Subaltern wealth? Cash, construction and urban change in La Paz

Newcastle University, School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape, 30th November 2017

In the last decade, many countries in the Global South have experienced a rapid growth in GDP, fuelled by a resource boom, that has expanded the middle class. In Bolivia, where GDP has tripled in the last ten years, policies based on principles of socialism and decolonisation have actively favoured indigenous people working in the informal economy. The impact of this increase in wealth has manifested itself in the built environment, as brightly coloured mansions – nicknamed ‘Andean Psychedelic Baroque’ – have come to dominate the skyline of the informal areas to the North of the city, whereas luxury properties in the salubrious ‘Zona Sur’ [Southern Zone] are being bought up, and transformed by this emerging ‘Chola Bourgeoisie’. These developments have provoked responses, documented in the press, popular culture and social media, that demonstrate the huge cultural, social and political upheaval that these changes represent. One La Paz based newspaper controversially referred to the increasing presence of Aymaran wealth in the elite, Spanish speaking, Zona Sur as a ‘colonisation;’ and it is striking that the image that has emerged to represent these processes is that of a rich Aymaran woman offering cash to residents of areas from which she would have erstwhile been excluded. This paper considers the cultural, gendered and colonial urban logics that are pivotal to understanding urban transformation in La Paz over the last ten years, but which urban theories, particularly those developed mostly in reference to post-industrial cities in the Global North, tend to deem as epiphenomenal to underlying movements of capital.

A recording of the talk, with slides, is available here.

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