In January 2015, a team of 10 students from Harvard GSD in the MDes, MUP and March II programs embarked on a two-week practicum in Cancún, Mexico, led by Prof. Diane E. Davis and assisted by teaching fellow Carolina San Miguel (DDes), sponsored by the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies and Fundación Hogares. Through a deliberately open-ended site interrogation, the binary notion of a branded tourism destination and its “support city” gave way to a complex and ambiguous ecosystem made out of speculations, benefits, vulnerabilities, and risks, unfolding or compounding unevenly on each side of a remarkably pronounced spatial division.
While foreign and domestic capital circulates through lavish coastal developments essentially detached from the concerns of sustainable urban development, the fabric of the support city is rapidly expanding into the hinterland. Whether it is the schematically conceived and poorly executed macro-scale “affordable” housing projects, or the self-built informal settlements on unregulated land procured by opportunistic middlemen – vast expanses of hastily developed land housing the laboring population are riddled with inadequate infrastructural provisions, economic instability, and a range of social vulnerabilities and environmental hazards. In the imaginary space where Cancún’s paradoxes and disparities converge in a unitary urban experience, we have been tracing the evolution of urban risks along temporal trajectories – from the present conditions into projected futures – and the strained connectivities between the various actors and agencies of urbanization.