Mexico City: what it’s like to live in a metropolis with 25 million inhabitants

108 | Mexico City

Luis Barragán, Satélite Towers, Mexico City, 1957

The capital of the Estados Unidos Mexicanos  (the country’s official name according to article 44 of its constitution) in addition to being the seat of power of the union is, itself, a Federal District; thus it is a political, economic and social agglomeration to which the term of “city”, also in the light of the over 25 million people who inhabit the entire metropolitan area, appears rather inadequate. In the annual urban reports published by the United Nations, Mexico City was, in 2003, the second largest megalopolis in the world, after Tokyo, for number of inhabitants, with a growth rate that, though somewhat slower than during the Eighties and Nineties, shows no signs of ceasing; it is the eighth metropolis on the planet for Gross Domestic Product, one of the most sprawling, with a latitude of over fifty kilometers in the north-south direction and about 35 kilometers along the east-west line, at an altitude of 2300 meters above sea level. This enormous mass of buildings and concentration of people, which has grown with extreme rapidity, as the architect and critic Jose Castillo reports “only in the last 100 years, is the cause of one of the greatest environmental upheavals in process in the history of human activities, the beginning of the end of an ecosystem where every form of previous natural life has disappeared. The ancient group of lakes that occupied much of the area of the Federal District to form a rich basin of water has been drained over the years; already in 1900 president Diaz inaugurated a complex of works to drain all the aquifers in the valley and suppress of every form of lacustrian life. In time, all the forests that stretched up into the surrounding mountains disappeared, and with them most of the fauna. The predictable ecological and environmental disaster reached its peak at the beginning of the Eighties when, in the face of the obvious, unsustainable condition of atmospheric pollution, through a policy of fiscal incentives and facilitations, the city finally undertook a project for the decentralization of part of the industrial activities, distributed in over 54 industrial parks that extend on an area of 2,500 hectares; it also intensified the improvement and construction of a vast public transport system centered on the subway network undertaken starting in 1969 – with over 180 stations spread in 12 lines that permit the daily movement of about 5 million passengers – with provision for the creation of a system of air quality control and monitoring –, and introduced the method of alternate license plate numbers for motor vehicle circulation; it has even declared over half the territory an Ecological Reserve Area. However, it is easy to understand how every possible attempt to respond to the problems of a similar human concentration is thwarted by the complexity of living conditions which are always subject to the occurrence of uncontrollable events, from the floods of the old days to the recent earthquakes – the one in 1985 was particularly violent and destructive – or foreseeable and known events that, at the same time, tend to occur imperceptibly, like the creation of the so-called “informal city”, where it is next to impossible to combat poverty, crime, traffic, crowding, pollution, the quality of the buildings and urban spaces. Juan Villoro, a Mexican writer and journalist, described the city as “…an untidy galaxy…” in which, he declares, simply: “… there are too many of us”. And also with respect to the demographic increase and urban growth: “We have a bizarre situation here: we moved to a different city without ever leaving home, we live in a nomadic metropolis”. Effectively, the city and the conditions of its inhabitants change continually, while the decision timing of politics and urban science, even when endowed with exceptional analytical and synthetic skill, and able to formulate valid project proposals, is always late with respect to the living needs in a place that seems like a sort of gigantic particle accelerator powered by the pressure of the economy and speculation that compresses every bit of breathing space and never stops. According to Javier Barreiro Cavestany, “Before such an apocalyptic scenario, it is almost a miracle that the city functions at all. But it is not less surprising that, in the midst of the chaos of traffic, the problems of waste disposal, pollution, speculation, the mafias and social conflicts, the city continues to produce top quality designer architecture”. Just as it must not surprise us that in some cases, certain portions of the fabric that have grown spontaneously discover a vital dimensions of their own, that is multifunctional, multiethnic and thus multicultural: a dimension that basically expresses the very identity of Mexico City, what it means to be a megalopolis.

area 108 – Mexico City

          presentazione/introduction Città del Messico abitare una conurbazione di 25.000.000 di abitanti text by Marco Casamonti editoriale/editorial la città caleidoscopica text by Marella Santangelo saggi/essays Dust…

La città caleidoscopica

Kaleidoscopic City When my dream finally came true and I was able to visit Mexico City for the first time, in August 2006, the city was in the hands of…

Dust in the Wind

Mexico City is a dusty city. Or, better, Mexico City is a windy and sometimes dry city and, therefore, a dusty city. Dust, in Mexico, is an index – in…

L‘identità nella dimensione

Marella Santangelo: What town planning instruments are currently used in Mexico City, and what plans and programs do you adopt? Felipe Leal: A number of planning instruments are used, as…

Mexico City: a city of outsides

For some time now Mexico City has existed in the global imaginary as one of the largest cities in the world; a paradigm of urbanization in the 20th century and…

Casa Negra

During the late 90´s the growth of suburbial areas of Mexico City was restricted as a part of Bando 2 program, which intended to slow down the spreading of the…

Falcon Headquarters

The company, Corporativo Falcon, dedicated to instruments and medical equipment, required a new headquarters building in Mexico City. The premise, besides the need of greater area and a space designed…

Tecnoparque

The intention of the project is to create a high-technology office campus to provide space for call centers, service centers and data centers; with world-class specifications. The campus will hold…

Ave Fenix Fire Station

English writer Thomas Quincy talked in his classic (Confessions of an English opium-eater) of the pleasure that, after making sure all possible victims and risk were absent, a burning building…

Meditation House

This is a project with very strong emotional implications. We had to understand the mood of the user, who at such this moment would not care very much for an…

José Vasconcelos Public Library

The project integrates the public library with a botanical garden. A 250 meter steel, concrete and glass structure surrounded by greenery and water. The design is based in four fundamental…

Terminal 2

In response to the increasing number of passengers in Terminal 1 of the Mexico City international Airport, the federal government set up a Metropolitan System of airports with the objective…

House of the Alley

Finishing off a alley of a popular colony in the skirts of the Ajusco, the house of three plants tries to integrate itself to the context with a material of…

Nestlé Chocolate Museum

While Nestlé’s chocolate Factory in Mexico City (located in Paseo Tollocan near Toluca) was in need of an inner pathway for visitors to witness the production of their favorite chocolates,…

Ozuluama House

“La Condesa” a Trendy Mexico City neighborhood of engaging contrasts, has exploded remarkably in the last few years. Home not only to new restaurants, bars, galleries and cafes but also…

Estudio Explanada

This artist’s studio is located in a residential area in the west corner of Mexico City, over a 20m x 40m site. The project has an underground parking space and…

Soumaya Museum

Emerging from the ground; the Soumaya Museum will be a central attraction in a new development within metropolitan Mexico City. The 17,000 sqm building will have an exhibit area of…

El Pedregal de San Angel

Luis Barragan, House at Avenida de las Fuentes 12, Jardines del Pedregal, Mexico City, 1949-50. Photo Armando Salas Portugal © Barragan Foundation, Switzerland / ProLitteris / SIAE A sea of…

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