It’s easy to spot Eva as she makes her way through the dusty streets of Lomas. Her big blond hair, military boots and bold clothes, often self-customized, inspired her nickname “La Barbie del Centinela”. She’s a creative seamstress and earns her living by making costumes and small repairs for the neighbors.

Eva grew up at the old Guadalajara city center in a small apartment with her parents and five siblings. She stayed in the area with Martin, her husband, until her four kids were born. At that point Eva was worried about her future and her family at a rental place. What could happen when they grew old and couldn’t work anymore?

La Barbie’s dream was to have a spacious house of her own, close to nature, and very different from the crowded apartments she had experienced so far. She knew they had to secure a place for their uncertain future, so she convinced her reluctant husband to buy a piece of land via an installment from a local broker. She was aware the place wasn’t regular, but she took her chances. In the year 2000, the six of them moved to Lomas. At the time there was nothing in the area but the ravines and a few houses.

Ever since, they have been building their new home. Each new addition is carefully planned and earned with sweat. The house is in constant growth, just like the community and Eva herself. Now a grandma, she is an important leaders for more than 5 000 (2010) people in Lomas. She cares deeply about the community she chose to settle in for life, and she strives to provide access and opportunities to its residents. It was during her time presiding over the neighbors’ association that they got the first bus lines reaching the inner streets of the community. She also fearlessly led multiple demonstrations to the government to fight for their rights. People from Lomas rely on Eva to create a community that they might not otherwise have, and she’s proud of it.

La Barbie, la casa y la colonia sculpt each other. Never finished, always ready.

Lomas del Centinela - Guadalajara, Mexico

Across the ravines you can see Lomas del Centinela’s houses bravely standing on the slopes. One of the many of Guadalajara’s informal areas, this one started forming in 1985 by illegal purchase of rural land at the edges of the city. The urban mesh sprawls taking over the land, only stopped by the topography. In the 1960’s, it was estimated that only 1% of Guadalajara’s urban area had informal origins. In 2000 this number increased to 30%, a process that continues.

Guadalajara was founded in the 1500’s by Spanish colonizers following the same traditional spatial configuration as other Hispano-American colonies. A central urban grid surrounded by ejidos — publicly-owned reserves for city growth — followed by agricultural land that was concentrated in the hands of a few. The king was the ultimate owner of the land, and the municipality would distribute it arbitrarily based on the exchange of favors. Guadalajara grew after that and today it is today Mexico’s 2nd largest city. It’s metropolitan area is home to 4 million people (2010). Nevertheless, those foundations are still embedded in today’s policies of land use, often done with power-sharing purposes.

Another reminder of its colonial past is that people in Mexico call its neighborhoods created after the 1920’s las colonias (the colonies). This word traditionally means a group of people who are originally from a place and re-settle in another, but in Mexico it means the movement of people from the city center to the peripheries. This name acquired a new meaning when the increased demand for housing in the early 20th century attracted foreign real estate developers, largely North American and European. They brought with them hygienist concepts that broke with the logic of the historic center built with time based on its inhabitants’ necessities, house by house. Las colonias were new urban areas disconnected from the city fabric, delimited in its total area before occupation with standardized housing and separated from its adjacent areas by gardens. This created a sprawling model for Guadalajara’s urbanization, requiring great distances for travel within the city.

Los colonos (the colonists) from Lomas del Centinela know this problem well. Most of them work in the wealthy adjacent communities, that even though geographically close, are difficult to reach with the incipient public transportation routes available. Although still not legally recognized by authorities, Lomas gained throughout the decades a few infrastructural improvements, such as pavement and electricity in the main public street leading to their commercial center, Las Cinco Esquinas (The Five Corners). A quick stop there each morning for fresh tortillas is integral to the daily life of los colonos; another visit after a hard day’s work features a traditional meal of tortas ahogadas.

Las Cinco Esquinas is a source of pride and fear in Lomas. On one hand it marks the physical, social and commercial center of a community that is developing its own identity. On the other, it’s perceived as a meeting point for gangs and drug dealers. At night, many avoid that area, and other streets as well. Empty lots with incomplete construction projects, as well as a lack of public illumination makes nights in Lomas complicated and risky.

But tomorrow is another day. The sun will rise behind the ravines painting the sky in purples and pinks, and everything will be worth it. 

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