Ground subsidence in Mexican cities

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May 112015
 

The sinking of parts of Mexico City into the former lake bed on which much of it is built is well documented, but to what extent does subsidence also affect other Mexican cities?

Estell Chaussard and her co-authors considered this question in their article entitled “Magnitude and extent of land subsidence in central Mexico revealed by regional InSAR ALOS time-series survey.” Subsidence, often resulting from over-depletion of ground water, has a range of human impacts, including decreased supply of safe water, an increase in flood risk, and a greater hazard threat from building or street failure.

In their time-series analysis of more than 600 Synthetic Aperture Radar (InSAR) images of central Mexico, the authors found evidence of significant subsidence in seventeen cities, including sixteen cities with a population of 100,000 inhabitants or more. The cities affected (with their population in parentheses) are listed here from east to west:

  • Puebla (2,500,000)
  • Mexico City (21,000,000)
  • Toluca (427,000)
  • Querétaro (825,000)
  • San Luis de la Paz (101,000)
  • Celaya (266,000)
  • San Luis Potosí (936,000)
  • Morelia (537,000)
  • Salamanca (144,000)
  • Irapuato (317,000)
  • Silao (147,000)
  • León (1,400,000)
  • Aguascalientes (735,000)
  • Zamora (186,000)
  • Guadalajara (3,800,000)
  • Ahuacatlán (6,500)
  • Tepic (261,000)

Their analysis suggested that the rates of subsidence over a two-year period were nearly constant at most locations, typically between 5 and 10 cm/yr. (In contrast, subsidence in Mexico City was around 30 cm/yr, in line with previous studies.)

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Ground failure by groundwater withdrawal subsidence. Credit: Natural Science, Vol. 6, No 3, 2014.

An earlier study – Subsidence risk due to groundwater extraction in urban areas using fractal analysis of satellite images – had found that the intense groundwater pumping regime in Irapuato for urban supply and agriculture (the area is one of Mexico’s main strawberry-growing centers) had resulted in 18 subsidence fault systems with a total length of 27 km, causing damages to more than 200 houses.

Meanwhile, previous work in nearby Celaya – Subsidence in Celaya, Guanajuato, Central Mexico: implications for groundwater extraction and the neotectonic regime – found that subsidence in that city was due to a complex combination of factors, and not entirely due to excessive groundwater extraction. Most earth fissures in the Celaya area were related to pre-existing structural features, and the authors suggested that thermal springs also appeared to play a role.

References:

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Mexico’s urban hierarchy

 Excerpts from Geo-Mexico  Comments Off on Mexico’s urban hierarchy
May 072015
 

Mexico’s urban hierarchy is still very dominated by Mexico City, its primate capital city. Even though the Mexico City urban area (ZMCM) has grown relatively slowly during the past 30 years, by 2000 it had a population of 17.8 million, almost five times larger than Guadalajara, instead of twice as large as expected from the rank size rule.

The concept of urban hierarchy is more complicated than the rank-size rule, which is based solely on population size. Urban hierarchy is based more on the functions provided by urban centers and their relationships with their hinterlands. An urban hierarchy is conceptually similar to an organization chart or layered pyramid. At the top is the largest center, the dominant financial, economic, and often political center of the country. It has the widest range and most complex set of urban functions and services such as international banking, stock exchanges, trade organizations, and major media and communications centers. It is the center of power of the country: the place where the most important decisions are made.

Fig 21-2 of Geo-Mexico; all rights reserved

Fig 21-2 of Geo-Mexico; all rights reserved

At the second level are a few regional cities that are the centers of power in their region or hinterland. They provide high level services that are not available elsewhere in the region. Such services might include investment banking, an important international airport, as well as sophisticated business, legal and medical centers. At the third level are a larger number of subregional centers which are the focus of economic activity in their subregion. At each succeeding lower level, there are a greater number of centers serving as the economic foci of their smaller hinterlands.

Often a center’s population is a guide to its level in the hierarchy, but not always. Some centers may have a large population, but do not provide a wide range of key economic functions to surrounding areas. For example, Puebla is Mexico’s fourth largest urban area, but does not serve as a real center for a national region because it is so close to Mexico City. In other words, Mexico City is so economically dominant in central Mexico that Puebla has been unable to carve out a substantial hinterland of its own. The same can be said for Toluca, Mexico’s fifth largest urban area.

