A City on a Lake

Urban Political Ecology and the Growth of Mexico City

Book Pages: 352 Illustrations: 30 illustrations Published: April 2018

Author: Matthew Vitz

Environmental Studies, History > Latin American History, Latin American Studies > Mexico

In A City on a Lake Matthew Vitz tracks the environmental and political history of Mexico City and explains its transformation from a forested, water-rich environment into a smog-infested megacity plagued by environmental problems and social inequality. Vitz shows how Mexico City's unequal urbanization and environmental decline stemmed from numerous scientific and social disputes over water policy, housing, forestry, and sanitary engineering. From the prerevolutionary efforts to create a hygienic city supportive of capitalist growth, through revolutionary demands for a more democratic distribution of resources, to the mid-twentieth-century emergence of a technocratic bureaucracy that served the interests of urban elites, Mexico City's environmental history helps us better understand how urban power has been exercised, reproduced, and challenged throughout Latin America.


"For Mexicanists, political historians, urban historians, and historians of planning, I suspect, Vitz’s emphasis on the politics of planning and what it reveals about the Porfiriato, the revolution, and the Cárdenas years will be well placed."

— John R. McNeill, H-LatAm, H-Net Reviews

"Matthew Vitz's work is a valuable and enjoyable contribution to a growing literature that takes seriously the way Mexico City's lacustrine past shapes its present." — C. Lurtz, Choice

"The book will appeal to several audiences. Environmental historians of Latin America will appreciate the new approach through political ecology to an often-discussed region. Because the book outlines Mexican history from the perspective of its national capital in a clear accessible . . . manner, the topic may appeal to historians interested in a comparative approach in urban history. Water historians, meanwhile, will appreciate how the author acknowledges the social, cultural, and political influences that shape water management." — Rocio Gomez, Canadian Journal of History

"Seldom are the city and hinterland, technocratic elites and popular groups, studied together – in Mexico or elsewhere – so Matthew Vitz’s work is a tremendous contribution to the field of Latin American urban history and the history of urban planning. In the case of A City on a Lake, this integration is accomplished through widespread archival research and a sophisticated analytical lens that links the histories of capitalism, urbanization, and the environment. Historians of Mexico will surely profit from this approach." — Emilio de Antanuano, Planning Perspectives

"Vitz draws from a rich collection of archival sources to illustrate a metropolis caught between a growing population extracting more and more resources from a still-viable ecosystem and a government increasingly run by technocrats. . . . Given current global concerns about climate change, A City on a Lake is a welcome and valuable addition to environmental histories of Latin America and the world, as well as the history of inequality, which cannot be divorced from ecological perspectives." — James A. Garza, Journal of Interdisciplinary History

"A City on a Lake is an innovative and complex study of the social, political, and environmental dynamics of Mexico City’s demographic and spatial expansion from the Porfiriato (1876–1911) through the middle of the twentieth century. . . . A meticulously sourced and theoretically grounded study that will likely be influential across several academic fields." — Christopher Woolley, The Latin Americanist

"In this deeply researched and nicely detailed book, Vitz makes important contributions to the environmental and especially urban history of Latin America." — Emily Wakild, Journal of Social History

"[This] book would make for an excellent text to assign to advanced undergraduates. It deserves to find a much wider readership than that, though. This impressive, sophisticated analysis will be of considerable interest to historians and geographers, in particular, and will appeal to scholars interested in the politics." — Richard Conway, HAHR

"A City on a Lake is a very detailed environmental history which will speak more to Mexicanists and environmental historians. . . . the book is a superb example of urban political ecological analysis which transcends the boundaries of the city to examine the complex interactions between the city and its non-urban hinterlands. In this regard, A City on a Lake can contribute to recent debates on planetary urbanization within urban political ecology." — Creighton Connolly, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research

