Engineering the Infinite Metropolis:

Water, Technology, and the Limits to Growth in Mexico City

A sprawling portion of the "megalopolis" of Mexico City

A sprawling portion of the "megalopolis" of Mexico City

Overview: My research seeks to explain how plans for infinite urban growth and "development" are maintained in light of ostensibly finite environments. I am particularly interested in the role of engineers in giving such plans for growth a material form and justifying them through an authoritative technical discourse, even at times against their own convictions. My project focuses on the Mexico City metropolitan area, which was once the posterchild for the coming urban environmental apocalypse but is now the site of a high-end construction boom.  Through research with water engineers attempting to somehow make the water system "work" and urban residents challenging displacement and declining water services, I aim to unravel how urban growth has been made possible and contested in a city that many fear will run out of water - or be swallowed by catastrophic floods.

I will be in Mexico City conducting ethnographic fieldwork and archival research for this project from July 2017 through December 2018.

Background: This project grows out of my longstanding interests in the way we understand "development" and "progress." We have come to see urbanization as emblematic of modernity, progress, and development. I don't seek here to rail against the city in general, but interrogate the particularly concentrated hyperurbanization we increasingly see in the global South. Is this pattern sustainable or just? If it is (as I suspect) neither of these things - and hydrologic limits very real - how is our imagination and faith in this model of "progress" maintained? And how might we change that imaginary, from the engineers and planners on down? These are the broader questions my dissertation research might begin to open up.