Tourist centers like Cancún and Acapulco are other examples of cities that have a reduced regional importance despite their relatively large populations. They provide vacation and recreation services for visitors from around the world. However, neither is a state capital, and they are not necessarily the key functional center in their respective regions.

Given their complexity, the specific delineation of urban hierarchies has often been as much art as science. So far, no uniformly accepted, easy to use criteria have been developed for this purpose. Efforts to delineate urban hierarchies have traditionally used information on the range of services provided; financial, communication and transportation flows; as well as a center’s location, its surrounding hinterland, and the distance to competing centers.

Mexico City is at the apex on the Mexican urban hierarchy; Guadalajara and Monterrey are key second level cities. Beyond these three centers, there is less agreement concerning the appropriate levels of other urban centers. Some think there are only two genuine level two cities, while others have argued that Toluca, Tijuana and Ciudad Juárez should also be considered level two cities. There is even less agreement when it comes to specifying cities in levels three and four. The exact delineation of the levels is less important than understanding the basic concepts of urban hierarchy and realizing that a city’s level is related to the range of functions it provides to its surrounding hinterland.

The suggested current urban hierarchy of Mexico (see map) is based on objective and subjective information on the urban center itself, as well as the population in its hinterland and its distance from a competing urban center. This hierarchy is only suggestive. Intermediate levels could be added indicating centers that could arguably be included in either the level above or level below.

The current hierarchy is not static and is very different from the urban system of the Colonial era, or even of the 19th century. The one constant is that Mexico City has always been at the apex of the hierarchy. The positions of  individual cities may change drastically with changing economic and political conditions. For example, Guanajuato was once an important level two city, but with the decline of its silver mines, it dropped below level five.

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May 042015
 

The Haciendas of Mexico: An Artist’s Record, by Paul Alexander Bartlett, first published in 1990 and now available as a free Gutenburg pdf or Epub, is a great starting point for anyone interested in the history, economics, art and architecture of the hundreds of colonial haciendas which still grace Mexico’s rural areas. Bartlett made one of the earliest artistic records of more than 350 of these haciendas, dragging his family around the country for years as he obsessively explored lesser-known places. The photographs and pen and ink illustrations in his outstanding book were made on site from 1943 to 1985.

bartlett-hacienda-1

Pen-and-ink drawing of Hacienda de Teya, Yucatán, by Paul Bartlett.

Bartlett’s hacienda art work has been displayed at the Los Angeles County Museum, the New York City Public Library, the University of Virginia, the University of Texas, the Instituto Mexicano-Norteamericano in Mexico City, and at the Bancroft Library, among other places.

Paul Alexander Bartlett (1909-1990) attended Oberlin College and the University of Arizona, before studying art at the National University of Mexico (UNAM) and in Guadalajara. He was an instructor in creative writing at Georgia State College, Editor of Publications at the University of California Santa Barbara (1964-70) and wrote dozens of short stories and poems. His books include the short novel Adios, mi México (1983), and the novel When the Owl Cries (1960).

Writing must run in the family. Bartlett’s wife was the well-known poet and writer Elizabeth Bartlett (1911-1994). The couple met in Guadalajara in 1941 and married two years later in Sayula. Their son Steven James Bartlett is a widely published author in the fields of psychology and philosophy.

In the foreward to The Haciendas of Mexico: An Artist’s Record, novelist James Michener writes that:

I first became aware of the high artistic merit of Paul Bartlett’s work on the classic haciendas of Old Mexico when I came upon an exhibition in Texas in 1968. His drawings, sketches, and photographs evoked so effectively the historic buildings I had known when working in Mexico that I wrote to the architect-artist to inform him of my pleasure.”

Gisela von Wobeser observes, in her introduction, that,

When Bartlett began his hacienda visits in the 1940s, he found many of the hacienda buildings in ruins, exposed to the ravages of time and vandalism. Buildings had been converted into chicken coops, pigsties, public apartments, and machine shops. Others served as sources for construction materials, from which were scavenged rocks, bricks, beams, and tiles for the habitations of the local population. In some cases the destruction was total: All the hacienda’s structures were removed, and only the name of the place alluded to the fact that a hacienda had ever existed there.

At other haciendas, buildings were adapted to new uses. They were transformed into hotels, resorts, government buildings, barracks, hospitals, restaurants, and schools. The exterior of the buildings were generally left intact; interiors were completely changed.

