Divining Providencia

Envisioning a Bio-Cultural Capitol for the Amazon

cityLAB, led by Co-Director Roger Sherman and working in tandem with Pontifica Universidad Catolica Ecuador (PUCE), is working with the provincial government of Sucumbios to generate ideas and a plan for a new town in the Ecuadorian Amazon, to be called Puerto Providencia, and the surrounding territory. The site is located along the Napo River along the new Manaos (Amazon)-to-Manta (Pacific) ‘transport axis’, part of a larger effort by the twelve South American countries to speed the export of natural resources to the Asian market. The new inland port city is one of ten new infrastructural “hubs” of the soon-to-be completed continental network being built as part of the Initiative for the Integration of Regional Infrastructure in South America (IIRSA).

The project for Providencia envisions the new port city as a material and ethnographic analogue of the Amazon: an aggregation of differing yet interdependent artisanal trade associations and products. Anchored by both local industry as well as research institutions, the plan leverages the opportunities presented by the through-put of resources there to become a new model of transshipment zone: one which synthesizes the Amazon’s trove of natural resources with the unique skills of the local indigenous workforce. As such, Providencia’s importance is not just as a physical location, but as a conservation and business plan, whereby the knowledge and metis of indigenous people is renewed through its continual and active application. This is employed in two principal ways. The first is through the development of “intermediate products”: the refinement of raw resources arriving there (locally or by boat from the wider basin) into higher value exports, which might range from new foods (the next acai or quinoa) to holistic medicines to textiles to natural cleaning products. By deriving a greater percentage of the final foreign sales price from the finished goods to which they will be contributing their skills and labor, locals will share in the economic vitality, economy of scale and expediency of this new, “fair” version of the trade zone.

Divining Providencia is one of 10 such projects being conducted under a larger research initiative, The South American Project (SAP; www.sap-network.org), organized by Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. Funded by the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies, SAP engages the expertise, resources and ideas of the architecture and related design disciplines (urban planning, landscape architecture, etc.) toward the development of new formal, social and ecological models of urbanization to address the land use impacts of the IIRSA projects. It will culminate in a publication and international exhibition opening at the 2013 South America Biennale in Buenos Aires.

Roger Sherman (Team Leader)
David Bergman (Metropolitan Research and Economics), Economist , www.mrpluse.com
Greg Lindsay, Author/Journalist greg@babelfish.net
Zoe Melo, Owner, TOUCH www.do-not-touch.com
Dana Cuff, Director cityLAB
Santiago del Hierro, Pontifica Universidad Católica del Ecuador (Parallel Studio Partner, Ecuador) LinkedIn
Francisco Grijalva, IUS Law, fgrijalva@iuslaw.ec

Paul Nakazawa, Harvard Graduate School of Design
Susanna Hecht, Professor, UCLA Department of Urban Planning
Peter Sinsheimer, Exec. Dir. UCLA Sustainable Technology & Policy Program, petersinsheimer@ucla.edu