Today, four out of every five of its inhabitants, some 30 million people, live in cities. through the parallel and divergent socio-environmental histories of Amazonia’s most important cities: Manaus (Brazil) and Iquitos (Peru). Jungle Cities is a comparative history that documents a central tenet of the project of local, national, and transnational elites to create modernity: the attempt to overcome nature, and to displace the lifestyles and peoples associated with it. Since the advent of the steamship and the integration of Amazonia to global markets during the rubber boom of 1850-1920, elites and popular classes struggled to create stable built environments in the rainforest. After the boom, decades of economic stagnation turned even the achievement of basic infrastructure a formidable challenge. By the 1960s, both Amazonian cities faced the combined pressures of explosive urban growth and the anxieties of the Cold War era. Military-led authoritarian governments in Brazil and Peru responded through radically different strategies. I explore these strategies through governmental policies towards similar, seasonally waterlogged informal neighbourhoods in Manaus and Iquitos, which were stigmatized as manifestations of “environmental marginality.” Originally framed in familiar terms associated with transnational ideas about the urbanization of the Global South, policies ultimately differed because they were part of drastically different agendas towards Amazonia in Brazil and Peru. Since then, Iquitos remains organized around the management of social and environmental precariousness, with urban waters still a central issue, whereas Manaus became a “pole of development.” A demographic, commercial and industrial juggernaut, its influence reached far into the rainforest and, often tragically, it impacted the lives of Brazil’s native peoples.
As a Philomathia Fellow focused on “Ecologies in Place” at the Consortium for the Global South, I will focus on finishing my book about city growth in the Amazon rainforest. Jungle Cities: The Urbanization of Amazonia, studies how crucial region for the global ecosystem became urban during the twentieth century.The book is based on my doctoral dissertation, which was awarded the Urban History Association’s Michael Katz Award for Best Dissertation in Urban History about any region completed in 2020. It was funded by the Social Science Research Council and other competitive fellowships, and based on extensive multi-archival research in regional, thinly researched repositories in the Brazilian and Peruvian Amazon and in national capitals.