The best—preserved hacienda buildings were those that continued to function as country properties or vacation homes. In these, Bartlett often found furnishings and utensils from the epoch of Don Porfirio, surrounded by the old traditions of Mexican country life.”

von Wobeser makes the useful distinction between three types of hacienda: those where grains were the main output, those specializing in cattle-rearing, and those for sugar-cane cultivation and processing.

The book describes haciendas in almost every state of the Republic. A handy map and list are provided of which haciendas are located in each state. There are more than 100 pen-and-ink illustrations and photographs in total in the book, which is arranged in seven chapters:

  1. The Hacienda System
  2. Through the Eyes of Hacienda Visitors
  3. Hacienda Life
  4. Fiestas
  5. Education
  6. The Revolution
  7. Mexico Since the Revolution

The accompanying text, written from a non-specialist perspective, is always lively, informative and interesting. The style of illustrations is varied, in keeping with the immense variety of haciendas that the author explored and sketched.

bartlett-hacienda-zapotitan

Pen-and-ink drawing by Paul Bartlett of Hacienda de Zapotitán, Jalisco

Coincidentally, the hacienda of Zapotitán in Jalisco (see illustration above), located close to Jocotepec and Lake Chapala, is the first hacienda to be featured in the on-going series of articles by modern-day hacienda explorer Jim Cook. Jim spends countless hours researching old haciendas, and regularly goes exploring with friends to see what is left on the ground today. His descriptions and photographs are easily the best contemporary accounts of the haciendas in western Mexico.

All in all, this is a really useful addition to the literature about Mexico’s haciendas, one guaranteed to answer many of the questions and doubts that visitors to Mexico often express about just how haciendas functioned and what working and living conditions were like, both for the owner’s family and the workers.

An archive of Bartlett’s original pen-and-ink illustrations and several hundred photographs is held in the Benson Latin American Collection of the University of Texas in Austin. A second collection of hacienda photographs and other materials is maintained by the Western History Research Center of the University of Wyoming in Laramie.

Want to visit some haciendas?

Chapter 9 of my Western Mexico, A Traveler’s Treasury (2013) focuses on the “Hacienda Route” to the south and west of Guadalajara, with an itinerary that includes visiting several haciendas within easy reach of the city.

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A little bit of Mexico in Indonesia (Mexican botanic garden in Indonesia)

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Apr 302015
 

Like many geographers, I have long held a more than passing interest in botanical gardens. From a geographic standpoint, botanical gardens offer the chance to closely examine plants that can be very difficult, virtually impossible, to find in the wild. Many botanical gardens display the typical plant assemblages that are common in the local region, while also giving a plant-based snapshot of different environments elsewhere.

Mexico has an extraordinary variety of flowering plants, estimated (even twenty years ago) to include more than 20,000 different species.  Many garden plants commonly planted in Europe, the USA and elsewhere originated in Mexico.

Over the years I’ve looked at Mexican cacti and succulents in numerous botanical gardens around the world, but was pleasantly surprised when visiting Indonesia in 2013 to discover that the Purwodadi Botanic Garden in Pasuruan, East Java, actually has an entire section devoted to the Mexican flora characteristic of semi-arid conditions (see photos).

Entrance to the”Taman Mexico” (Mexico Park):

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The 85-hectare Botanic Garden was first established in 1941, and has plants collected from a wide range of areas in Indonesia, as well as smaller sections devoted to plants from elsewhere. I’m not sure how old the Mexican section is, but the plants are clearly thriving, despite showing some signs of neglect. This is mainly because the climate in the Botanic Garden (located at 8 degrees south of the equator and longitude 113 degrees east) is fairly similar to some parts of Mexico. The Garden has an elevation of 300 meters and an annual rainfall of 2366 mm.

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Assuming that the Mexican Embassy in Jakarta had some part in establishing this fine display of Mexican flora, perhaps it is time that embassy officials revisit their gift and see whether they can’t enhance the Mexican garden by sponsoring some information signs, so that visitors can truly appreciate these venerable plants, not only for their beauty, but also for their ecological and economic significance.

indonesia-1

There are lots of additional botanical goodies to be seen here in addition to the Mexican Park, including stately jacaranda trees and an amazing collection of banana plants. The Purwodadi Botanic Gardens are well worth a visit if you ever happen to be anywhere in the vicinity. They are located about 70 kilometers south of the city of Surabaya towards Malang. Allow at least 90 minutes for the drive.

Photos by Tony Burton; all rights reserved.

