntamiento de Tijuana.
5. Montezemolo, Fiamma, Peralta, René and Heriberto Yepez. 2006. Here is Tijuana. London: Black Dog Publishing.
6. Garcia Canclini, Nestor. 1995. Hybrid Cultures: Strategies for entering and leaving modernity. Minneapolis: University of Minneapolis Press.
7. Yepez, Heriberto.2005.Made in Tijuana. Mexicali: Instituto de Cultura de Baja California.
"The urban outcomes that characterize the Information Age are dramatically described in architect Rene Peralta’s account of the border city of Tijuana, in Baja California. One of North America’s fastest-growing and more dynamic cities, Tijuana is globally engaged through the presences of the maquiladora (assembly-plant) industry, a hemispheric trade in drug and human trafficking, and its locus as the busiest international boundary crossing in the world. Peralta’s reading of Tijuana’s urban ecologies rewrites many conventions of urban theory, and reveal some of the startling material conditions of Information Age Urbanism. " Michael Dear
Tijuana’s Public Space: the Consumption of Identity
On the morning of April 12, a crowd of approximately 700 Tijuana residents, armed with placards and megaphones, shouted on the doorsteps of city hall, “¡Eco-cidio — no a la tala de arboles! ¡No al Zócalo once de julio!” The citizens group Movimiento Ciudadano en Defensa del Parque Benito Juárez (Citizens’ Movement for the Defense of Benito Juárez Park) held a rally against the proposed “Zócalo 11 de Julio,” a 900-million-peso ($76.9 million) plaza and commercial space designed for an area between the current municipal and state government buildings in the Zona Rio section of Tijuana.
“Tijuana is not Mexico.” — Raymond Chandler
The ambitious Zócalo project was put together by a group of Tijuana business leaders and academics led by Carolina Aubanel, general manager of Sintesis Television, one of the major media networks in Baja California. In 2009, after forming a board, Zócalo proponents launched an architectural design competition for a 430,000-square-foot plaza (“zócalo”), to include space for 2000 cars, an open-air theater, library, galleries, and a retail zone, among other support spaces.
The plaza was baptized by the group as Zócalo 11 de Julio (July 11, 1889, is the official founding date of the city) and described to function in a similar manner as the one in Mexico City, located in an area built by the Spanish conquistadores on top of what was the major temple of Tenochtitlan. Like in many colonial cities in Latin America, the metropolitan cathedral and the national palace surround the zócalo. According to the competition brief, many cities in Mexico have zócalo-type plazas where the public can congregate to celebrate national festivities and promote cultural tourism. Also stated in the brief, this mega project will encourage the construction of a new identity for Tijuana and renovate the image of its urban realm.
The site selected for the design of the project is public land and is currently where the Benito Juárez Park lies, between the municipal and state building and across the street from the Tijuana cathedral that is now under construction. The existing park has an estimated 1300 trees of various species and is also the site of a major public library and the state-run cultural institute (ICBC), which went through a renovation and expansion three years ago. The area was created as part of a federally funded project in the 1970s with the intention to establish a new urban center for the city, which included the Tijuana River canal and Paseo de los Héroes, a major boulevard running eastward from the San Ysidro border crossing. The plan included the relocation of financial areas and government buildings from the original downtown area, near the infamous and historic Avenida Revolución.
The budget for the construction of the Zócalo project was first estimated at 900 million pesos, but experts today say its real cost is around 1.2 billion, almost a quarter of the City of Tijuana’s annual budget.
In March 2009, the competition winner was announced: a firm by the name of Black Dog, from the city of Monterrey in the border state of Nuevo Leon, located more than 2000 kilometers east of Tijuana. Yet, before the finalist was announced, the organizers selected five semifinalists and created a website for the public to vote for their favorite design (it was not clear if those votes had any bearing on determining the winner).
The winning design includes an oversized central oval plaza that connects with Tijuana’s new cathedral to the north and extends south across the Tijuana River to connect with the Plaza Rio shopping mall. The plaza makes a final link to the west with the Tijuana’s cultural center (CECUT). Under the central plaza, there is a parking facility and a series of commercial spaces, yet the renderings of the project do not illustrate any remnants of the existing Benito Juárez Park. The concrete zócalo dominates much of the project site.
“The city and the urban sphere are thus the setting of struggle; they are also, however, the stakes of that struggle.” — Henri Lefebvre
Activists for the preservation of Benito Juárez Park have been camping in the park for more than a year now. Their sentry posts are vigilant of any intent to cut down trees; they’re also on the lookout for heavy machinery threatening to begin construction of the project. Tents spread across the park hold up to eight people who form the permanent stronghold of the group; another 30 members come and go as needed to perform support tasks or participate in informing the thousands of citizens that visit city hall every day of their effort to save the park and its public spaces from private hands.
