Construction materials and landscape change : blocks, pits, and aggregates in central Veracruz, Mexico
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This dissertation examines how the use and production of construction materials affects landscapes in the Xalapa-Perote region of Veracruz, Mexico. It focuses on four themes associated with rapid urbanization in developing countries and the impacts of urban building on surrounding rural environments and communities. First, it analyzes historical developments in the use and proliferation of concrete-block construction throughout Mexico. Second, the dissertation examines the commoditization of a lightweight volcanic aggregate, known as tepetzil, and exposes flaws in the transformation of this ‘ideal’ aggregate into popular concrete blocks. Third, it explores the causes and outcomes of tepetzil extraction on local environments and land-use practices. Fourth, the dissertation investigates the impacts of concrete block manufacturing on household livelihoods in rural, agricultural communities. The impetus for the research is fourfold: 1) construction materials are a pervasive, yet understudied aspect of today’s global infrastructure; 2) construction materials are an important link between rural and urban processes; 3) widespread construction material mines have dramatic effects on land uses and land-use change; and 4) non-agricultural and off-farm sources of income are increasingly important development initiatives for rural areas in the global south. The dissertation contributes to literature in human-environment geography, cultural landscape studies, development studies, economic geology, and urban and regional planning. The research methods include: household surveys, informal and group interviews, archival research, physical measurements, GPS land-use mapping, and GIS analysis. Results of the individual studies vary and point to the importance of investigating everyday geographies and ordinary landscapes. Lightweight concrete blocks are popular and ubiquitous because they facilitate incremental building, which is the primary way low-income urban migrants acquire homes. Unfortunately, market competition among block producers, as well as limited building codes and limited oversight of block production facilities, allow poor-quality and potentially dangerous blocks to flood urban markets. As demand for cheap building materials increases, aggregate mines expand to ever-more geographic areas. Outcomes of aggregate mining include the transformation of agricultural fields into abandoned pits or pits planted in pine trees. As well, the manufacture of concrete blocks provides unequal and temporary benefits to rural households.