Details:

Purwodadi Botanic Garden, Jl. Surabaya-Malang Km.65 Purwodadi Pasuruan, Pasuruan, East Java 67163, Indonesia. Tel: +62341426046 www.krpurwodadi.lipi.go.id email: redaksiwebkrp@gmail.com

Embassy of Mexico in Jakarta: embmexic@rad.net.id / embmexico@gmail.com

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Author David Lida on Mexico City’s transportation systems

 Books and resources, Mexico's geography in the Press  Comments Off on Author David Lida on Mexico City’s transportation systems
Apr 272015
 

David Lida is a well-known and highly respected author who has lived in Mexico City (on and off) for over twenty years. His books include First Stop in the New World: Mexico City, Capital of the 21st Century and the short-story collection Travel Advisory: Stories of Mexico. He also blogs about Mexico City:

lida-bookHis article a few months back in the Guardian about life in Mexico City – An urbanist’s guide to Mexico City: ‘Transport is an adventure and often a nightmare” – is an informative account of his love-hate relationship with the city. The following short extracts from his article, relating to the geography of the city, should sharpen your appetite to read more:

“The greater metropolitan area of Mexico City is home to about 22 million people (known as chilangos) and is laid out over about 600 square miles…. The most recent study, from 2007, says that it takes chilangos an average of an hour and 17 minutes to get from one place to another.”

“Half of the working population toils in the informal economy – parking cars, cleaning houses, packing groceries, selling things on the street. The middle class is squeezed month by month rather than daily, while perhaps 10% has a jolly time with plenty of discretionary income. According to Forbes, Mexico’s elite upper class is made up of 1.7% of the population.”

“Although it is not comprehensive, and the stations are spaced further apart than they are in some other places, if your destination is on the route the metro is the fastest, cheapest and best way to get around Mexico City…. Taxis are abundant and cheap, and depending on your route, can also be quick. As in any big city, you want to avoid getting stuck in rush-hour traffic whenever possible.”

“Bicycling has definitely become more popular in the city, but because of the way people drive cars, I think it is a terrifying prospect.”

“What I believe we are seeing here is a worldwide phenomenon in which the well-to-do are getting sick and tired of long commutes from gated communities on the outskirts and want to move closer to the centre. Many of the poor will probably end up being shunted further and further away from where they have to work.”

“In greater Mexico City there are about 85,000 streets and 5,000 neighbourhoods. Of those streets, about 850 are called Juárez, 750 are named Hidalgo, and 700 are known as Morelos. Two hundred are called 16 de Septiembre, while 100 more are called 16 de Septiembre Avenue, Alley, Mews or Extension…. Like London’s A to Z or Michelin’s Paris Plan, there is a street map in book form here called the Guía Roji, which weighs in at over 150 two-sided pages of maps. If you only own one book while you live here, better make it the Guía Roji.”

Extracts come from David Lida’s – An urbanist’s guide to Mexico City: ‘Transport is an adventure and often a nightmare”. Enjoy!

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Mexico’s geomorphosites: Peñas Cargadas, Mineral del Monte, Hidalgo

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Apr 232015
 

This short Postandfly video of an area known as Peñas Cargardas (“Loaded Rocks”) in the state of Hidalgo is the perfect excuse to add to our posts about Mexico’s geomorphosites – sites where landforms have provided amazing scenery for our enjoyment. This area of Mexico is definitely one of my favorites, partly because it is crammed with interesting sights for geographers, including the Basalt Prisms of San Miguel Regla, only a few kilometers away from the Piedras Cargadas, and an equally-stunning geomorphosite.

A few minutes east of the city of Pachuca, the Peñas Cargadas (sometimes called the Piedras Cargadas) are located in a valley in the surrounding pine-fir forest. The rocks comprising the Peñas Cargadas have capricious shapes; some appear to be balanced on top of others. Their formation may well be due to the same processes that formed the Piedras Encimadas in Puebla, which are actually not all that far away as the crow flies.

The nearest town, Mineral del Monte (aka Real del Monte) has lots of interest for cultural tourists. Among many other claims to fame, it was where the first soccer and tennis matches in Mexico were played ~ in the nineteenth century, when the surrounding hills echoed to the sounds of Cornish miners, brought here from the U.K. to work the silver mines.

