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Jan 282013
 

Line 12 of Mexico City’s Metro (subway) system was opened in October 2012. The new line, also known as the Golden Line, extends the city’s metro system into several lower income areas in the south-eastern part of the city, including Tlahuac, Milpa Alta, Xochimilco and Iztapalapa.

– – -> Update: As of 11 March 2014, the elevated (above ground) southern section of this line between Tlahuac and Atlalilco stations has been temporarily closed for repairs. A replacement bus system has been established between those stations. According to a report in the Mexico City daily Reforma (citing a study by ILF Consulting Engineers), the design of tracks in that section has resulted in damage to the wheels of several metro trains. It also resulted in the failure of an electric cable and has caused cracks and fractures in the track supports. The affected section is 14 km (9 mi) long. Authorities are reviewing the possibility of legal action against the line’s builders, a consortium comprised of France’s Alstom and the Mexican companies ICA and Carso. [end of update]

Line 12, the longest line in the network, is 25 km (15.5 miles) long and has 20 stations, including four transfer points. In terms of network connectivity, it adds an important east-west link connecting four lines that serve the southern section of the metro area. Line 12 runs from Mixcoac (Line 7) to Tlahuac in the southeast of Mexico City, intersecting with line 3 at Zapata, line 2 at Ermita and line 8 at Atlalilco.

Mexico-City-Metro-MapOfficials estimate that the line, which has both underground and overground sections, will eliminate 860 buses from the city’s congested streets, reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 22,000 metric tons a year. Its construction cost about $1.8 billion and included one overground section perched on specially designed earthquake-resistant steel pillars.

Mexico City metroBetween 400,000 and 450,000 passengers are expected to use Line 12 daily. It is expected to cut the average daily commuting time from those parts of the city it serves by more than an hour a day, from 150 minutes to 78 minutes. The line is only accessible by using the new metropolitan smart transport card “Tarjeta DF”.

The complete network of 12 lines comprising Mexico City’s metro system, used by more than 5 million passengers a day, now has 195 stations and a total length of about 227 km (141 miles).

28 Jan 2013 Update:

Officials of Mexico City’s Metro system (Sistema de Transporte Colectivo, STC) have announced that they are considering extending Line 12 westwards into the Álvaro Obregón district of the city. STC’s Managing Director Joel Ortega Cuevas also said that an analysis is needed of the viability of extending the Metro network to reach several major commuting routes in the State of México (see map below), including Ecatepec-Coacalco-Zumpango; Chalco-Ixtapaluca; Naucalpan-Tlalnepantla-Cuautitlán; Atizapan-Naucalpan and Chimalhuacan-Nezahualcóyotl.

Spatial growth of Mexico City Metropolitan Area (based on Geo-Mexico Fig 22.2; all rights reserved)

Spatial growth of Mexico City Metropolitan Area (based on Geo-Mexico Fig 22.2; all rights reserved)

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The distinctive street pattern of Venta de Bravo, Michoacán

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Jan 262013
 

The small settlement of Venta de Bravo, in the municipality of Contepec in the state of Michoacán, has a very distinctive street pattern. As the image shows, it has a circular “center”, surrounded by a series of concentric circular streets (see image), connected via regularly-spaced radial streets. The regularity of the pattern is not quite perfect. Based on the photo, the imperfections probably result from variations of topography.

Venta de Bravo, Michoacán. Credit: imagenesaereasdemexico.com

Venta de Bravo, Michoacán. Credit: imagenesaereasdemexico.com

The village has about 1300 inhabitants and is at an elevation of 2290 meters above sea level. This is clearly a “planned settlement”, and one almost certainly quite modern in origin. I haven’t ever visited Venta de Bravo and don’t know its history, but would certainly be interested in finding out more if you have any pertinent information or can suggest likely sources.

An online search for Venta de Bravo will turn up numerous articles about the seismically active 45-km-long Venta de Bravo fault, as well as references to the small “Rayón National Park” which is only a few kilometers away in the Sierra of Tlalpujahua and extends as high as 2770 meters above sea level (Cerro del Gallo).

