The Air of the City: Atmospheric Dialogues in the Making of Landscape in Mexico City



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This dissertation reimagines Mexico City's urban history, foregrounding an immaterial element—air—in the conversation about the capital's overarching structural and environmental transformation. In this, Mexico City's atmosphere became a shared common ground that consolidated politics, public health, ideas of citizenship and responsibility, competing visions of the future, and the dilemmas embedded in the quest for modernity. Prevailing historiography on Latin American urbanization has surveyed the environmental consequences of prolonged urban growth, highlighting the centrality, across varying geographies, of unequal resource access manifested primarily in conflicts over land and water. Yet, discord proliferated in and over the sky as well. Extant scholarship has heretofore overlooked the air as a focus of historical inquiry, a topic that has generated more attention in the natural and social sciences. But Mexico City's long urban and environmental history, as this project demonstrates, is bookended by air-centric discourse. Atmospheric dialogue was central to the formation of a sense of place, even as the physical form of that place evolved over time. In its consultation of a range of primary source materials, including print media, scientific studies, speeches, government correspondence, census statistics, the reports of various organizations, and interviews, this dissertation analyzes an array of atmospheric narratives in order to understand the ways in which risks surrounding the air, and, by extension, city management and public health, were manufactured and understood. Politicians, scientists, economists, travelers, tourism promoters, environmental activists, and ordinary residents participated in knowledge-creation, transmitting and responding to developing urban-environmental dangers, such as changes in air quality, over the long term. These processes sparked technological innovation, the expansion of environmental legislation, and grassroots activism. On-the-ground consciousness of this risk, forged in the late twentieth century through political processes and the embodied experiences of environmental activism, generated new air-centric dialogues and imbued new meanings into the polluted landscape. Despite its impalpability, air was a powerful, transformative force in Mexico City. It was paramount to the construction of place meaning throughout different historical periods, shaping the lived experience of landscape change along the way.



Mexico, Mexico City, Environmental History, Urban History, Air, Pollution, Science and Technology, Environmental Politics