Urban Inequality and Political Struggle: Socialism, Capitalism, and Global Cities in Transition
A GUHP Cities and Inequalities Dream Conversation Lightning Round Panel
Friday, January 28, 3-4:30pm EST (20:00 UTC)
(Watch on GUHP Videos)
This panel brought together urban historians working on cities in moments of political transition in twentieth-century Latin America, Asia, and Eastern Europe. It examined how transitions in political ideology are reflected in cities and urban space, with particular attention to questions of inequality.
The geographical breadth of the panel offered the exciting opportunity to collaborate across fields of study. The creative "lightning round" session format, with four 8-10-minute visual presentations modeled on the TED conference, ensured an engaging conversation with ample time for discussion and questions.
“Late Stalinist Inequalities on the Cityscape of Moscow” – Katherine Zubovich
In the years after 1945, the Soviet state embarked on a large-scale building project in Moscow that ultimately saw the construction of seven high-rises in this city. Skyscraper construction in Moscow led to the displacement of large numbers of residents, yielding similar results to urban renewal projects undertaken in the U.S., the U.K., and elsewhere in this same period. This presentation examined how social differentiation was reflected and reinforced by Moscow’s redevelopment in the late-Stalin period. It explored, furthermore, the benefits and limitations of comparing “urban renewal” cases and urban inequalities across the socialist-capitalist divide.
Katherine Zubovich (University at Buffalo, SUNY) is the author of Moscow Monumental: Soviet Skyscrapers and Urban Life in Stalin’s Capital (Princeton University Press, 2020).
“Housing Inequality in Socialist China: State Building Projects and Residual Neighborhoods” – Kristin Stapleton
In the 1950s the People’s Republic of China set new standards for urban housing but imposed them in cities with a diverse landscape of existing buildings, some managed by the state sector, some by collectives, and some by private owners. Housing provision was far from equitable in socialist China. The Communist leadership’s emphasis on industrialization led to the creation of self-sufficient communities around factories. Older sections of Chinese cities constituted highly uneven social spaces, and the state’s attempts to transform them faced significant limitations. Deep-rooted patterns of life persisted among the inhabitants of housing left over from an ealier era.
Kristin Stapleton (University at Buffalo, SUNY) is the author of Civilizing Chengdu: Chinese Urban Reform, 1895-1937 (Harvard Asia Center, 2000) and Fact in Fiction: 1920s China and Ba Jin’s Family (Stanford, 2016).
“Revolution, Corporatism, and Informality in 1940s Mexico City” – Emilio de Antuñano
This presentation centered on “proletarian neighborhoods” (colonias proletarias), an urban reform spearheaded by the Mexican government in the 1940s. Inspired by corporatist and revolutionary ideals, city officials envisioned proletarian neighborhoods as the building blocks for a working-class metropolis. Proletarian neighborhoods were also the outcome of organizing by urbanites demanding land and city services. Finally, they can be viewed as “informal” places, plagued by property conflicts and a selective application of the law. Proletarian neighborhoods, I propose, represented an arena where planners, developers, political brokers, and working-class families negotiated the opposition between planning and informality, political integration and city inequality.
Emilio de Antuñano (Trinity University) is currently working on a book entitled The Shape of a Megalopolis: Growth, Revolution, and Informality in 20th Century Mexico City.
“Unequal Infrastructure: Building the Santiago Metro Under Democracy and Dictatorship” – Andra Chastain
Santiago, Chile, boasts the largest subway network in South America. Initially proposed between the 1920s and 50s to serve the highest public transit needs along a north-south axis, the transit commission appointed in the 1960s prioritized the east-west axis, which included wealthy neighborhoods. Relieving car congestion, more than serving public transit needs, became the main premise of the metro plan well into the Allende socialist regime and during military rule, which reinforced patterns of inequality in the city. This case study shows that changes in political ideology can combine with existing urban inequality to shape long-term state infrastructure projects such as a metro system.
Andra Chastain (Washington State University, Vancouver) is the author of Chile Underground: The Santiago Metro and the Struggle for a Rational City (under contract with Yale University Press) and co-editor with Timothy Lorek of Itineraries of Expertise: Science, Technology, and the Environment in Latin America’s Long Cold War (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2020).