The sacred geography of Mexico’s Huichol Indians

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Jan 242013
 

The remote mountains and plateaus where the states of Jalisco, Nayarit and Zacatecas all meet is home to some 18,000 Huichol Indians, as well as their close cousins, the Cora. The Huichol (Wixárika = “the healers” in their own language) live in scattered, extended family, settlements (ranchos) and rely entirely on oral tradition. They are intensely religious, and see their time-honored responsiblity as protecting nature’s creations. Their shamen perform elaborate ceremonies to a pantheon of gods to ensure  bountiful crops, health and prosperity, as well as to preserve nature and heal the Earth.

The center of the Huichol world – Tee’kata (see map) – coincides with the village of Santa Catarina in the Huichol heartland. Central to some Huichol ceremonies is peyote, an hallucinogenic cactus, obtained from an annual pilgrimage eastwards to the sacred land of Wirikuta, near Real de Catorce in San Luis Potosí. The pilgrimage is an 800 km (500 mile) round trip. Peyote (Lophophora williamsii) is called jicuri by the Huichol.

Map of the sacred geography of Mexico's Huichol Indians

The sacred geography of Mexico’s Huichol Indians. Credit: Tony Burton/Geo-Mexico; all rights reserved.

Equally important points in the Huichol cosmos lie to the north, west and south:

  • north: Huaxa Manaká =  the mountain of Cerro Gordo in Durango
  • west: Tatéi Haramara = the Isla del Rey, an island near San Blas
  • south: XapaWiyemeta =  Scorpion Island (Isla de los Alacranes) in Lake Chapala

The sacred geography of the Huichol (shown by the rhombus on the map) echoes the significance they attach to the number 5. They view the world as having five regions, corresponding to five mothers (one under the earth and the other four at cardinal points). They believe that the sun is carried through the universe by five serpents. The flowers of their sacred peyote come in five colors, as do their cobs of corn  (Blue, white, reddish purple, yellow, multicolor). The Huichol have different terms for the five colors of corn, which are closely associated with the five main points of their cosmos:

  • yuawime – blue – south
  • tuxame – white- north
  • ta+lawime  – purple – west
  • taxawime – yellow – east
  • tsayule – multicolor – center

huichol-yarn-crossEvery rhombus has four corner points and a center. Their traditional yarn crosses (often mistakenly referred to as “God’s Eyes”) are made by wrapping colored yarn around two twigs to form a rhombus of color. Most yarn crosses use several different colors. Compound yarn crosses are made by adding small yarn crosses at each end of the two main supporting twigs, giving five crosses (eyes) in total. Huichol fathers will make a simple yarn cross when a child is born, adding additional crosses annually until the yarn cross is considered complete. This, of course, is assuming that the child survives, given that infant mortality among the Huichol is very high.

The colors used in Huichol artwork also carry lots of symbolism. For example, blue is taken to mean water or rain and associated with Lake Chapala to the south. Black symbolizes death and is linked to the Pacific Ocean in the west. Red, the color for mother, is usually reserved for sacred places such as Wirikuta in the east. White (clouds) is associated with the north.

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Mexico’s Magic Town program loses its shine

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Jan 212013
 

Regular readers will be well aware of our concern about the number of towns in Mexico designated Magic Towns in the past few months. As we have written previously, some of the towns chosen are far from “Magic” and offer very little indeed of interest to any regular tourist.

Not content with devaluing the program by some dubious choices, at the end of November 2012, the outgoing administration of President Felipe Calderón rushed through the designation of no fewer than 17 more towns in its last few days in office, to bring the total number of Magic Towns to 83.

Added to the list at the end of November 2012 were:

  • 67   Tacámbaro, Michoacán
  • 68    Calvillo  Aguascalientes
  • 69    Nochistlán, Zacatecas
  • 70    Jiquilpan, Michoacán
  • 71    Tlatlauquitepec, Puebla
  • 72    Tzintzuntzan, Michoacán
  • 73    Mapimí, Durango
  • 74    Papantla, Veracruz
  • 75    Tecate, Baja California
  • 76    Arteaga, Coahuila
  • 77    Viesca, Coahuila
  • 78    Jalpa de Cánovas, Guanajuato
  • 79    Salvatierra, Guanajuato
  • 80    Yuriria, Guanajuato
  • 81     Xicotepec, Puebla
  • 82     Jala, Nayarit
  • 83     El Rosario, Sinaloa

The considerable charms of Mapimí, Durango were described in a previous post. Several of the latest towns to be included are well worthy of Magic Town status, but others are not. In future posts, we will take a closer look at some of the other towns on this list, and their relative merits for inclusion as Magic Towns. For now, we content ourselves with presenting an updated map of the distribution of Mexico’s Magic Towns, as of 1 January 2013:

Mexico's Magic Towns, as of 1 December 2012. Credit: Tony Burton / Geo-Mexico

Mexico’s Magic Towns, as of 1 December 2012. Credit: Tony Burton / Geo-Mexico

The domination of central and western Mexico is clear. All states (excluding the D.F.) now have at least one Magic Town, but southern Mexico still appears to be somewhat undervalued in terms of its cultural tourism potential.

