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Title: Abundance of interplays delivered by scattered patterns of occupation. San Joaquin in Cuenca, a case of study in the southern highlands of Ecuador
Authors: Rivera Munoz, Monica Alexandra #
Issue Date: 2015
Host Document: The Horizontal Metropolis: A Radical Project pages:210-222
Conference: International PhD Seminar Urbanism & Urbanization. Symposium Latsis EPFL 2015. location:Lausanne date:12-15 October 2015
Abstract: The problematizing of generic dispersion as a general evil of growing cities, has led to a too-easy diagnosis with the same ‘illness’ to rural territories surrounding and under the influence of middle size cities in the central and southern Ecuadorian Andes. As a consequence of such diagnosis, development plans for these proto-urban territories show a widespread tendency to propose densification as an antidote to battle dispersion. Very commonly, these plans neglect strategies that consider the rationalities behind those rural lands sprinkled with emerging urbanity, or their complementary roles in the broader context of their territory.
During pre-colonial times, the scattered distribution of the groups in the Andean region were based on the desire to use and control diverse ecological units. This allowed them to ensure the alimentary autonomy of the different groups of
population in the Cañari territory, in the southern part of today Ecuador. During colonial times, the heterarchical quality of productive complementarity between diverse groups in the territory was transformed and acquired a hierarchical character. In this new schema, Cuenca, the Spanish-founded city established on the lands of Cañari and Inca preexistences, was meant to be at the top, as an instrumental center of territorial and population control. However, even after the city became that fundamental space, its meaningfulness and survival couldn’t stand alone. Cuenca was highly dependent of the resources and work in the hinterland, remaining closely related to the population of the constellation of rural settlements that surrounded it. Besides being able to endure the rule of the city, this population learnt to interact with the multi folded conditions of a city that attracted as much as it repelled them, that offered as much as it consumed from them, that opened opportunities as much as it closed spaces for them.
It is clear that scattered patterns of occupation are characteristic of rural agricultural territory in the studied context, and that subdivision of land is more intensive in zones closer to urban centers. However, a careful reading of the territory, in combination with interpretation of the structuring elements of its landscape, might shed light on the interaction between
spatial, social and cultural factors that have contributed to render the present conditions of occupation in the southern Ecuadorian highlands.
In Ecuador, the study of urban development of cities has mostly been addressed from a historical and chronological perspective, and it has constrained itself to the analysis of the consolidated zones of urban fabrics. These studies,
regarded exclusively as historical narratives, have not been able to effectively contribute to a spatial understanding of the territory. It becomes clear that a new approach that undertakes the spatial analysis of landscape is needed in order to unveil its logics, relations, processes and elements. Such a wider understanding of the context is essential to envision possible futures, underpinned in its own characteristics and potentialities, and as a way to counteract the homogenizing forces of market-driven urban expansion and lack of culturally sensitive approaches from local planning bodies.
Departing from a combined historical and spatial analysis on the processes that developed into the scattered patterns of settlement present in the southern highlands of Ecuador, this paper undertakes the reading and interpreting one of the rural parishes of Cuenca, San Joaquin. The case study constitutes on of the last pieces of flat productive landscape of intensive use on the valley of Cuenca. This is a context where migration has emptied the population of the rural areas population, and most flat and fertile soils have been already consumed by urbanization, resulting in increasing food dependency on trade with other regions and countries.
The closeness of San Joaquin to the city in combination with ethnic-segregationist land grants during early colonial times and influence of roads, have shaped the character of its territory and population: its double nature as agricultural and urbanized land; its patterns of settlement as scattered and linear; their people activities as peasants, artisans, merchants, laborers and most recently as professionals that work in the city; the practices of its population as simultaneously urban and rural.
This study analyses the rationalities behind the landscape of scattered occupation in the southern highlands of Ecuador, through the construction of a spatial narrative of the proposed specific landscape. The interplay between its natural systems –such as abundance of water, rich soils, flat topography and irrigation systems, and the less obvious socio cultural constructions are explored. The changing nature of the landscape and its population is also explored, and esential for a full understanding of the territory.
Scattered patterns of occupation can also be sustainable ways of inhabiting the territory, due to a quality of complementarity, and multitude of interplays delivered in the pattern. Because landscapes incremental capacity of building social and economic networks for their inhabitants, the present study is understood as a tool to envision and explore future possibilities of integration between the pressuring processes of urbanization in San Joaquin and its productive landscape, which can be account as an available resource for their population.
Mapping of the elements of the landscape, comparative analysis and interpretation of historical maps and orthophotography, in combination with scrutiny of historic narratives is the methodology to be undertaken. Multiple sources of information nourish this case study, however, performed fieldwork (direct observations, sketches and interviews) is essential in understanding the subtle and many times, invisible relations existent between places and people. J.B .Jackson’s work on vernacular landscape becomes a lens to study the landscape for the proposed case study. Conzen’s studies on urban morphology and its vocabulary, are visited as a tool to interpret the case study, as well as for their utility to express contents in a less ambiguous manner.
Publication status: published
KU Leuven publication type: IC
Appears in Collections:Non-KU Leuven Association publications
# (joint) last author

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