READINGS

HOUSING IN TIJUANA: A DICHOTOMY OF LAND AND SPACE

By Miguel Escobar

"The housing of our time does not exist."
    -Mies van der Rohe, Berlin 1930

The city of Tijuana, due to its dynamic economic and migratory situation, has a growth rate above the national average. This is in part reflected in the development of housing, by developers who construct around 12,000 housing units annually. These units are developed in different tracts of land distributed along the east and south areas of the city. For the majority of the population, it is only with the acquisition of a credit from the developer that they are able to afford a house. These houses are meant to be built in urbanized areas with all the necessary services, including schools, parks and other resources. Until now, affordable housing constructed with permanent materials has been a satisfactory endeavor. Developers receive a good return, the government deals with the demand for housing, and residents acquire a dignified place to call home.

The growth of the city is in the hands of developers of affordable housing. This is not necessarily negative, even though these private companies lack an understanding of the city as they construct housing within the allowable limits. The government puts the necessary infrastructure in place after the developments are started. In this manner, it works around private developers to plan and integrate public road infrastructure. Developers, in their effort to make a profit, maximize the land in the most financially lucrative manner. The results in growth that, while within the law, generates large increases in population density and congests major roads during critical times. Many roads have already been modified and broadened to make way for more traffic.

The high cost of property obliges developers to obtain major revenues from the land, and offer houses on lots of minimum dimensions. They provide services according to sellable land instead of calculating it to the number of units made. As a result, the same services are provided for a development of a thousand units as for one of six hundred, if the sellable surface is equivalent.

The proximity of one house to another on lots of minimum dimensions produce problems within neighborhoods. The streets rarely exceed 21 feet in width and therefore parking is a common conflict. Furthermore, the scarcity of space within a home, as well as in the development as a whole, makes recreation an impossibility. The resulting delinquent behavior and vagrancy help contribute to the deterioration of the individual units and the developments. Within a short time, the inhabitants sell their homes or rent them to non-law-abiding citizens. Police receive daily reports of fights and delinquency in these recently created areas of the city.

Is it necessary that space needs to be sacrificed in housing? Comfort and a resting space are sacrificed in favor of land speculations and the voracity of housing developers made possible by the ambiguous plans of the city goverment. Developers operate within building and construction laws, which do not specify the minimum permittable spaces for a family, and as a result we find houses as small as 27.50 m2 (296 sf.). Developers dodge criticism by arguing that these houses function as building pads for additions to be built by the owners according to their future needs.

The formal aspects of housing offered in Tijuana is characterized by a historically cartoonish design. The facades lack complexity, yet in order to make them attractive within the market, these (micro-homes) tend to go through an application of makeup where the goal is to emulate the residential models of Southern California. This make-up is equally evident in the low-income, one bedroom house as well as in high-income residences. They utilize many kinds of "false" materials for the appearance of archways, cornices and other decorations of the Californian Colonial. The developers have exploited the same style over and over in the last ten years and because of its success and acceptance, they will not risk modifying or proposing other formal alternatives. Even though their success is based on housing demand, this type of unit tends to be inadequate. Homeowners modify their homes with their own economic and technical means, without consulting an expert and thus doing away with uniform regulations.

Within this reality, it is necessary to step back and make an analysis from a social point of view, to be aware of the effect that these massive developments, constructed for more than a decade, have on the city. It is necessary for government organizations, responsible for the regulation of land, to systematize laws and norms for the type of housing that is required in Tijuana today. This reality could lead us to the same point of the first housing projects erected in the U.S. in the 50s and 60s.

The housing needed today by the inhabitants of Tijuana does not yet exist. A reconsideration of the costs, controls and search for and consumption of cheap land is needed, as well as the systematization of urban and housing norms that provide dignified spaces for residents. Services should be required based on density instead of land surface sold. Residential towers could bring a better quality of space within communities because Tijuana does not have a vast amount of land.

Research is needed in alternative construction systems and methods that permit the building of more economic houses because at the moment only one type of construction system is used. The active participation of the government is crucial in providing land to low-income families. Another alternative is to give support and technical advice for self-built projects. In order for this to take place, there needs to be a government with a social agenda instead of a commercial one.

In his aphoristic phrase, Mies went beyond urban conditions and dignified spaces; he was referring to the space of the modern man and the sublime. The only aspiration of this text is to comment on the housing needs that the inhabitants of the dynamic and multicultural city of Tijuana desire.

Miguel Escobar is an architect from Tijuana and is currently is a member of the architecture faculty at Universidad Iberoamericana. Escobar has his own practice primarily working with housing developers in Tijuana.


Two realities of housing: On top, informal communities that in a few years develop character and the serialized units below, where users have no choice but to break homogeneity by reconstructing them.



High walls that inhibit the continuation of the urban fabric and have become a marketable falsehood of a sense of security.