Thursday, June 12, 2008

Dreaming and Fearing the Latin American City

A quick note about two posts that are worth checking out for their interesting representations of Latin American Cities. Over at Candyland, Mario provides us with a video clip promoting tracts for sale at Mexico City's most famous suburb, Ciudad Satélite, founded in 1957. As Mario notes:
[T]his is one of the original ca. 1960 promotional tv ads for Ciudad Satélite, the first American-style planned suburb in Mexico (the 1940's-50's El Pedregal, with its posh Barragán-style modernist caserones scattered over a volcanic rock landscape and tied together by winding one-way circuits doesn't really count as middle-class suburb), the bastard brainchild of Mario Pani (Mexican Le Corbusier, father of the multi, a developmentalist take on the unité d'habitation), Satélite was supposed to be a "green belt" and provide "working class housing" but it was fueled by dirty interests (the land was property of former Mexican president, Miguel Alemán) and turned into an aspiring middleclass nightmare of over 3 million people scarred with water scarcity, crime, congestion, informal subdivisions and a name for being mexican whitetrash heaven.

The video's utopian predilections are obvious, yet the image of the two aliens scouring the Mexican countryside from a teacup (a literal flying saucer) plays an unintentional joke on Le Corbusier's own aerial flights of fancy over places like Rio De Janeiro -- the découverte aérienne of Latin American urbanism.

Chilean photographer Marcelo Montecino's photos of Santiago de Chile shortly before and after the 1973 coup led by Augusto Pinochet give us a sobering look at a city on the brink of collapse. These photographs -- some of which were taken by Montecino's brother, who perished in the 1973 coup -- are interesting for their details. One shows a series of political prisoners detained in Santiago's National Stadium. Another shows a Chilean carabineiri staring intently at a camera. In another photograph, a DINA sniper perched inside a van monitors the street. The photographs also show moments during the ebb and flow of the regime: Pinochet standing among a sea of Prussian helmets in 1987, and locals beating up an informant in 1988. The eeriest image, by far, is of a DINA operative arresting a person. The photograph, captured just as the agent is throwing his victim onto the ground, best captures the fear and repression of the Pinochet regime.

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