The miners introduced the Cornish Pasty, chile-enriched variations of which are still sold in the town as pastes. Real del Monte also has an English Cemetery, testament not only to the many tragic accidents that befell miners when mining here was at its peak, but also to the long-standing allegiance that led many in-comers to remain here to raise their families long after mining was in near-terminal decline. The town has typical nineteenth century mining architecture. The larger buildings retain many signs of their former wealth the glory.

pachuca-map

The following Spanish language video has some ground-level views, as well as more information about the scenery and the area’s flora:

How to get there

The Peñas Cargadas are about ten kilometers east of Pachuca (see map). From Pachuca, follow signs for Mineral del Monte, and then drive past the “Panteón Inglés” (English Cemetery) in that town on the road to Tezoantla. The Peñas Cargadas are about 3.5 kilometers beyond Tezoantla. This is a great place for a day trip from Mexico City.

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Hurricane forecast and names for 2015

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Apr 202015
 

The 2015 hurricane season in Mexico for Pacific coast storms starts on 15 May and lasts until 30 November. For Atlantic storms, the hurricane season extends from 1 June to 30 November, though most hurricane activity is concentrated in the months from July to September. Hurricanes are also known as typhoons or tropical cyclones.

The table shows the World Meteorological Organization’s official list of 2015 tropical storm and hurricane names. Note that male and female names alternate. Names are often reused in future years, with the exception of the names of any particularly violent storms, which are officially “retired” from the list for a long time.

2015 Hurricane Names for the Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean
AnaGraceLarryRose
BillHenriMindySam
ClaudetteIdaNicholasTeresa
DannyJoaquinOdetteVictor
ErikaKatePeterWanda
Fred

2015 Hurricane Names for the Eastern Pacific
AndresGuillermoMartyTerry
BlancaHildaNoraVivian
CarlosIgnacioOlafWaldo
DoloresJimenaPatriciaXina
EnriqueKevinRickYork
FeliciaLindaSandraZelda

In their early season forecast for this year, Philip Klotzbach and William Gray, researchers at Colorado State University,  expect hurricane activity in the Atlantic to be below the 1981-2012 average. They predict that in the 2015 season 7 named storms will form in the Atlantic: 4 tropical storms, 2 moderate hurricanes (1 or 2 on the Saffir-Simpson scale), and 1 severe hurricanes (3, 4 or 5 on the Saffir-Simpson scale). These forecasts will be updated on 2 June and 31 July.

saffir-simpson-scaleAs expected, Pacific Ocean hurricanes were more common than usual in 2014, because it was an El Niño year. In 2014, there were 22 named storms (the highest total for 22 years), including a record-typing 16 hurricanes, of which 9 were major hurricanes. Hurricane activity in 2015 is also expected to be higher than the long-term average.

In 2015, for the Pacific coast, Mexico’s National Meteorological Service (Servicio Metrológico Nacional, SMN) is expecting 19 named storms: 8 tropical storms, 7 moderate hurricanes (1 or 2 on the Saffir-Simpson scale), and 4 severe hurricanes (3, 4 or 5 on the Saffir-Simpson scale). The SNM publishes regular updates on hurricane activity (in Spanish) on its webpage and via its Twitter account: @huracanconagua.

How accurate was the 2014 forecast?

The early season (May) prediction for 2014 (last year) was for 9 named storms in the Atlantic: 6 tropical storms, 2 moderate hurricanes and 1 severe hurricanes. This prediction proved to be the fairly accurate. In reality, the 2014 Atlantic season had 8 named storms: 2 tropical storms, 4 moderate hurricanes and 2 severe hurricanes

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The art of Mexican volcanoes

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Apr 162015
 

An art exhibition entitled “Mexican Volcanoes” is opening in Mexico City next week. The show opens on Tuesday 21 April, at noon, at the offices of the Mexican Society for Geography and Statistics (Sociedad Mexicana de Geografía y Estadística) at Justo Sierra #19, in the Historic Center of the city. The Society is one of the world’s oldest geographic societies, having been founded 18 April 1833. (The Royal Geographical Society in the U.K. was founded in 1830; the National Geographic Society in the USA was founded in 1888).

Invitacion frente

This exhibition, which will close on 29 April, is being arranged by Lewinson Art, a Mexican art firm that specializes in promoting artists via a virtual gallery and exhibitions. Artists were invited to submit works (paintings, drawings, engravings, photographs) relating to the subject “Mexican Volcanoes”.