Note: Four towns in the latest list—Tacámbaro, Jiquilpan and Tzintzuntzan (all in Michoacán) and Jala (in Nayarit)—are described in the recently published 4th (Kindle/Kobo) edition of my “Western Mexico: A Traveler’s Treasury” (Sombrero Books, 2013). The book describes no fewer than 17 of Mexico’s Magic Towns as well as several more (such as Ajijic and Bolaños) that are reported to have begun their approval process.

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Why Is Mexico in the OECD?

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Jan 172013
 

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) was founded in 1961 to promote economic growth. Its current 34 members include 25 European countries along with Canada, the USA, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Chile and Israel. Mexico joined the group in 1994. Four new members were admitted in 2010: Chile, Slovenia, Estonia and Israel. Russia is not yet a member but is moving toward that goal. The current Secretary General of the OECD is Mexico’s  José Ángel Gurría Treviño, first appointed in 2006; his current term in this position extends to 2016.

oecd_logo

OECD member countries are among the most highly developed and wealthiest countries on the planet. Though OECD members represent only 18% of the world’s population, they account for 55% of global Gross Domestic Product (GDP), measured on a Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) basis. Among OECD members, Mexico has the lowest per capita GDP, slightly behind Chile and Turkey. In terms of the UN Human Development Index (HDI) Mexico trails all the others except Turkey. How did Mexico become a member of this very elite set of countries?

There are three main criteria for OECD membership:

  1. Democracy and respect for human rights
  2. Open market economy
  3. GDP per capita (PPP) at least as high as the poorest OECD member

When Mexico became a member in 1994, it was a democracy albeit a one party democracy. It was very clearly an open market economy and its per capita GDP was slightly higher than Turkey’s. Consequently, it met the criteria and was admitted by other OECD members. (See Elżbieta Czarny et al., The Gravity Model and the Classification of Countriesin Argumenta Oeconomica, 2 (25) 2010.)

What are the benefits of OECD membership?

As a member, Mexico fully participates in OECD discussions concerning economic, social and environmental situations, issues, experiences, policies, and best practices. OECD collects and analyzes a very wide range of data which enables Mexico to monitor its position and progress on numerous important dimensions. OECD also has numerous world class experts and committees that can assist countries on specific issues and policies.

Certainly being a member of this elite group provides Mexico with an amount of international prestige. On the other hand, most development analyses and comparative OECD reports show Mexico near the bottom on most measures and rankings.

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National Post graphic enters our “North America” hall of shame

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Jan 162013
 

Geo-Mexico feels compelled to add a graphic from a recent article in Canada’s National Post to its “North American Hall of Shame”. The article itself is about the shortcomings of some Canadian university students when asked basic world geography questions. While we share the author’s concern about the standards of geography teaching in many parts of Canada (and elsewhere for that matter), the graphic chosen to illustrate the article leaves a lot to be desired. Ironically, it incorporates various geographical blunders.

Map used in National Post, 15 Jan 2013.

Map used in National Post, 15 Jan 2013.

For example (see graphic above), not only does Mexico appear to have swallowed up several not-insignificant Central American countries (Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama), but it is also shown as not belonging to North America. And, before we move on to look at another part of the graphic, perhaps we’d better ask the inhabitants of Greenland, Iceland and the Faroe Islands how they feel now that they have moved continent?

Map used in National Post, 15 Jan 2013.

Map used in National Post, 15 Jan 2013.

The main map in the graphic (shown above) does have a (slightly) more accurate depiction of North America. However, it shows Europe as extending across the Middle East and well into Asia!

The readers of the National Post deserve better. How can we expect standards of world geography to improve if graphic artists produce images like these, and if the editors and fact-checkers of national newspapers do not do a better job of selecting appropriate images to illustrate their articles?

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Street patterns in Mexico City

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Jan 102013
 

A recent post on Polis, “a collaborative blog about cities across the world”, focuses on the street patterns in Mexico City.

