In this issue CityPlan crosses the ocean to explore Mexico City, one of Latin America’s cultural capitals.
The metropolitan area of Greater Mexico City is home to more than 20 million people, making it one of the largest cities in the world. It is the largest city in the Western Hemisphere and the second largest in the world after Tokyo.
As usual, we examine the city by means of five GIS-generated maps graphically overlaid with data freely available on the Internet.
The first map shows population distribution in the territory. Comparing this with the others - showing the topography, availability and distribution of services and amenities, public transport and vegetation in the urban fabric, respectively - helps us assess whether the city has enjoyed largely well-balanced development or if, on the contrary, urban growth has been haphazard and uncontrolled.
The first map shows fairly clearly how Mexico City is the result of the progressive “compacting” of once independent areas. It also indicates that Mexico City is multi-centred. The picture resembles an extraordinarily intricate puzzle that could never be the result of drawing board planning. Each borough has its own special character. In contrast, the planned layout of the central area of the city is clearly evident. It is within this regular grid that most of the administration and government institutions and innumerable museums are located.
The natural contour map clearly shows Mexico City’s special geographical features: its location at more than two thousand metres above sea level on a huge plateau that becomes mountainous terrain towards the west, creating a natural boundary to urban expansion. On the opposite side, starting from the airport, the city starts to give way to agricultural land - which, however, will soon be taken over by a new international airport -.
The services map shows that service provision is fairly widely spread and distributed especially in residential areas, confirming yet again, the typical growth structure of a multi-centred city layout.
The public transport distribution map evidences perhaps the city’s biggest problem: its inadequate extension and cluster organization, unsuitable to a city of the size and extension of Mexico City. Broad swathes of the city are completely without public transport. The resultant reliance on private vehicle use is the cause of the city’s critical traffic problem.
Finally, the urban vegetation map shows parks and green spaces in proximity to the conglomeration. The mountains to the west, for example, are covered with virgin forest. The more central areas that have benefitted from planning do not, however, have any major green areas, with the exception of the Alameda Central urban park, with one of the oldest walkways of the city and the whole of Latin America.
Essentially multi-centred, Mexico City’s social and economic features are likewise grouped as separate units. While this has avoided the typical inefficiencies of hub-and-spoke cities where services and infrastructure are concentrated in a single urban centre, the sheer vastness and extension of the city bring their own criticalities. Mexico City’s future will most likely require a rethinking of its public mobility systems and the need to consider how virtuous cities, like London, have tackled the problem.