Preservationists’ two most urgent concerns are for the trees of the park and the turning over of what is now public land to private developers, which, according to the group, is being facilitated by the mayor’s office. Newly elected Tijuana mayor Carlos Bustamante is now in favor of the construction of the project; during his campaign for office he publicly stated that he was against it. Some people think that he hesitates to make up his mind because the president of the Zócalo board is his ex-wife, Carolina Aubanel.
According to the activists, the park and the rest of the block — including all existing buildings — are protected by a 1975 presidential decree stating that neither the state nor municipal governments can change the land-use ordinance established for the site. The legal council for the group has been victorious in getting an amparo (a constitutional protection) against the proposed project, but they are still wary of under-the-table dealings.
During the previous administration, a large area in front of city hall and adjacent to the park was converted into an underground parking garage that is operated by a private company. This area, until recently, was used as a public plaza where national festivities were celebrated throughout the year. Today the parking structure has a series of low, unfinished columns that seem to be waiting to support floors above ground or a large plaza.
The preservationists have had moral and economic support from citizens and coverage from one major local media group known as PSN, which is covering their efforts on radio and cable television. Support from local councilmembers has been minimal and not amounted to any real gain against the project from within the local and state government.
As to their opinion about the architectural project, the group feels there is no real project. It is noticeable that the project is not entirely conceptualized, because every time the community criticizes its form or the lack of elements such as recreational areas and the need for park space, the architects keep redesigning the building to make it hold up to the demands. In the eyes of the citizens’ group, the design does not seem to be interpreted from a regional architecture. According to some, the central tower, designed as the new library, looks like a bad copy of the, Burj Al Arabin hotel in Dubai.
As one activist expressed, “There is nothing real to the project; it only exists as a television commercial.”
Welcome to Megaflopolis
“The contemporary visitor looking for public urban places is increasingly forced to stroll through recycled and revalued areas…urban tableaux that have been turned into gentrified, historicized, commercialized, and privatized places.” — Christine Boyer
This project in all its essence is simulated, a spectacle, contrived in the mind of a television mogul and her entourage with the power of mass media forcing us to imagine their chimera as if it were our reality. This project is not a place, but only a virtual image; it is what New York architect and urban theorist Michael Sorkin calls “Cyburbia”: “An architecture of deception which, in its happy-face familiarity, constantly distances itself from the most fundamental realties. The architecture of this city is almost purely semiotic, playing the game of grafted signification, theme park building.”
This romanticized idea of grafting a 300-year-old urban structure such as a zócalo within the contemporary city is to suffer from temporal amnesia and a retrograde effort to build the city in accordance to a time of colonial hegemony. They want to give us a transplanted identity and free-market urbanism, whether we like it or not.
The Zócalo 11 de Julio as an idea seems to act out as a narcissistic desire to re-contextualize an urban space that already has given form to diverse systems of coexistence, public and ecological. Yet, as the city to the east is being ghettoized (in consequence to giving private developers the power to build thousands of hectares of micro-houses), the board and its members want to build the Zócalo in an already active and central urban area, an action that reinforces the segregation of almost half of the population (it is documented that half of the population of Tijuana lives on the periphery) who don’t have access to public and recreational spaces. Investments like these need to be specific to the needs of the city, not just a neo-bourgeoisie fantasy. Tijuana needs to learn the term gentrification!
In terms of ecology, both sides are arguing about the number of trees — how many there are now and how many the Zócalo is proposing to plant. Instead of quantities, the important subject should concern “ecosystems” and areas that produce a favorable environment for the city. Tijuana is below the UN-suggested eight meters of green space per inhabitant: as of today, the city offers one meter of green space per inhabitant.
From Andrea Palladio to Le Corbusier, the relationships between power and land have been a critical theme in the formation of a democratic urban space. Different groups (social and political) have engaged in power struggles since the conception of contemporary urban space. Yet, the right to the city, as the geographer David Harvey defines it, “is not merely a right of access to what the property speculators and state planners define.” The design of public space must be a democratic and an inclusive endeavor and not left only to the private sector.
El espacio público de Tijuana: consumo de la identidad
La mañana del 12 de abril, un grupo de unos 700 residentes de Tijuana, armados con pancartas y megáfonos, gritaron en la entrada del palacio municipal: "¡Ecocidio! ¡No a la tala de árboles! ¡No al Zócalo Once de Julio!" Era una manifestación del Movimiento Ciudadano en Defensa del Parque Benito Juárez, en contra del "Zócalo 11 de Julio", un proyecto de zona comercial y plaza pública de 900 millones de pesos diseñado para un espacio ubicado entre los actuales edificios de los gobiernos estatal y municipal en la Zona Río de Tijuana.
Tijuana no es México.
