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urban innovation under neoliberal cover

The search for innovative strategies to revitalize cities and distribute new public goods like parks and mass transit constitutes a major topic among political leaders, policy makers, and planners today. There is an increasingly global trade in ideas about "best" or "good" practices among cities like New York, London, Bogatá, Mexico City, Buenos Aires, Hong Kong, Paris, Beijing, Mumbai, and Tokyo, just to name a few.

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However, many scholars have argued that the traffic in such ideas takes place largely among elite actors pursuing neoliberal agendas, backed by powerful private interests such as Bloomberg, Deutsche Bank, Shell Oil, BMW, and the Rockefeller Foundation. As a result, they tend to promote flashy ideas like "tactical urbanism" and "smart city" technologies that generate excitement among influential circles, but seldom require redistribution of wealth and resources. On the contrary, such innovations often coincide with devolution and disinvestment in public services.

David López Garcia and I have both been studying this phenomenon. David is an Assistant Professor in the College of Urban Planning and Public Administration at the University of Illinois, Chicago. We also connected with Ryan Whitney, a Professor in the School of Architecture, Art, and Design at the Tecnológico de Monterrey.  Our common interest is in the generation of discourses on urban innovation, how they travel amid international nodes and networks, and how they ramify spatially through realized programs and plans.

To this end we have examined a series of "urban innovations" in Mexico City that took shape between 2007 and 2018, revolving primarily around the formation of a new government agency called the Public Space Authority (Autoridad del Espacio Público, AEP). A thorough examination of the establishment, performance, challenges, and ultimate closure of this agency allowed us to contribute to the literature on policy formation in the context of neoliberal urban innovations. The works cited below advance theories of "fast track institutionalization" and "showcase politics," and also allowed us to undertake a close study of the mismatch between a specific agency, its policies, and its outcomes--in this case, the outcomes being the design, distribution, and production of an urban public space typology called "Pocket Parks."

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López-García, David, and Joseph Heathcott. “Showcase Politics: The Production and Distribution of New Public Space in Mexico City.” Journal of Urban Affairs (October 2022): 1–19. https://doi.org/10.1080/07352166.2022.2102987.

 

Heathcott, Joseph, and David López García. “Design Highs and Policy Lows in the Making of New Public Space in Mexico City.” Journal of Urbanism: International Research on Placemaking and Urban Sustainability (December 2022): 1–24. https://doi.org/10.1080/17549175.2022.2150270.

 

López-García, David, Ryan Anders Whitney, y Joseph Heathcott, "Institucionalización fast-track y política de vitrina como estrategias para la consolidación de innovaciones en la gestión urbana." Forthcoming in Cesar Rentería, ed. Pensar fuera de la caja burocrática.  Será publicado por Prensa de la Universidad de Guadalajara, 2025.

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