Highways, Deforestation, and State-driven Colonization in Amazonia

Climate change has placed Amazonia at the center stage of global socio-environmental consciousness, particularly after the fires of 2019, which revealed the continental scale of land grabbing and deforestation in the region. Highways and paved roads have spearheaded the expansion of resource frontiers. They have also served as conduits for a complex process of state-driven colonization/urbanization which would more accurately be described as a favelization or entropic occupation of the rainforest. In this seminar, we propose to examine a cross-section of this widespread and growing phenomenon by measuring the ecological footprint and examining the socio-political conflicts along tracts in selected arteries of Lower and Upper Amazonia. We will use remote sensing, geographic information systems, analytical drawings, archival material, and other means to advance research on modern/informal urbanization in a region that has remained understudied.

The analysis will be girded by a series of readings, lectures, and guest lectures whose theoretical frameworks and research methodologies shall enhance our own ability to study and interpret the genesis, evolution, transformations, and trends of extractive infrastructures and their concomitant urbanization. We will examine the relations between state planning, public policy, economic development models, transportation infrastructures (statecraft), extractivism, land value, land use change, indigenous territories, and urban form in Amazonia since the 1950s until today. Ultimately, our aim will be to reimagine the future of highway peri-urbanisms and striations as corridors for forest resurgence and community-based bioeconomic reactivation.

This seminar is highly multidisciplinary and welcomes students from the fields of landscape architecture, urban planning, urban design, and architecture. Previous acquaintance with GIS and/or ENVI is highly desirable. Students will learn to use ArcGIS Storymaps through a workshop. Their research will be published as a collection of multimedia “urban highway narratives/histories” using the ArcGIS Storymaps platform.

Due to the Labor Day holiday, this course will meet for the first time at its standard time on Wednesday, August 31st. This first class meeting will take place remotely (on Zoom). See Canvas site for more information.