Urban Planning with Fanon: The Puerto Rico Planning Board and Alienation in San Juan, 1942-1955

Authors: Joaquin Villanueva*, Gustavus Adolphus College
Topics: Urban Geography, Historical Geography, Social Theory
Keywords: Fanon; planning; alienation; Puerto Rico; Black Geographies
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/7/2021
Start / End Time: 3:05 PM / 4:20 PM
Room: Virtual 10
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The Puerto Rico Planning Board (PRPB) was established in 1942 by the last North American governor of colonial Puerto Rico, Rexford Guy Tugwell, and fellow white planners and consultants from the United States. The PRPB envisioned and planned the transformation of the colony’s capital, San Juan, into a modern, industrial, and post-tropical city attractive for U.S. industrial capital. A city planned for capital and not humans came about. In this paper, I engage with Frantz Fanon’s psychiatric and radical humanist work to help us rethink the history of urban planning in Puerto Rico and the United States. Drawing on Fanon, I maintain that urban planning must, above all else, “institute a general framework for de-alienating encounters”. Against this Fanonian principle, I evaluate the PRPB’s imperial design of San Juan during its first two decades of existence. Based on archival research, the paper documents the PRPB’s slum clearance program from 1945 to 1955, a vast urban and carceral operation that displaced and re-placed thousands of Black families in the name of capital. In effect, the program, tested first in San Juan and later emulated across the U.S., ran counter to Fanon’s planning principle, instituting instead the framework for urban alienation by designing a white supremacist city by and for imperial capital. With this intervention I wish to accomplish two goals: (1) center Puerto Rico in the cartographies of Black Geographies; and (2) engage with Fanon to help us theorize dehumanizing and racist planning and design in settler colonial and postcolonial cities.

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