Unnatural Disaster: Infrastructure in Puerto Rico Before, During, and After Hurricane Maria

In January of 2018, four months after Hurricane Maria devastated the island, Puerto Rico’s Governor Ricardo Rosselló announced a plan to privatize the US territory’s publicly owned power utility, the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA). This action—exposing infrastructure's place at the convergence of colonialism, finance, and 150-mile per hour winds—came as no surprise to those who had been paying attention. Nonetheless, its implications are sure to be felt well beyond the thousands of residents who remained without power months after Hurricane Maria made landfall. 

Rosselló’s subsequent push to commence privatization of the island’s public school system emphatically echoed and underscored these facts. While many fields are involved in addressing the crisis on the island, GSAPP believed a more focused, historically informed conversation on the roles of architecture, planning, and preservation in both the production and management of these ever-more-frequent emergencies—especially as they pertain to infrastructure—was warranted. 

This panel was co-organized by Columbia GSAPP's Urban Planning, Urban Design, and Historic Preservation Programs, the Center for Spatial Research, and the Temple Hoyne Buell Center for the Study of American Architecture, in conjunction with the Buell Center’s “Power: Infrastructure in America” research initiative, which considered infrastructural systems and processes as sites of sociotechnical and ecological governmentality at the intersection of neoliberalism and nationalism. 

The event was free and open to the public.

Ivis Garcia Zambrana, The University of Utah
Marcelo López-Dinardi, Texas A&M University
Mark Martin Bras, Vieques Conservation & Historical Trust
Andrés Mignucci, University of Puerto Rico
Frances Negrón-Muntaner, Columbia University
Ingrid Olivo, GIZ Sustainable Intermediate Cities Program

In conversation with Hiba Bou Akar, GSAPP, and Monxo López, Hunter College

Three people walk hand-in-hand through knee-deep water on a flooded street with power lines overhead on an overcast day.

Condado, San Juan, Puerto Rico, Sept. 22, 2017, following Hurricane Maria (Sgt. Jose Ahiram Diaz-Ramos, Puerto Rico National Guard)



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