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When Urbanism Was a Weapon in the Cold War

The founding of Ciudad Techo in 1961 just outside of Bogota, Colombia played a key role in a strategy by the United States to beat back communist intrusions into Latin America during the height of the Cold War.
June 10, 2016, 5am PDT | jwilliams | @jwillia22
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Bogota, Colombia
Marcelo Träsel

Zachary Laub reports in The Wilson Quarterly on the fascinating history of Ciudad Techo, a satellite city established on what was an abandoned airport on the outskirts of Bogota, Colombia. In 1961, President Kennedy laid the cornerstone for the first of what would become 10,000 homes in a plan to head off potential intrusions by communists into Colombia. By providing housing and a new sources of funding to Latin American countries, Laub writes, Kennedy hoped to "undercut radical proposals by raising the living standards of rural peasants and the urban poor. Once these formerly impoverished groups had been given a stake in the status quo, they would be loath to support far-left political parties or communist guerrilla movements." The city was the result of Kennedy's Alliance for Progress, described as "a New Deal, projected abroad." It was intended to spread middle-class American comforts, and consumer capitalism, throughout the Americas. However, many critics found Ciudad Techo underwhelming and poorly planned.

Most of Techo’s homes are two stories tall, and some have a haphazard third story stacked on top. They are canary yellow, lime green, silver with blue diamonds, and powder blue, and they line landscaped boulevards and snaking culs-de-sac, offering visual respite from the development’s surroundings: rows and rows of drab four- and five-story block apartment buildings that appear as if they extend all the way to the eastern cordillera on the horizon. The houses are all the same width, about three parking spaces across, except for a couple that have engulfed their neighbors.


A critic writing in the Colombian architectural journal Escala in 1963 argued that the new city was clumsily planned. Housing density was distributed unevenly, with little relation to the small space allotted to parks, or to projected commercial centers. Superblocks restrict pedestrian circulation. The account suggests a city that is visually and culturally monotonous.

Ciudad Techo has since been swallowed up by Bogota's urban sprawl, and the neighborhood has become gentrified, reports Laub. The Alliance for Progress program the spurred the development of the city ended within a decade, and the United States "would come to see the region’s militaries as a more dependable bulwark against communist subversion..."

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Published on Monday, June 6, 2016 in Wilson Quarterly
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