Monday, July 16, 2012

America's Metropolis

According to William Cronon, Chicago is Nature's Metropolis; it offers the perfect object lesson for understanding the relationship of the city to its hinterlands as an urban system. For Henri Lefebvre, this distinction between city and urban was a historical one which he characterizes as the modern ability of the city to capture the agricultural surplus of the countryside in The Urban Revolution. But if Chicago is nature's metropolis, it strikes us that Buenos Aires might be the perfect object of study for understanding the American metropolis in a hemispheric sense (that is, all of the Americas).

Like Chicago, Buenos Aires is the hub of an infrastructural network- rails, ports, and highways- that organizes the modes of production for one of the world's largest and most productive agricultural regions, the Argentine pampas. Like New York or Los Angeles, Buenos Aires serves as the primary sea port and population center for an American nation state, and like Washington D.C. it is a federal capital built on the banks of a major Atlantic estuary and drawing much of its urban form from 19th century French planning ideology.

What might an environmental history, actor-network history, or some as-yet-undefined landscape history of Buenos Aires reveal about American metropolises in general? We're interested in what Buenos Aires, Lima, Mexico City, and Brasilia can teach us about Chicago, DC, and New Orleans from a landscape perspective. Does the urban landscape with all of its materials, ideologies, and histories of Los Angeles or Toronto have more to do with Bogota or Caracas than with Rome and Venice? In the past we have argued yes. Being here (and having lived here and in New York), it seems these are questions that might provide some interesting avenues for future work in landscape studies.


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