Skip to content
CityLab
Design

How Concrete Cemented Its Place in History

The Undercover Economist explains why this ancient building material came to dominate the world today—and why that could be a problem in the future.
relates to How Concrete Cemented Its Place in History
Washington Alves/Reuters

About 15 years ago, poor families in the Coahuila state in Mexico were offered an unusual handout from a social program called Piso Firme. It wasn’t a place at school, a vaccination, food, or even money. It was $150 worth of ready-mixed concrete.

Workers would drive concrete mixers through poor neighborhoods, stop outside the home of a needy family, and pour out the porridgelike mixture, through the door, right into the living room. Then they would show the occupants how to spread and smooth the gloop, and make sure they knew how long to leave it to dry. And they’d drive off to the next house.