"Matthew Vitz’s book, A City on a Lake, is a thoroughly researched and intricately woven history of environmental change in Mexico City from the last decades of the nineteenth century to the aftermath of the Mexican Revolution. . . . Vitz’s argument is articulated through richly described data, which vividly conveys the complexity of urban environmentmaking." — Alejandro de Coss Corzo, Journal of Latin American Studies

"A major contribution to Mexican political historiography that unpacks the fascinating and complex story of a revolutionary nation whose capital city happens to sit on a lake. ... This remarkable book will likewise fuel debates in the larger field of radical political ecology, precisely be-cause it supports the claim that states matter as much as capital in any theoretical or analytical accounting of urbanization-led environmental change. In masterfully weaving multiple conceptual and disciplinary threads into a single convincing account, this must-read book will force a rethinking of new and old assumptions in a variety of fields. One could not ask for more." — Diane E. Davis, Environmental History

"This book is a meticulously researched account of the production and reproduction of Mexico City’s 'metropolitan environment' during the long twentieth century, the bulk of which centers on the 1910s through the 1930s. ... Matthew Vitz has written an original, archivally rich analysis that deserves to be read by all those interested in cities past and present." — J. Brian Freeman, The Americas

"Questioning the usual understandings of Mexico City’s urbanisation in the field, the book contributes to studies of environmental politics in large or sizeable cities, and how they are dynamically interconnected. ... Through Vitz’s exhaustive research, the reader is able to understand the political landscape at the time, the actors, national and foreign, responsible for reshaping the socio-ecological relations in the urban area like the Xochimilco and Texcoco areas." — J M Leal, Bulletin of Latin American Research

“Tracing the relationship of social and ecological change during Mexico City's crucial stage of development in the early twentieth century, A City on a Lake is the most compelling environmental history of modern Mexico City available.” — Christopher R. Boyer, author of Political Landscapes: Forests, Conservation, and Community in Mexico

“Matthew Vitz’s focus on how the relationships among Mexico City’s inhabitants and its ecology, the state, and developers played out in the process of urbanization is absolutely novel. To my knowledge, this is the first book to bring the generally rural-centered analysis of agrarian reform into the urban fabric, and its fusion of political ecology with a rich empirical history will be welcomed by Mexicanists as well as students of urban ecology and popular movements in Latin America. Conceptually and analytically complex, yet crisp and clear, Vitz's book offers us a new way to understand a familiar period in Mexican history.” — Vera S. Candiani, author of Dreaming of Dry Land: Environmental Transformation in Colonial Mexico City

“Based on exhaustive archival research and engaging theoretically with new scholarship in political ecology and urban environmentalism, A City on a Lake adds critical new dimensions to the history of modern Mexico. Matthew Vitz transcends arid dichotomies between urban and agrarian history, and deftly interrogates the once-sacrosanct watershed of the Mexican Revolution. Like few other studies, A City on the Lake demonstrates how ecological transformation and the struggle for environmental rights factored importantly into outcomes of the Mexican Revolution’s modernizing project of capitalist development. This exciting monograph should establish Vitz in the vanguard of Mexico’s and Latin America’s new environmental and urban historians.” — Gilbert M. Joseph, Farnam Professor of History and International Studies, Yale University


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Price: $28.95

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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Matthew Vitz is Assistant Professor of History at the University of California, San Diego.

Table of Contents Back to Top
List of Abbreviations  vii
Acknowledgments  ix
Introduction  1
I. The Making of a Metropolitan Environment
1. The Porfirian Metropolitan Environment  19
2. Revolution and the Metropolitan Environment  51
II. Spaces of a Metropolitan Environment
3. Water and Hygiene in the City  81
4. The City and Its Forests  109
5. Desiccation, Dust, and Engineered Waterscapes  136
6. The Political Ecology of Working-Class Settlements  164
7. Industrialization and Environmental Technocracy  193
Conclusion  218
Notes  235
Bibliography  291
Index  321
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-7040-6 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-7029-1
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