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Writing from the Ciudad Juárez-El Paso Border Area

Posted By Maria Teresa Vazquez Castillo, Thursday, July 20, 2017

 Thursday, July 20, 2017


I write this blog from the border city of Ciudad Juárez in the Mexican state of Chihuahua. From a satellite view, the city merges into the US border city of El Paso, Texas, and vice versa (see image).

The estimated population in Ciudad Juárez is about 1.4 million people and in El Paso about 650,000 inhabitants. The history of these two border cities is closely intertwined as before 1848, they used to be part of a single territory. In 1659, the Spanish settlers ignored the indigenous name for the area renaming it as Misión de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe de Mansos del Paso del Río del Norte in 1659. Later, in 1826, it received the name of Villa Paso del Norte. Forty years after the partition of territory, the portion of the city that remained in the US side took the name of El Paso, while the other portion in the Mexican side was named Ciudad Juárez.

Believing that partitioning a single territory by a borderline was going to separate their destinies is like believing that a hand could be separated from the arm. In spite of the borderline, El Paso and Ciudad Juárez continue being a single territory. Thus, I challenge the idea that border urban planner Tito Alegría advanced in his book the Transborder Metropolis. There he argues that in the US-Mexico border area, there is no such thing as a transborder metropolis. He bases his thesis on a comparison of the size of the population and of the economic development of border cities. He categorically affirms that US-Mexico border cities are not part of a unit because they follow different legal frameworks. In addition, he claims, these cities do not share a single land use development plan and, consequently, their urban form is completely different. Although he acknowledges that border cities are related, he states that they work independently and there is not a sense of community, a sense of “us”. Dr. Alegría lives in the border area of Tijuana-San Diego and I consider that his thesis might apply better to the reality of that border area, but not to El Paso-Ciudad Juárez region.

Even within the US-Mexico border region, there are “regional” differences.

Thousands of residents go back and forth every single day between El Paso and Ciudad Juárez. Working class residents of Juárez cross daily to work and support El Paso economy. When the events of 9/11 took place, transit between border cities was severely restricted and the El Paso economy was near collapse. In turn, residents of El Paso also cross to work in Juárez, they are mostly executives and managers working for the maquiladora (assembly plants) sector.

 Labor force is not the only group crossing across borders, students also cross to attend either elementary or high school. Other cross to attend the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP). There are students from El Paso that attend universities in Juárez, such as the Universidad Autónoma de Ciudad Juárez (UACJ) or other private universities.

Not only labor force and students cross this border area, since most families are binational, they have relatives on both sides of the border and crossing is a daily event. Crossing the international bridges during weekends has become a torture since 9/11, but people cross anyway, to visit relatives and friends, to go shopping, or simply to take a drive.

It is from this area that I write this blog: From the Border. Trying to make sense of the cities and their planning in this region. Sharing and reflecting in my experiences as an urban planner, educator, and researcher living in El Paso-Ciudad Juárez region, crossing the USA-Mexico border area almost every single day. I attempt to document the developments related to immigration, transborder planning, cities and citizens, and evidently the proposed wall. I invite those interested in this blog to contribute with postings related to planning in this or other border areas, as well as sharing references, documents, papers, syllabi, pedagogy, initiatives or conference information in order to start a discussion and reflection on planning and borders, and to advance teaching and research on this area.

Thank you.

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