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Mexico City: Power, Equity, and Sustainable Development

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Part of the book series: Library for Sustainable Urban Regeneration ((LSUR,volume 10))


In the summer of 2002, a failed attempt to build a $2.5-billion international airport in the outskirts of Mexico City caused social upheaval. Originally framed as a sound environmental decision to replace the old and limited infrastructure in the central city, the project was later marketed as a way to boost the real estate market. When the affected peasants of the municipality of Atenco realized that the airport project would generate more than a $100 billion in business revenues and increase the land value up to 500%, the $0.65 per square meter offered by the government for their land seemed inconsistent with the projected profits. The economic model behind the project was characterized by Harvey (2003) as a process of “accumulation by dispossession,” since the venture followed extensive privatization the financialization of the economy, the management and manipulation of crises, as well as state redistribution of wealth. The model had been challenged since the insurgency of the Zapatistas in 1994, and Atenco’s mobilization followed a similar resistance to the concentration of power and wealth.

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  1. 1.

    In fact, the social production of housing (mostly informal) was possible due to the availability of communally owned agricultural land.

  2. 2.

    The wastewater is pumped out of the city by giant machines, and estimates indicate that in the event of a general failure, the city would be under several feet of raw sewage within hours.

  3. 3.

    Since this time, some areas in downtown Mexico have sunk about 9 m. Today, Mexico City is sinking between 5 and 40 cm a year.

  4. 4.

    Nevertheless, the mayor has also undertaken harder measures, such as removing street vendors from the historic center or expropriating areas in the city where criminal activities thrived. Although these actions appear to be a natural way to restore order, they have also revealed the authoritarian side of the current administration.

  5. 5.

    However, the real value of “public consultations” has been called into question since they have been used to legitimize policies that would not be approved in a referendum.

  6. 6.

    Even if a year in office is not enough to evaluate the reliability of a city government, it provides the framework of policies to come in the next years.

  7. 7.

    Barcelona has long been the poster child of politically correct urban planning for Latin America. Former Barcelona officials such as Jordi Borja, Joan Busquets, and others had been hired as consultants for several cities such as Bogotá, Buenos Aires, Mexico, and Santiago, promoting public spaces and environmental quality.


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Correspondence to Alfonso Valenzuela-Aguilera .

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Valenzuela-Aguilera, A. (2011). Mexico City: Power, Equity, and Sustainable Development. In: Sorensen, A., Okata, J. (eds) Megacities. Library for Sustainable Urban Regeneration, vol 10. Springer, Tokyo.

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