Measuring Globalization's Influence on the Cultural Landscape: Spatial Succession in the Plaza of Ponce, Puerto Rico

By Tillman, Benjamin F. | Southeastern Geographer, Winter 2009 | Go to article overview

Measuring Globalization's Influence on the Cultural Landscape: Spatial Succession in the Plaza of Ponce, Puerto Rico


Tillman, Benjamin F., Southeastern Geographer


Geographers often view the plaza and its surrounding architecture as one of the most traditional and conservative aspects of the Latin American cultural landscape. However, the Latin American plaza is becoming Anglo Americanized due to increasingly international economic and cultural exchanges resulting from globalization. This paper reports changes in the types of businesses located adjacent to the plaza of Ponce, Puerto Rico from 1907-2000. Careful study of land use history in Ponce's plaza demonstrates that multinational banks, fast food chains, and clothing stores are replacing local business establishments. Spatial succession is used as a conceptual framework to examine change over time in the ownership and function of buildings located adjacent to the plaza. Municipal tax records are used as a source of data to find the type and rate of change over several decades. The data reveal that in 1907 there was only one international business located adjacent to the plaza. By 2000, seven of the thirty two lots facing the plaza were occupied by international chain stores, and an additional nine lots contained locally owned businesses with English names. The most rapid change occurred between 1980 and 2000. The findings of this research indicate changes that may eventually occur in plazas throughout Latin America as historically distinct places become increasingly similar in their outward appearance due to globalization.

Los geografos generalmente yen las plazas y Ia arquitectura que las rodea como uno de los aspectos mas tradicionales y conservadores del paisaje cultural latinoamericano. Sin embargo, la plaza latinoamericana se esta americanizando debido a los crecientes intercambios internacionales economicos y culturales resultantes de la globalizacion. Este estudio reporta los cambios en los tipos de negocio localizados adyacentes a la Plaza Ponce, Puerto Rico desde 1907 hasta 2000. Un estudio cuidadoso de Ia utilizacion historica del terreno en la Plaza Ponce demuestra que, los bancos, las cadenas de comida rapida y las tiendas de ropa multinacionales, estan reemplazando a los establecimientos de negocio locales. La sucesion espacial se usa como un marco conceptual para examinar el cambio a traves del tiempo en la propiedad y funcion de los edificios ubicados junto a la plaza. Registros de impuestos municipales son usados como una fuente de datos para encontrar el tipo y tasa de cambio a traves de varias decadas. Los datos revelan que en 1907 habia un solo negocio internacional ubicado adyacente a la plaza. Para el ano 2000, siete de los treinta y dos lores que miran hacia la plaza estaban ocupados por tiendas de cadenas internacionales, y unos nueve lotes adicionales contenian negocios locales con nombres ingleses. El cambio mas rapido ocurrio entre 1980 y 2000. Los resultados de esta investigacion indican cambios que pudieran ocurrir con el tiempo en plazas por toda Latinoamerica, ya que historicamente sitios distintos se van haciendo cada vez mas similares en su apariencia externa debido a la globalizacion.

KEY WORDS: globalization, Puerto Rico, cultural landscape, Latin America, plaza, historical geography

INTRODUCTION

Latin Americanist scholars have long considered the Spanish American plaza and its surrounding architecture to be the epitome of the Latin American cultural landscape. For example, geographer Daniel Gade wrote that the plaza is the "psychologically central focus of the community (Gade 1976, p 1)." For Joseph Scarpaci plazas are "mirrors of Latin American culture" that can be interpreted "for insights ... [into] cultural identity (2005, p 49)." For the anthropologist Setha Low "Plazas are spatial representations of Latin American society (2000, p 33)."

However, this view of the plaza and its surrounding architecture should be modified because of the increasing number of multinational corporations establishing businesses there, resulting in a cultural landscape that appears to be almost as "global," or North American, as Latin American. …

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