This case explores the decision-making process that goes into planning and implementing large infrastructure projects. The scenario describes a situation where the Bolivian government plans to build a bridge across the Beni River near the town of Rurrenabaque, with the hopes of stimulating regional and national economic development . While national planners are looking for the fastest and cheapest option, the people who live in the community would like to protect the national parks and idyllic scenery that makes Rurrenabaque a tourist destination. Farmers who live in the surrounding rural areas, however, prefer the route proposed by the national government. Students will take on the role of a neutral mediator, tasked with facilitating a final decision on the bridge’s placement considering financial cost, environmental impact, public health concerns, economic development, and political support. The case teaches students about the tensions that often emerge between rural and urban residents, national and local priorities, and differing views of what constitutes “development”.

Planning Topics

economic development, environmental planning, governance, decentralization, participatory planning, infrastructure planning, planning ethics, regional planning, transportation planning, technocratic planning, social justice

Learning Objectives

  1. Identify the local divisions that can produce multiple, conflicting “community” views on major planning decisions.
  2. Explain how visions of “development” can vary, depending on whether actors value income, the environment, indigenous rights, public health, and other considerations.
  3. Consider the common trade-offs in large-scale infrastructure projects between individual and collective good.
  4. Realize that there can be frequent tensions between urban and rural actors over major development projects.
  5. Recognize that there are often dozens of “indigenous” groups that can be divided along different political lines, ethnic backgrounds, livelihood priorities, and historical interactions. Articulate how the history of land reform in Bolivia created tensions between indigenous groups from the highlands and lowlands that continue to this day.
  6. Describe some of the main actors involved in infrastructure development projects, both internal and external. Understand the influence international organizations have and their shifting roles as states re-centralize and other international actors (in this case, Chinese companies and investors) become major players.

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Suggested Readings

  1. Costoya, M. (2013). Latin American Post-Neoliberal Development Thinking: The Bolivian ‘Turn’ Toward Suma Qaman. European Journal of Development Research, 25: 213–229. Read the abstract.
  2. Webber, J. (2012). Revolution against “progress”: The TIPNIS struggle and class contradictions in Bolivia. International Socialism. Download the full paper.
  3. Escobar, A. (2010). Latin America at a crossroads. Alternative modernizations, post-liberalism, or post-development. Latin American Cultural Studies, 24(1): 1-65. Download the full paper.
  4. Kohl, B. (2003). Democratizing decentralization in Bolivia: The Law of Popular Participation. Journal of Planning Education and Research 23:153-164. Read the abstract.
  5. Read the case author’s blog.