El ambicioso proyecto Zócalo fue elaborado por un grupo de empresarios y académicos tijuanenses encabezado por Carolina Aubanel, directora general de Síntesis Televisión, una de las principales redes mediáticas de Baja California. En 2009, después de formar un patronato, los promotores del proyecto lanzaron un concurso de diseño arquitectónico para un "zócalo" de 40,000 metros cuadrados que debía incluir estacionamiento para 2,000 autos, un teatro al aire libre, biblioteca, galerías y zona comercial, entre otras instalaciones.
El patronato bautizó su proyecto "Zócalo 11 de Julio" (porque el 11 de julio de 1889 es la fecha oficial de fundación de la ciudad) y explicó que funcionaría de manera parecida al Zócalo de la ciudad de México, ubicado en una zona construida por los conquistadores españoles encima del templo mayor de Tenochtitlán. Como en muchas ciudades de Latinoamérica, la catedral metropolitana y el palacio nacional flanquean el zócalo. De acuerdo con las bases del concurso, muchas ciudades de México tienen zócalos, plazas públicas de este tipo donde la gente puede reunirse a celebrar las distintas festividades nacionales y promover el turismo cultural. Las bases también establecen que este mega proyecto promoverá la construcción de una nueva identidad para Tijuana y renovará la imagen de su entorno urbano.
El lugar elegido para el diseño del proyecto es terreno público y está ocupado por el Parque Benito Juárez, entre los edificios de los gobiernos municipal y estatal y cruzando la calle de la catedral de Tijuana, actualmente en construcción. El parque existente tiene alrededor de 1,300 árboles de distintas especies y es también sede de la principal biblioteca pública de la ciudad y del Instituto de Cultura de Baja California (ICBC), cuyas instalaciones fueron renovadas y ampliadas hace tres años. La zona fue creada en la década de 1970 como parte de un proyecto financiado por el gobierno federal, con la intención de crearle a la ciudad un nuevo centro urbano que incluyó el canal del Río Tijuana y el Paseo de los Héroes, un bulevar importante que corre hacia el oriente desde la garita fronteriza de San Ysidro. El plan incluyó la reubicación de las áreas financieras y de los edificios de gobierno, ubicados antes en el centro original, cerca de la histórica y célebre Avenida Revolución.
El presupuesto para la construcción del Zócalo 11 de Julio se calculó inicialmente en 900 millones de pesos, pero los expertos ya están declarando que el costo real será de alrededor de 1,200 millones, casi la cuarta parte de presupuesto anual para la ciudad de Tijuana.
En marzo de 2009 se anunció al ganador del concurso: un despacho llamado Black Dog de la ciudad de Monterrey, ubicada en el estado fronterizo de Nuevo León, más de 2,000 kilómetros al este de Tijuana. Sin embargo, antes de anunciar al ganador, los organizadores seleccionaron cinco semifinalistas y crearon un sitio en Internet para que el público votara por su diseño favorito (no queda claro si estos votos tuvieron algún peso en la determinación del ganador).
El diseño ganador se centra en una plancha oval sobredimensionada que se conecta al norte con la catedral de Tijuana, se extiende hacia el sur y cruza el Río Tijuana para conectarse con el centro comercial Plaza Río y finalmente se une al poniente con el Centro Cultural Tijuana (CECUT). Debajo de esta superficie central hay un estacionamiento y una serie de espacios comerciales, pero las visualizaciones tridimensionales del proyecto no revelan ningún remanente del actual Parque Benito Juárez. El zócalo de concreto cubre la mayor parte del lugar.
De este modo, la ciudad y la esfera urbana son el escenario de la lucha; sin embargo, son también lo que está en juego en esa lucha.
Los activistas que buscan la conservación del Parque Benito Juárez han mantenido un plantón en sus predios desde hace más de un año. Sus puestos de vigilancia están atentos a cualquier intento de cortar árboles, así como a la presencia de maquinaria pesada que amenace con iniciar la construcción del proyecto. Las tiendas de campaña dispersas por el parque albergan hasta ocho personas, que forman el bastión central del grupo, mientras que otros treinta miembros van y vienen realizando tareas de apoyo e informando a los miles de ciudadanos que visitan diariamente el palacio municipal acerca de sus esfuerzos por salvar el parque y sus espacios públicos de las manos privadas.
Los dos intereses más urgentes de los conservacionistas son los árboles del parque y la entrega de lo que ahora son tierras públicas a desarrolladores privados, lo cual, de acuerdo con el grupo ciudadano, es lo que está facilitando la presidencia municipal. Carlos Bustamante, el presidente municipal recientemente electo de Tijuana, está ahora a favor de la construcción del proyecto, aunque durante su campaña declaró públicamente estar en contra. Algunos creen que no se decide porque la presidenta del patronato del Zócalo es su ex esposa, Carolina Aubanel.