Detail of lithograph by Casimiro Castro of Railway near Orizaba, Veracruz

Detail of lithograph by Casimiro Castro of Railway near Orizaba, Veracruz, with Pico de Orizaba in the background

Historically, Mexico’s volcanoes have been especially fertile ground for Mexican artists, from the great landscapes of José María Velasco to Casimiro Castro and the colorful and energetic “aerial landscapes” of Dr. Atl (Gerardo Murillo).

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Dr. Atl (Gerardo Murillo): Paricutin Volcano

Artists represented in this interesting exhibition include:

Agustín Aldama, Mercedes Arellano, José Luis Briseño, Rosi Calderón, Argelia Castañeda, Becky Esquenazi, Gabriela Estrada, Tere Galván, Gabriela Horta, Ana Gabriela Iñiguez, Débora Lewinson, Manuel Martinez Moreno, Nadine Markova, Ausberto Morales, Francoise Noé, Merle Reivich, Fernando Reyes Varela, Homero Santamaría, Arcelia Urbieta, Ariel Valencia , Primo Vega and Lucille Wong.

The volcanoes depicted in the show include Popocatepetl, Iztaccihuatl, Cofre de Perote and the Nevado de Toluca (Xinantecatl).

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Many of Mexico’s archaeological sites now on Google Street View

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Apr 132015
 

An agreement between the National Anthropology and History Institute (INAH) and Google means that many of Mexico’s most famous archaeological sites can now be explored using Google’s Street View. Perfect for the armchair traveler!

The system allows for viewers to rotate street level views the full 360 degrees horizontally, and 290 degrees vertically to take a “virtual walk” through such major sites as Teotihuacan, Xochicalco, Monte Albán, Chichén Itzá, Tulum, Palenque, Tula and Paquimé.

Sites included in INAH/Google system

Sites included in INAH/Google system

Google’s images were captured by specially-designed equipment on bicycles that could navigate the paths and ruins without causing damage to the ancient structures.

Google Street Views can be accessed via either Google Earth or Google Maps.

The INAH/Google system includes the following sites in the Maya World region (Mundo Maya):

Dzibilchaltún
Uxmal (Street view) – Uxmal (article)
Kabah
Ek Balam
Chichén Itzá (Street view) – Chichén Itzá (article)
Kohunlich
Dzibanché
Chacchoben
Tulum (Street view) – Tulum (article)
El Rey
El Meco
Cobá
Becán
Palenque (Street view) – Palenque (article)
Bonampak
Comalcalco (Street view) – Comalcalco (article)

It also includes these noteworthy sites in other parts of Mexico:

Teotihuacan  (Street view) – Teotihuacan (article)
Xochicalco (Street view) – Xochicalco (article)
Monte Albán (Street view) – Monte Albán (article)
Mitla (Street view) – Mitla (article)
Yagul (Street view) – Yagul (article)
Peralta
Plazuelas
Tzintzuntzan (Street view) – Tzintzuntzan (article)
Tajín
Paquimé (Street view) – Paquimé (article)
Cuicuilco
Cholula, Puebla (Street view) – Cholula (article)
Xochitécatla
Tula

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Apr 092015
 

The Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) has published its Mexico Peace Index. The following excerpts come from the Executive Summary of the Mexico Peace Index Report 2015:

The Mexico Peace Index provides a comprehensive measure of peacefulness in Mexico from 2003 to 2014. The 2015 report aims to deepen the understanding of the trends, patterns and drivers of peace in Mexico while highlighting the important economic benefits that will flow from a more peaceful society.

Mexico Peace Index, 2015

Mexico Peace Index, 2015. Credit: Institute for Economics and Peace.

The map above shows the relative values of the MPI by state, where dark blue means the most peaceful states and dark red the least peaceful (most violent) states.

Improvement since 2012

According to the report, Mexico’s peace has improved 10.5% since 2012, continuing the trend from 2011; however, 2014 saw very little improvement, improving only 0.7%. It is too early to determine whether this is a new trend. Mexico’s level of peace in 2014 approached 2007 levels, when homicide and violent crime began to increase rapidly.

The MPI indicators registering the largest improvements in the last two years were the homicide rate, which fell by 30%, and the level of organized crime, which improved by 25%. All three measures in the organized crime indicator (extortion, kidnapping and narcotics offenses) improved. There was also a significant reduction in the violent crime rate, which fell by 12%.

