Why Yachay? Cities, Knowledge, and Development: The Unthinkable City

Miguel Angel Fernandez Gonzalez

Research output: Book/ReportAnthologyResearch


Described as the most important project in Ecuador’s history Yachay, meaning knowledge, or to know, in Kichwa, is an urban development initiative conceived as the bridge towards a society free from the dependent exploitation of nature. Embracing the current wave of optimism that surrounds open source platforms of information sharing, Yachay has been projected as new ‘knowledge haven’. The idea of creating a ‘knowledge city’ from scratch able to chart a path in the global economy, spark innovation and attract foreign investment is not new in the thinking about the role that ‘global cities’ can play in economic development. Yet the Yachay project it is the first such large-scale endeavor to be undertaken in Latin America, and perhaps even more noteworthy in one of the countries associated with the wave of “postneoliberal” regimes in the region. This chapter reports on foiled attempts to conduct ethnographic research around Yachay. In April 2015 we set out on four months of field work with the hope of seeing, hearing and writing about ‘Yachay: The City of Knowledge’. We wanted to think, reflect and learn about one of the most thrilling urban plans to have emerged in Ecuador, if not the whole of Latin America. To our surprise we were systematically prevented from exploring the emblematic project of the so-called ‘Citizen’s Revolution’. We draw together first-hand experiences that run-counter to the glossy eulogies that can be found in the public projection of the ‘city of the future’ or the ‘first planned city in Ecuador’. Given the paucity of informed critical information, the chapter hopes to contribute to filling this gap by relaying our experiences of talking to a frightened neighbor; listening to the complaints of the municipality that is Yachay’s home; discovering how the legal processes for expropriation play out through displacement on the ground; reporting on the dashed hopes of the first wave of ambitious architects and urbanists sincerely espousing their vision of the ‘new urbanism of Buen Vivir’ – a city made for people. We include reflections on the urban plans, with idealized overtones of East Asian ‘Smart Cities’ or new-fangled ‘Charter Cities’, in which the six local communities are notable only through their physical absence. Therefore, framed against the impossibility of knowing Yachay: The City of Knowledge, the chapter is structured around a series of irreconcilable contradictions which are expressed through competing visions: the philosopher’s city; the urbanist´s city, the economist’s city; the citizen’s city. Interweaving ethnographic research with a critical analysis of the spatial and economic model we argue that Yachay is an idiosyncratic expression of an idealized open knowledge-economy within material conditions of urban enclosure.
Original languageAmerican English
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2018


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