The post uses Google Earth images of different parts of the city to illustrate how street patterns vary between neighborhoods with different levels of wealth. This approach has long been used in urban geography, but the examples provided are a useful reminder of the value of “old-school” map interpretation skills, some of which are rapidly being lost in the age of online maps.

Mexico City Metropolitan Area: Fuentes de Aragón

Mexico City Metropolitan Area: Fuentes de Aragón

A simple exercise for students would be to ask them to choose two similar-sized cities, one in the USA and one in Mexico, and then use Google Maps and Google Earth images to compare their urban morphology (street patterns). It is worth comparing areas of different land uses (such as industrial, commercial, residential). The analysis should include some annotated images highlighting the key similarities and differences.

Mexico City Metropolitan Area (Geo-Mexico Fig 22.2; all rights reserved)

Spatial growth of Mexico City Metropolitan Area (Geo-Mexico Fig 22.2; all rights reserved)

The striking rectilinear lines usually found in poorer neighborhoods are in stark contrast to the curvilinear street patterns common in wealthier suburbs. In a city with a long history, like Mexico City, it is easy to locate and identify residential areas of very different age. (In general, the older residential areas are closer to the city center than newer residential areas.)

Mexico City: Pedregal San Angel

Mexico City: Pedregal San Angel

In the case of both Mexico City and Guadalajara (Mexico’s second largest city), a transect across the city from the wealthy west to the much poorer east will reveal remarkable differences in street patterns, corresponding closely to the patterns of wealth.

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Globalization: Mexico exports almost all motor vehicles it produces, but imports new cars

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Jan 082013
 

Which company exports the most motor vehicles in Mexico? In term of units exported, Ford was the leader with 449,925 units. Ford exported over 97% of the vehicles it made in Mexico in 2011. Though Ford sold many new cars in Mexico, virtually all were imports, mainly from the USA or Canada. GM was a relatively close second with 443,237 vehicles exported, 81% of the total produced.

VW was next with 439,925 units exported, 84% of their total. Nissan was fourth with 411,660 vehicles exported which was a significantly lower percentage (68%) of its total production. Nissan sells about a third of its Mexican produced vehicles in Mexico, by far the highest percentage among auto manufacturers in Mexico.

Chrysler/Fiat exported 266,117 vehicles, 79% of their total production. Toyota was next with 49,549 vehicles exported for an amazing 99.9% of the total manufactured. Surprisingly only 47 of the almost 50,000 Toyotas made in Mexico in 2011 were sold in Mexico; all of the rest were exported to the USA or Canada. Virtually all of the thousands of new Toyotas sold in Mexico are imported. This is a very extreme case of globalization at work under NAFTA. Honda exported 36,429 units in 2011 for 80% of its total production.

Data are not yet available to determine which companies will lead in exports in 2012 and the percentage of total production that is exported. Overall production is expected to rise by over 20% in 2012 and perhaps even faster in future years judging by the amount auto companies are currently investing in Mexico. Obviously, production levels in 2013 and beyond will be closely tied to demand in the USA and Canada.

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Mexico’s changing urban landscape: the rapid rise of low-income subdivisions

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Jan 052013
 

Between 2000 and 2006, more than 2.3 million new low-income INFONAVIT homes were built in Mexico, a staggering rate of 2,500 new homes each and every day. The achievement was documented by photographer Livia Corona, who divides her time between New York and Mexico City, in a four-year project entitled “Two Million Homes for Mexico”. The project focuses on the “surge of mass-scale neighborhood developments in Mexico, exploring their role in the ongoing transformation of the ecological, social and cultural landscape of the nation and its citizens.”

47,547 Homes. xtapaluca, Mexico.Credit: Livia Corona.

47,547 Homes. Ixtapaluca, Mexico.Credit: Livia Corona.

As Corona’s photos reveal, while most of the “cookie-cutter” housing developments lack public amenities (schools, clinics) and public spaces (parks), and have few commercial establishments, the people moving into these homes proved remarkably adaptable and creative.

In the photographer’s own words, “Through images, films, and interviews, I look for the space between promises and their fulfillment. In my photographs of multiple developments throughout the country, I consider the rapid redefinition of Mexican “small town” life and the sudden transformation of the Mexican ecological and social landscape. These urban developments mark a profound evolution in our way of inhabiting the world.”