Furthermore, the recorded increase in peacefulness was widespread. In the last two years, 26 out of the 32 states saw improvements in peacefulness, with all of them recording reductions in the violent crime rate and 23 states recording reductions in the homicide rate. The biggest improvements were recorded in the least peaceful states; contrary to the overall trend, the most peaceful states became slightly less peaceful. These diverging trends resulted in a substantial narrowing of the gap between the least peaceful and the most peaceful states.

In contrast, during the same two-year period, weapons crime increased significantly and was up by 11%. The three other indicators that make up the MPI (justice efficiency, incarceration and police funding) have plateaued or slightly deteriorated and are now at record highs.

The justice efficiency indicator continued to decline, which is very concerning, with the number of homicides relative to the number of prosecutions doubling from 1.45 in 2006 to 3.43 in 2013. The justice efficiency indicator measures the ratio of homicide convictions to homicides in a given year and is used as a proxy for impunity.

Additionally, the rate at which people were sentenced to prison fell from 210 per 100,000 people to 104 from 2003 to 2014. Combined with the deterioration in the justice efficiency indicator, this is a troubling trend that highlights the urgent need to fully implement the current justice reforms.

It should be noted that the declines in homicides and gang-related violence do not necessarily mean that criminal organizations are less powerful; they may have become more circumspect in their activities. This reflects a paradox in Mexico: while indicators of peacefulness have greatly improved in the last four years, many Mexicans still report high perceptions of criminality. Additionally, officially recorded rates of homicide and violent crime are still very high by global standards.

Under-reporting of violent crime and other criminal activities is a serious issue in Mexico, with IEP estimating that rape is reported only eight percent of the time and assault only 23%. To create a more accurate index, IEP has adjusted all indicators for under-reporting rates.

For many, these concerns create doubt about the reliability of criminal justice statistics. To determine the veracity of the official data, IEP compared various alternative datasets and victimization surveys against the official data. The results tend to support the trend towards higher levels of peace, but with some qualifications.

Main findings of the Mexico Peace Index 2015

  • Mexico has experienced a large decrease in violence since 2011, with the national level of peace improving by 16%.
  • Progress in peace plateaued last year; it is too early to determine if this is the start of a new trend.
  • The level of peace as measured by the 2015 MPI is still 18% lower than in 2003.
  • The most peaceful state in Mexico is Hidalgo, followed by Yucatán, Querétaro, Campeche, Tlaxcala and Chiapas.
  • Of the 76 largest metropolitan areas of Mexico, the most peaceful is Orizaba in Veracruz, and the least peaceful is Culiacán in Sinaloa.
  • The eastern region remains the most peaceful in Mexico, while the northern region is still the most violent, although the gap between the north and the other regions is now at its lowest point since 2004.

Trends in Peace

Peace improved in the majority of states in Mexico in the last two years, with 26 out of 32 states improving. The largest improvements were in the northern region, which improved 17.8%. The gap in the levels of peace between the least and most peaceful states is now at its lowest point since 2006.

Over the last two years, the largest decreases in violence have been in the homicide rate, which fell almost 30%, and the level of organized crime, which fell by 25%.

The only indicator that recorded a significant deterioration in the last two years is weapons crime, which increased by 11%. The police funding indicator and the justice efficiency indicator recorded very slight deteriorations, reaching their worst levels in 2014.

The fall in the homicide rate is mainly due to a reduction in homicides related to organized crime, as the biggest reductions were recorded in the states with the worst levels of drug cartel activity.

While there is some doubt about the accuracy of government crime statistics, multiple data sources do support a decline in the homicide rate over the last two years. This strongly suggests the progress in peace is real.

On an international comparison, Mexico fell 45 places in the Global Peace Index between 2008 and 2013. It remains the least peaceful country in Central America and the Caribbean.

Economic Value of Peace in Mexico

The total economic impact of violence in Mexico in 2014 is estimated to be $3 trillion pesos or US$233 billion, equivalent to 17.3% of GDP. This represents $24,844 pesos, or almost US$1,946, per citizen. This is a 16.7% decrease from 2012, when the total economic impact of violence in Mexico was $3.57 trillion pesos.

The states with the highest per capita economic impact from violence are Guerrero, Morelos, Baja California and Tamaulipas, with the economic impact in Guerrero at $43,666 pesos/person. If the 16 least peaceful states in 2003 had experienced the same economic growth as the 16 most peaceful states in 2003, then the Mexican economy in 2014 would be $140 billion pesos or 13% larger.

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