In 2006, El Alto, the satellite city of La Paz, Bolivia, was referred to in Mike Davis’ Planet of Slums as the 18th largest ‘Megaslum’ in the world . Today, houses on the city’s main thoroughfare, Avenida 6 de Marzo, are valued at up to $800,000 US – and these prices have risen steeply over the last decade. Such is their value, that the predominantly indigenous, Aymara-speaking inhabitants of the ‘slum’ area of El Alto, and the informal areas in the North of La Paz, are buying up property in the salubrious, and predominantly white, Zona Sur in the south of the city. To indicate the reversal of the classed, raced way that such dynamics of displacement are generally thought to take place, one La Paz based newspaper controversially referred to the increasing presence of El Alto wealth in the Zona Sur as a ‘colonisation’ .
The example of the steep rise of house prices in El Alto and the North of La Paz, and the patterns of accumulation and displacement which are being suggested in local media coverage, radically challenge the way that such processes are understood in urban policy and literature. ‘Gentrification’ is the term which springs most readily to mind, but there is a growing concern that this literature cannot capture the complexities of urban change in the postcolonial, development context. In geography and cognate subjects, there has been a clearly articulated need to theorise ‘from the South’ and develop more nuanced understandings of place, belonging, identity, wealth and home, based on ‘local’ material and discursive contexts and the lived experience of people involved. Equally imperative however, is recognising the importance of how these local dynamics are situated in the globalized political economy, and in patterns of accumulation and dispossession which attenuate the access of certain groups of people from the benefits of development, however construed.
The central aims of this project are:
- To explore the specific economic, social, political and geographical dynamics involved in the generation of property wealth in El Alto, Bolivia and the movement of people from that area to La Zona Sur.
- To ground this exploration in local culture, politics and discourse, and from this, critique the categories and identities that generally frame analyses of urban regeneration and displacement
- To situate this particular exploration in global, regional and national political economic context.
- To critique theories of urban change, accumulation, displacement and dispossession in order to centre the experience of cities in the Global South.