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Planting the modern city. The role of plants in the modernisation of Bogotá, Colombia (1880-1920)

Molina, D. (2021) Planting the modern city. The role of plants in the modernisation of Bogotá, Colombia (1880-1920). PhD thesis, University of Reading

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To link to this item DOI: 10.48683/1926.00104888


Cities are inhabited not only by humans but also by plants. However, urban history has underplayed the role of plants in urban areas, largely perceiving them as a passive raw material in exclusively human-created cities. Drawing on the Latin American urban and gardening history, this thesis offers an alternative way of thinking about plants in cities, considering them as social actors actively involved in the symbolic and material development of the modern city. Specifically, this thesis examines how the modernisation of Bogotá involved a transformation in the ways of perceiving and interacting with plants, thereby engendering a change in the role of plants in the city. This research adopts a historical methodology based upon diverse sources, including newspaper articles, personal letters, maps, and photographs, as well as original sources such as literature and herbarium collections. The thesis comprises the following empirical chapters. Chapter Four explores the urban spaces where human-plant interactions were performed in pre-modern Bogotá. This chapter reveals that whereas upper class citizens experienced ornamental plants in domestic spaces such as patios and backyards, lower class citizens were in contact with an array of spontaneous and wild plants that they exploited based on vernacular knowledge. Chapter Five shows that the modernisation of Bogotá involved the creation of public green spaces based on the systematic use of plants, and how plants were endowed with new meanings and played an essential role in the creation of urban civility. Chapter Six shows how this transition to modern urban flora was enabled through the active intervention of people who acclimatised introduced plants and translated European ideas of green spaces into the local conditions to thereby contribute to the creation of a hybrid city characterised by a blend of floras. Finally, taking the use of eucalyptus in Bogotá as an example, Chapter Seven reveals the socioecological contradictions and conflicts that arose when pre-modern botanical knowledge and practices were replaced with modern ways of being-with plants in the city. The study reveals that the modernisation of Bogotá entailed a transformation in previous ways of using and understanding plants, and how the particularities of this emergent human-plant relationship endowed the city with a unique way of expressing its urban modernity. This thesis demonstrates that the city is not only a human-made product and elucidates the key role that plants have had in its historical development. The main contribution of this thesis is that it represents the first attempt to demonstrate that the transformation of green spaces as part of the city’s modernisation in Latin America was not only a matter of design but also entailed a restructuring of historically-produced relationships between people and plants

Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Thesis Supervisor:Feola, G. and Geoghegan, H.
Thesis/Report Department:Department of Geography & Environmental Science
Identification Number/DOI:
Divisions:Science > School of Archaeology, Geography and Environmental Science > Department of Geography and Environmental Science
ID Code:104888
Date on Title Page:November 2020


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