Transforming public spaces in Mexico : the case of colonias populares in Xalapa
The importance of public spaces in contemporary cities has been acknowledged and studied from different points of view and approaches by researchers of urbanism. However, most studies have focused on public spaces designed and produced by professionals for elite and affluent populations. In contrast, very little attention has been paid to the development of public spaces in those self-made urban environments "the popular habitat" of the developing world. In Mexican cities, the popular habitat is known as Colonias Populares (people's neighbourhoods) in which the urban environment consolidates and integrates to the city by gradual improvement processes at different levels of the urban environment from household up to neighbourhood level and mainly through the initiatives and participation of inhabitants. Within these processes, public spaces also play a very important role within the processes of consolidation and integration into the formal urban fabric. Within this context, the purpose of this thesis is to examine the dynamics of public space transformation within the urban consolidation process of colonias populares. The research examines various public spaces presenting different stages of consolidation in the colonias populares of the city of Xalapa-Veracruz in southeast Mexico. The research focuses on (1)the social relations and interactions of popular dwellers and other actors within the production process of public spaces; (2) the spatial actions and activities that give place to the physical configuration of public spaces as well as paying attention to the physical nature of the public space produced; (3) the different strategies and activities that residents and different actors carry out to protect, maintain and control public spaces; (4) finally, it studies the use, the possible conflicts over usage, appropriation and the role of the actors' culture and activities developing the life of public spaces in the popular habitat. To achieve a holistic understanding, the research examines the dynamics of public space transformation following a socio-spatial-symbolic framework of analysis, in which the urban environment is examined through its social and physical processes of development and materialization as well as its social and spatial process of everyday usage. Moreover this approach includes a symbolic dimension taking into account that these processes take place because of the meanings and representations that popular dwellers construct about their surrounding environment which in turn influences processes of urban production and consumption. The research is carried out using a qualitative methodology with an ethnographical approach based on a multi-method strategy. In this way, the thesis builds up its different arguments from informal conversations, semi-structured interviews, participant observation, photographs, personal documents, newspaper articles and drawings. This data was collected through extensive fieldwork carried out in five different colonias populares. It focused on specific public spaces in each neighbourhood. Through these cases the research seeks to demonstrate that public space transformation is important for popular dwellers in their agenda of urban consolidation. Finally, it aims to develop a greater understanding of the development and spatial construction of public spaces in the context of Mexican cities from which decision makers can learn in order to configure better public spaces and enhance the physical and social conditions of the urban environment, particularly in the context of the low-income population.