A city in disarray: Public health, city planning, and the politics of power in late colonial Mexico City
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
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AbstractThis dissertation examines the spatial and public health dimensions of class relationships, social control, and state power in Mexico City during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. It focuses specifically on the process of urban planning and public works that the Bourbon state undertook during the late colonial period, and considers the variety of reasons and justifications given for the projects themselves. City leaders pointed to the environmental and health benefits that would go along with improved sanitation, new drainage systems and paving of city streets, the expansion of the public water supply, the renovation of city markets, and new bathhouse regulations. Elites, however, viewed these improvements as a way to gain leverage over the plebeian classes. Elites viewed the urban poor as the root of many of the environmental problems the viceregal capital faced, and considered common practices among the popular classes, such as the indiscriminate dumping of garbage and waste, defecating and urinating in public, loitering, washing clothes and other personal items in public fountains, and public nudity as a threat to civic order and safety. Elites feared that this type of activity would also transgress into other types of disorder, namely criminal activity. These behaviors also represented to elites the uncivilized nature of the urban masses, challenging the cultural norms upon which elites based their social superiority. This "polluting" behavior also reflected badly on the state, illustrating their lack of political control over city residents, and undermining its legitimacy. In the end, the programs instituted did little to alleviate many of the environmental problems of Mexico City: the scope of programs was limited, focusing on the city center at the expense of the surrounding poorer barrios where improvements were most needed; enforcement of legislation passed to change many plebeian habits was lackluster at best; and funding for the projects was clearly insufficient.
Degree ProgramGraduate College