Credit: Livia Corona.

Credit: Livia Corona.

As she explained in an interview with Nina Corvallo for the  now-retired Nymphoto blog:

“In my current role as a visual artist, I am often familiarizing with new geographies, both for research and for commissioned assignments. My work is drawn by the underlying structures affecting quotidian survival, and my photographs expand on how these manifest on a broader level.”

“In my current work, Two Million Homes for Mexico, my drive comes from the riddle of what living in these neighborhoods can do to the development of a social and creative expression. What are the manifestations of this experience on the young minds growing up in these insular and remote landscapes, as they draw from a singular cultural and socio-economic backdrop?”

“Developers provided infinite rows of identical 100 to 200 square feet homes. Dwellers are now faced with the task of turning the rows into streets and developments into cities. I am inspired by the inventiveness of people in these neighborhoods, who are adapting with a very hands-on approach—despite a limited infrastructure—to procure a more appropriate living environment. Mexicans, as other Latin Americans, are notoriously gifted in appropriating the built environment. My project both celebrates these small individual triumphs as it frames the challenges and abuses made in providing housing for an ever-expanding population.”

The powerful images of Livia Corona are a worthy resource for urban geography classes.

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Education quality: How do Mexican students compare to those in other countries?

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Jan 032013
 

Mexico’s future is largely dependent on the quality of future citizens and consequently on the quality of its current education system. The Mexican economy has done quite well in recent years because it has a productive work force that is willing to work for relatively reasonable wages. While China previously had a workforce productivity advantage over Mexico, that advantage has essentially vanished. Therefore, many companies are moving their manufacturing operations from China to Mexico.

The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), coordinated by the OECD, evaluates national education systems every three years by testing 15-year-olds in reading, mathematics and science. The most recent assessment in 2009 investigated students in 65 countries, including the mostly high income 34 OECD countries.  (The 2012 results will be released in December 2013).

In 2009, the following countries ranked in the top ten in all three categories (reading, mathematics and science):

  • China: Shanghai (PISA divides China into several sub-national regions)
  • South Korea
  • Finland
  • Hong Kong
  • Singapore
  • Canada
  • Japan

How do Mexican 15-year-olds stack up against students from these other countries?

Within this group, the Mexican students ranked 48th in reading with a score 425. This placed Mexico behind the USA (17th, 500), Turkey (41st, 464), Russia (43rd, 459) and Chile (44th, 449); but ahead of Colombia (52nd, 413), Brazil (53rd, 412), Indonesia (57th, 402), Argentina (58th, 398) and Peru (63rd, 370). We mention the ranking and score of the USA because there has been considerable information published recently about the mediocre quality of its education system. While Mexico’s ranking and score is way behind that of the USA and closer to the bottom of this 65 country sample, it is not really so bad. It is better than that of most other Latin American countries. On the other hand it could and should be better.

The Mexican students did not do quite as well in mathematics. They ranked 50th with a score of 419. This placed them significantly behind the USA (31st, 487) and Russia (38th, 468). Mexico was also below Turkey (43rd, 445) and just behind Chile (49th, 421). As with reading they were ahead of Argentina (55th, 388), Brazil (57th, 386), Colombia (58th, 381), Indonesia (61st, 371) and Peru (64th, 360). Only one country was below Peru, namely Kyrgyzstan (65th, 331). It is important to remember that this sample includes mostly European countries, only one African country, Tunisia; no South Asian Countries, and only two Middle Eastern countries, Israel and Dubai. Mexico would look considerably better if it were compared with all countries in the world.

Mexico did about as well in science as they did in mathematics. They ranked 50th with a score 416. This placed them far behind the USA (23rd, 502) and Russia (39th, 478) and a ways below Turkey (43rd, 454) Chile (44th, 447). As with reading they were ahead of Brazil (53rdh, 405), Colombia (54th, 402), Argentina (56th, 401), Indonesia (60st, 383) and Peru (64th, 369). The data suggest that the scores for each country on reading, mathematics and science are pretty much the same within each country. In other words, the scores on any one of these disciplines tend to be a rather good measure of the overall quality of the education system.

If Mexico is going to compete in the globalized world economy, it must continue to improve its education system. Recent efforts have accomplished a great deal, raising the average amount of schooling of its citizens to 8.6 years. Future efforts should focus as much attention on improving the quality of education.

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