De acuerdo con los activistas, el parque y el resto del predio, incluidos los edificios existentes, están protegidos por un decreto presidencial de 1975 que declara que ni el gobierno estatal ni el municipal pueden cambiar la declaración de uso de suelo establecida para el sitio. Los asesores jurídicos del grupo ciudadano lograron obtener un amparo en contra del proyecto, pero aún están temerosos de posibles negociaciones debajo del agua.
Durante la administración anterior, una gran zona delante del palacio municipal y adyacente al parque se convirtió en un estacionamiento subterráneo operado por una compañía privada. Hasta hace poco, esta zona se usaba como plaza pública para celebrar fiestas nacionales a lo largo del año. Ahora el estacionamiento tiene una serie de columnas bajas e inacabadas que parecen estar esperando sostener varios pisos más o bien una gran plaza.
Los conservacionistas han obtenido apoyo moral y económico de la ciudadanía, así como la atención de PSN, un importante grupo mediático local que está cubriendo sus esfuerzos en radio y televisión por cable. El apoyo de los concejales locales ha sido mínimo y no ha representado ningún avance real en contra el proyecto desde los gobiernos local y estatal.
En cuanto a su opinión acerca del proyecto arquitectónico, el grupo ciudadano siente que no hay un proyecto real. Es notorio que el diseño no está plenamente concebido, porque cada vez que la comunidad critica su forma o la falta de ciertos elementos, como áreas recreativas o zonas de parque, los arquitectos rediseñan el edificio para satisfacer las demandas. Además, a los ojos de los activistas, el proyecto no parece estar interpretado desde una arquitectura regional. Según algunos, la torre central, diseñada como la nueva biblioteca, parece una mala copia del hotel Burj Al Arabin de Dubai. Como lo planteó uno de los activistas, "No hay nada real en el proyecto, sólo existe como comercial de televisión".
Bienvenidos a Megaflópolis
El visitante actual que busca espacios urbanos públicos se ve obligado, cada vez más, a recorrer áreas recicladas y revaluadas... escenarios urbanos que se han convertido en lugares privatizados, comercializados, historificados y aburguesados.
Este proyecto es en esencia una simulación, un espectáculo maquinado en la mente de una soberana mediática y su séquito, que con el poder de los medios masivos nos obligan a imaginar su quimera como si fuese nuestra realidad. Este proyecto no es un lugar, sólo una imagen virtual. Es lo que el arquitecto y teórico urbano neoyorquino Michael Sorkin llama Cyburbia: "una arquitectura del engaño, que con su sonriente familiaridad se distancia constantemente de las realidades más fundamentales. La arquitectura de esta ciudad es casi puramente semiótica, juega a la significación injertada, al edificio de parque temático".
Esta idea romántica de injertar una estructura urbana con 300 años de antigüedad como es un zócalo en medio de la ciudad moderna equivale a padecer amnesia temporal y a un esfuerzo retrógrado por construir la ciudad según una época de hegemonía colonial. Quieren darnos una identidad trasplantada y un urbanismo de libre mercado, nos guste o no.
Como idea, el Zócalo 11 de Julio parece expresar un deseo narcisista de recontextualizar un espacio urbano que ya había dado forma a varios sistemas de coexistencia, tanto públicos como ecológicos. Sin embargo, a medida que el oriente de la ciudad se vuelve cada vez más marginal (como consecuencia de entregar a desarrolladores privados la venia para construir miles de hectáreas de microviviendas), el patronato y sus miembros quieren construir un zócalo en una zona urbana ya céntrica y activa, acción que refuerza la segregación de casi la mitad de la población (está documentado que la mitad de la población de Tijuana vive en la periferia), que no tendrá acceso a espacios públicos y recreativos. Las inversiones de este tipo tienen que ser específicas a las necesidades de la ciudad, no simples fantasías neoburguesas. ¡Tijuana tiene que entender los términos elitización y aburguesamiento!
En términos ecológicos, ambas partes alegan sobre el número de árboles: cuántos hay y cuántos propone plantar el proyecto Zócalo. En lugar de cantidades, el punto importante deberían ser los ecosistemas y las zonas que generan un ambiente favorable para la ciudad. Tijuana está muy por debajo de los ocho metros cuadrados de áreas verdes por habitante que sugiere la ONU: actualmente, la ciudad ofrece un metro cuadrado de áreas verdes por habitante.
Desde Andrea Palladio hasta Le Corbusier, las relaciones entre poder y territorio han sido un tema crítico en la formación de un espacio urbano democrático. Distintos grupos (sociales y políticos) se han embarcado en luchas de poder desde que se concibió el espacio urbano moderno. Sin embargo, el derecho a la ciudad, según lo define el geógrafo David Harvey, "no es simplemente un derecho de acceso a lo que definen los especuladores inmobiliarios y los urbanistas gubernamentales". El diseño del espacio público debe ser un esfuerzo democrático e incluyente, no algo que se deje al sector privado.