Professor Dawn Digrius to Present with Panel at the 2013 meeting of the American Society for Environmental History


Professor Dawn Digrius (Assistant Professor, History) will partake in a panel at the 2013 meeting of the American Society for Environmental History in Toronto, Ontario.

Their Panel is entitled "Between the Park and the Shantytown: Latin American Cities and the Environment during the Twentieth Century".

This panel explores the tensions between development and nature in Latin American cities
during the twentieth century. Cities represent a particular environmental challenge as leaders and
residents struggle to balance the man-made habitat with natural elements. The desire to find
equilibrium often stems from the immediate need to sustain the urban masses. The health and
livelihood of city dwellers require incredible inputs of energy and resources, as well as
opportunities to seek respite in sunlight and fresh air. The sprinkling of green among the
sprawling concrete, steel, and glass also reveals a deeper desire to create a very particular vision
or aesthetic. Carefully sculpted parks, tree-lined avenues, and ordinances to stem the rising tide
of pollution attempt to counteract uncontrolled growth and to present a modern, progressive
appearance. The creation of a balanced urban environment does not come easily, however. Those
in power must harness the means necessary for altering the cities and convince urbanites of the
exigency of reforms. Unforeseen outcomes often highlight the illusion of control as well as the
artificiality of many environmentally-driven actions.

From Rio de Janeiro to Mexico City, from Buenos Aires to Quito, these four papers offer unique
perspectives on environmental policies in some of Latin America’s largest and most important
cities. Each presentation examines particular undertakings meant either to manage resources or
to create a specific impression. While each approach varied in its success, the projects
underscore the challenges of directing urban development and incorporating nature into the built

Shawn Miller
Brigham Young University

The Street’s Last Hurrah: Competing Motives and Contesting Spaces on Rio de Janeiro’s Central
Avenue, 1903-1920.

In 1906, Mayor Pereira Passos tore an audacious linear gash in Rio de Janeiro’s colonial urban
fabric, demolishing hundreds of private homes and businesses to create Avenida Central, a
stunning public space that was to become Brazil’s grand first impression to foreign visitors.
Historians have tended to emphasis sanitation, transportation, and gentrification as the Avenue’s
primary motives, and have most often characterized the project as an elite effort to dislodge the
poor from their downtown tenements, thus giving birth to Rio’s hillside favelas. That work is
often persuasive, but we have neglected to fully examine beautification as a central motive for
the Avenue’s production. Sources after the event demonstrate how central beautification of the
public realm was to the receivers, that is, those who would use and enjoy the street. The Avenue
took on an outsized place in the citizen’s identity and was conspicuously “displayed” in
newspaper texts and magazine photographs for the next two decades. By approaching public
space as one would a natural resource, my interest lies primarily in how city streets as a spatial
resource are seen and used, and by whom. In many ways, Avenida Central was the last gasp of
the traditional street in the built environment, a space understood in Portuguese culture as a
logradouro, literally, a place to enjoy. The Avenida’s central function in the eyes of those who
used it was not for sanitation or transportation (in fact, streetcars were banned from running on
the Avenue), but as a grand public space, a linear central square, in which many diverse users, to
be described, still competed for the space on a relatively level playing field.

Andrea Moerer
University of Minnesota

Crusade Against Charcoal, 1938-1942
This paper emerges out of my dissertation looking at the shift in usage of Chapultepec Forest in
Mexico City in the 1920s-50s. As early as 1935, and following the Six-year Plan, the director of
the recently created Autonomous Department of Forestry worked toward reducing the use of
forestry products for heating and cooking. Miguel Angel de Quevedo, through his Department's
newly constructed Natural History Museum located in Chapultepec Forest, was able to take this
campaign against charcoal to an unprecedented public scale. Though the 'Exhibition of
Combustion Devices Substituting those of Charcoal and Wood' lasted for only two weeks in July,
1938, it generated, through daily newspapers, the First Forestry Convention, and legislation, a
discussion lasting through 1942. The opening of the Technological Museum in Chapultepec in
1942 symbolized the trend whereby the forest was highlighted as an economic— and particularly
during wartime, strategic and military—resource for use, rather than a cultural or environmental
one for preservation.

In 'Crusade against Charcoal' I trace the issue of charcoal and the campaign against not only its
production (often grouped with fires and logging), but particularly its use in the modernizing
capital of Mexico. With Chapultepec as a backdrop, those who (mis)used the forest—vis-à-vis
its products—were demeaning history and the nation. Yet, deficient citizens were not only the
charcoal producing- and using-, rural-descended masses, but also the 'ecological
paternalists' (Boyer, 2007) unable to relate to the realities of a rapidly-urbanizing population.

Jennifer Hoyt
Samford University

The military dictatorship that controlled Argentina from 1976 to 1983 remains most infamous for
its human rights violations and campaign of state terror. However, historians have begun to
examine the broader social agenda that armed forces pursued during that period, and this paper
explores why the dictatorship made the environment quality of Buenos Aires a priority. As the
political, economic, and cultural center of the nation – not to mention home to one in three
Argentineans – Buenos Aires became the starting point of an intense effort to modernize and
rationalize the nation. The military mayor, Brigadier Osvaldo Cacciatore, enacted a series of
reforms meant to set a guiding vision for urban development. As part of his efforts, he revamped
trash collection, broke ground on a massive green belt, relocated industries farther away from
city center, and began an extensive tree planting campaign. This push to clean and green the city
closely followed the 1972 UN Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm. The
conference specifically discussed pressing issues associated with the need to balance
development with the protection of the natural environment in the third world. Given the
reigning generals’ desire to make Buenos Aires, and by extension Argentina, on par with the
West, Cacciatore’s environmental policies served in that quest. Presenting an image of
environmental balance became chance for the military to prove its effectiveness and to transform
the capital.

Dawn M. Digrius, Ph.D.
Stevens Institute of Technology

Water Resources Management in Coastal Ecuador: An Historical Assessment of Environmental
Sustainability and Power, 1950-2000.

For this project, I am examining the intersection of water resource policy and environmental
sustainability in Ecuador during the period between 1950 and 2000, and specifically examining
the social, economic, and environmental impacts as a result of hydroelectric power plants being
built (to supply electricity to the burgeoning cities of Quito and Guayaquil) with international
funds during this period. Using the history of the development of the Daule Peripa Dam and
Marcel Laniado de Wind Hydroelectric Plant (1982-1995) as a prime example, this paper intends
to unpack the legacy of inefficient and unsustainable water management practices in Ecuador
that have plagued the country for decades. Construction of the reservoir associated with these
infrastructure projects forced 14,965 farmers from their land and left 63 communities isolated.
Deterioration of the ecosystems of the Rivers Daule and Peripa resulted, and lack of maintenance
led to water eutrophication. Significant sedimentation caused by the constant accumulation of
sandy soils washed by the Daule and Peripa rivers into the reservoir bottom has caused the total
reservoir water capacity to decrease and speeds up the wear on the turbines. Given these issues,
by recommending strategies that encompass a wide range of economically- and environmentallyfriendly
practices, the goal is to present new models for development that reflect an historical