The Social Meaning of the SpaceX Project & SpaceX City 2021

Research output: Non-textual formDigital or Visual Products


The largest big ticket science project ever SpaceX and SpaceX City are a fascinating phenomenon and topic for social inquiry. Watching how it is that Latinos are being ousted from the homes and communities by Elon Musk is all too reminiscent of what happened in Chicano Park (my home), Dodger Stadium (Chavez Ravine) and the Auraria Higher Education Center (Denver), shall I go on?

SpaceX City: A Basis for Community Engagement & Political Action
These are my opening remarks to a group of local perceived Latino influentials of South Texas to discuss the re-organiz(ation) of cultural institutions, social capital and economic resources into new strategies for sustainable urban development related to the build-out of SpaceX City between Boca Chica and Brownsville, Texas. In short I am urging them to realize that all the stakeholders need to sit at the table, so to speak, including Musk, to create a new space, not just SpaceX, where the existing cultural makeup of the territory isn't simply pushed aside in favor of an artificial enclave of engineers and mathematicians, architects and artists with only Elon Musk mentality driving them.
Narrative/ Context, Activity, and Goals
Introductory Narrative
Context and Research for Community Engagement Surrounding SpaceX City in South Texas, by, Armando Arias
The changing of geo-political boundaries across continents, the unprecedented shifting of socio-cultural demographics produced by the ongoing explosion of urbanization across the world and economic challenges everywhere. Said challenges, coupled with the onset of the pandemic generate new conditions that call into question traditional methods of political intervention in the border region of South Texas between Boca Chica and Brownsville where community planning for the new SpaceX City is rapidly gaining momentum in the absence of local community input.  These intensified geo-economic and political dynamics begin to foreground once more the tensions between formal and informal urbanization, namely top down forces from SpaceX CEO Elon Musk on urban development at the scale of the SpaceX City as well as border region. Moreover, bottom up agencies of social and social ecological activism at the scale of the neighborhood, are systematically left out with no voice in the planning of the region.
The current complexity of these social, political and economic forces are rapidly gaining momentum in generating not only global but particularly regional zones of conflict along the U.S. – Mexico border at South Texas (Brownsville) and Northern Mexico (Matamoros). It is in the local where the drama of these collisions is magnified, transforming the territory, the city, the proposed SpaceX City, and the neighborhood as sites of contestation where different conditions of power are inscribed, at odds with one another. It is here at the Brownsville-Matamoros region, the an increasingly trafficked border in the State of Texas, where the current politics and economics of privatization and control, labor and immigration are manifested physically, dividing the territory between enclaves of mega wealth and sectors of marginality. And, now with the advent of the SpaceX project the marginality appears to be on the side of the colonization paradigm at a grand scale.
At the Brownsville-Matamoros border one oscillates back and forth across landscapes of contradiction between international border regions, two radically different ways of constructing urbanity. Unless political intervention is called upon immediately and as the SpaceX City begins its urban sprawl, what we will inevitably find in the next few years, is a juncture in the world that will give rise to some of the most expensive real state the state of Texas has ever seen. And at the same time we see developing side-by-side with some of the poorest settlements in Latin America, manifested by the many barrios/slums that dot the periphery of South Texas, located in the Brownsville region. But despite the apocalyptic implications of the current fortification of the border with intensified surveillance infrastructure, there are a series of invisible flows of social, economic and ecological traffic that transgress this formidable barrier, every day. Whether peoples, goods, services or the watershed, these trans-border invisible urbanisms speak of the new opportunities they yield for constructing alternative modes of sustainability, social encounter, dialogue, and debate, sharing resources and infrastructure and situations of this border region can allow new ways of conceptualizing housing and density, technological innovation, and community engagement for planning SpaceX City.
Ultimately, with the advent of SpaceX City these local zones of conflict and trans-border flows converge in the micro scale of the border neighborhood, transforming it into one of the most fascinating urban think tanks of our time. The micro politics and economics that are emerging within small communities across the contemporary State of Texas, in the form of non-conforming spatial and entrepreneurial practices, are defining a different idea of density and land use. One is left with the indelible impression, of a undeniable, bottom-up strategy necessary that suggests an urban and economic alternative to the power driven top down recipes of privatization implemented by the SpaceX Project, pointing to radically different conceptions of urbanization (along the South Texas border) that can thrive on social encounter and exchange, alternative  models of affordability and new definitions of property and realities of spatiality.
These realities cannot, and will not be taken lightly within the context of global trans-border dynamics, and the critical observation of the local socio-political and economic specificity of border neighborhoods, and must be recognized immediately in border neighborhoods on advancing new paradigms in affordable housing, innovation in the schools (new ways of knowing the STEM fields) and its relationship to regional culture, public infrastructure and more inclusive urban policies and social programs for SpaceX City. Said differently, this border region must be recognized as a partner by the SpaceX Project. Conversely, it has been  a productive zone to amplify and understand the conditions that have produced the current political crisis, lacking constructive inter-disciplinary dialog between stake-holders. In searching for political solutions trans-border dynamics must be taken into account in order to serve  as context to conceptualize a more meaningful socio-political role for community engagement of those local perceived influentials as designers and as producers of alternative political and economic frameworks that can serve as conduit for a more meaningful social change.
In seeking a new role for bridging essential gaps between the community and the SpaceX Project we are searching for a more meaningful creative process that transforms into social systems that are communicative. We are especially interested stirring the imagination and role of designers and community planners in this unprecedented time of crisis. Besides designing buildings or objects, architects and artists can contribute with the design of conditions that can promote the intensification of social relations and public culture at the different scales of the territory, the city, we promote the idea of a neighborhood, producing a more functional relationship in daily life.
To bring attention to the local ‘neighborhood’ as a site of investigation, while claiming the role of border regions as unique the reality of political crises found across trans-national communities can reveal new procedures that can re-organize cultural institutions, social capital and economic resources into new strategies for sustainable urban development. We claim that in our time of socio-economic emergency, it is from sites of scarcity and not places of abundance where the best ideas for urban development can be harvested. To produce new points of connection across fragmented domains of expertise.
There is currently the need to produce more critical relationship between the SpaceX Project and the Brownsville region connecting top down policies to grass roots organization. We would argue that it is primarily a cultural crisis. Hence there is a need to transform ways of thinking across institutions of urban development but also to enable a new kind of communication and interface with the public in order to raise meaningful awareness about what we all mean by rapid urban development in our region, namely  affordable housing, public infrastructure, workplace opportunities, technological applications and innovative educational programs. Simply stated we need new modes of engagement between the SpaceX Project and the publics in South Texas in order to develop shared meanings and a common vision for re-vitalizing civic participation across geographical scales and traditional institutional boundaries. Our paradigm for looking is that no advances in socially and political sustainable design can occur without the re-organization of existing political structures, economic resources and social capital that can promote alternative systems for 'in' and 'co' habitation. We aim to inspire community activists, developers and politicians to think differently about housing and infrastructure.
Original languageAmerican English
Media of outputOnline
StatePublished - Apr 2021


  • Social and Behavioral Sciences

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