The American borderland cities: instant urbanism along the Pan-American Highway

Cristian Suau

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This study investigates the placement of fast-growth borderland urban agglomeration ruled by informal economies in the Americas which are situated alongside the main transport infrastructure of the Pan-American Highway1 that serves as a ‘grand linear urban lab’. The corridor Pan-American Highway constitutes a ‘magnet’, a catalyst for empowerment of both existing urban economies that co-exist regionally in different scales and envisioning future urban developments and configurations, which are being established in edge-cities along the Pan-American Highway.
This ‘instant’ process of urbanisation has upgraded various informal urban economies to adequate standards of production, consumption and exchange. In terms of regional development, one of the direct impacts of constructing the Panamericana (from Alaska to Patagonia) has been the expansion of formal and informal economic and trade corridors along the main infrastructure network, which is rapidly shaping the structure of border cities such as Detroit (US) – Windsor (Canada); El Paso (US) – Ciudad Juarez (Mexico) or Tacna (Peru) – Arica (Chile).
This research reflects on spatial concepts and principles of informal metapolisation2 applied in two border cities: Tacna (Peru) – Arica (Chile) and El Paso (US) – Ciudad Juárez (Mexico). Method involves observation and fieldwork of informal retail and housing. Both process and outcomes are documented through methods of comparison, analysis and concept generation. The novelty of this study does not lie in neither a taxonomic mapping of informal border cities in emerging economies nor a mere catalogue of architypes but rather in the conceptualisation and structuration of informal spatial schemes in intermediate landscapes along a common infrastructure. This type of ‘instant urbanity’ constructs new urban patterns –transitory, intermittent or spontaneous ones- which flee from any conventional spatial planning: What is the functional, morphological or environmental impact of these temporal activities in existing urban and transport systems? How do they mutate, resist or perish?
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages14
Publication statusUnpublished - Dec 2012
EventThe Production of Place - London, United Kingdom
Duration: 15 Dec 201218 Dec 2012


ConferenceThe Production of Place
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


  • Pan America
  • Pan American Highway
  • urbanism


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