Ayşe Yarar: Dear Emilio José Luque Azcona, firstly thank you very much for accepting our interview proposal. Could you please give us some information about your academic life and studies?
Emilio José Luque Azcona: I’m a Professor and Head of the Department of the Americas History at the University of Seville (Spain). I have a Degree in Geography and History, a Ph.D. in Latin America History (University of Pablo de Olavide, Spain) and a Master Degree in History and Assessment of Architecture and Urban Design (University of Buenos Aires, Argentina). Before coming to Seville, I spent three years in Scotland as a Visiting Scholar at the Centre for Environment and Human Settlements of the School of the Built Environment at Heriot-Watt University (Edinburgh).
Ayşe Yarar: Could you explain us the definition of urbanization? When did the period of urbanization start in Latin America? Was there any urban experience before the discovery of the New World?
Emilio José Luque Azcona: The study of Urban History of Latin America has focused my research interest since the completion of my Phd Thesis, related to Urban and Architectural development of the city of Montevideo during the XVIIII century.
The urban process in the region began before the arrival of Europeans, with notable examples such as the imperial capitals of Tenochtitlan and Cusco, the first of the Aztecs and the second of the Incas. These urban centers, especially the first, surprised the Europeans by their size, organization and infrastructure. In both cases, the conquerors decided to make use of the symbolic value of these spaces, building materials and infrastructure, establishing two new cities, one of them the capital of New Spain.
Ayşe Yarar: What would you say about the urban foundations in colonial times? Could you please explain us the Portuguese and Spanish efforts or effects on urbanization comparatively?
Emilio José Luque Azcona: The urbanization developed by Portuguese and Spaniards on the New World presented different aspects, either in material achievements or in the magnitude of the process. In the Spanish case, an extensive foundational process of urban centers occurred during the sixteenth century, both on the coast and in the interior of the continent, achieving a remarkable development in such regions as New Spain. The eighteenth century was the second great founding century, settling consequently an extensive network of urban centers stretching from the current southern United States to the south of Chile. In the Portuguese case, after the trading posts of the first moments, some urban centers were founded, the most notable Salvador, the first capital of colonial Brazil. However, it was not until the eighteenth century that the urbanization process reached more dynamism, highlighting cities like Rio de Janeiro, the new capital, or regions like Minas Gerais.
Ayşe Yarar: During the 19th century, Latin American nations achieved independence. How did the postcolonial changes affect the urban development in this continent?
Emilio José Luque Azcona: After the independence, in a context of economic crisis, the cities of the new countries experienced little change. Some slowed their growth or even lost population. It was not until the final decades of the nineteenth century, with economic growth in some regions and European immigration that major changes took place, especially in urban centers of the most dynamic regions. Population growth, improving infrastructure and the transformation of urban and architectural landscape, often taking as reference the city of Paris, were among the most relevant changes.
Ayşe Yarar: What can you tell us about the major effects of globalization on restructuring of Latin American cities?
Emilio José Luque Azcona: Authors like Ankie Hoogvelt and Robbie Robertson assert that globalization is not a new phenomenon and differentiate three periods: the expansion stage of European mercantilism; a step of imperialist expansion of England and France; and a stage of financial expansion led by the United States. Latin American cities have been affected by the globalization process in those periods. However, these effects are more apparent from the 1980s, with the increased integration of the region into the global economy. In this context the urban primacy of São Paulo, Mexico City and Buenos Aires have been strengthened in the regional urban system, while has increased the specific weight of small and medium cities thanks to the expansion of free-trade zones cities and tourist activity at large scale. In the urban plan highlights the strategic importance acquired by the margins of the main metropolitan areas and the development of large-scale intervention in neighborhoods and historic districts and ancient urban waterfronts, for the creation of new urban storefronts to attract visitors and investments.
Ayşe Yarar: As a last question, how can you define the problems and outcomes of the urbanization process in Latin America?
Emilio José Luque Azcona: Latin American cities largely reflect the characteristics of societies with a very unequal distribution of wealth. It is necessary to recover public spaces as a meeting place, to encourage citizen participation in the management, to promote actions to eliminate poverty, to improve public services and environmental conditions, as some of the main challenges for many urban centers in the region. In this sense, Medellin in Colombia is a leading solution to many of these problems.
Interview: Ayşe YARAR