Nov 292015
 

Line 12 of Mexico City’s Metro (subway) system was originally opened in October 2012. The new line, also known as the Golden Line, extended 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.

However, in March 2014, the elevated (above ground) 14-kilometer-long (9 mi) southern section of this line between Tlahuac and Atlalilco stations was closed for emergency repairs. A replacement bus system was 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 had resulted in damage to the wheels of several metro trains. It also resulted in the failure of an electric cable and caused cracks and fractures in the track supports. Authorities have blamed some former city officials, together with the line’s builders, a consortium comprised of France’s Alstom and the Mexican companies ICA and Carso.

Metro Line 12 was finally fully reopened 20 months later, on 29 November, 2015. Line 12 is the longest line in the city’s metro network,extending 25 km (15.5 miles), with 20 stations, including four transfer points. In terms of network connectivity, it added 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, eliminates 860 buses from the city’s congested streets, reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 22,000 metric tons a year. It cost about $1.8 billion to construct.

Mexico City metroBetween 400,000 and 450,000 passengers are now 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).

Will the line eventually be extended?

In January 2013, officials of Mexico City’s Metro system (Sistema de Transporte Colectivo, STC)  announced that they were considering extending Line 12 westwards into the Álvaro Obregón district of the city. This is still being talked about. STC’s Managing Director Joel Ortega Cuevas also said that an analysis was needed of the viability of extending the Metro network to reach several major commuting routes in the State of México (see map), 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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More water meters for Mexico City

 Mexico's geography in the Press, Updates to Geo-Mexico  Comments Off on More water meters for Mexico City
Oct 122015
 

A recent OOSKAnews report says that Mexico City’s water authority (Sacmex) is seeking to purchase 27,835 more water meters that it plans to install in coming months. Sacmex supplies water to around 2 million separate addresses, of which 1.4 million are already metered. The latest purchase is part of Sacmex’s plan to ensure that 100% of connections to the water system are metered. Sacmex’s current budget includes $3.5 million for an additional 40,000 meters.

sacmex

At present, users without a meter pay a fixed bi-monthly tariff based on the building category, and intended type of water use (domestic/industrial/commercial).

Funding for the meters will be part of a $200 million World Bank-supported “Program to Improve the Efficiency of Operating Organizations” (PROME) which has already financed various projects across the country for urban areas with populations over 20,000. Projects already funded by the Progam include more efficient pumps, the updating of user databases with geo-referencing technology, and studies to gauge the robustness of indicators such as water pressure, water quality and leak detection.

Sacmex is also working on other distribution issues. Earlier this year – see Water in Mexico: a human right that is currently subsidized and wasted – Sacmex CEO Ramón Aguirre Diaz said that the agency required $430 million to combat leakages in the system (currently estimated at around 40% of supply), and claimed that a long-term program to fix the problem would be introduced next year.

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Oct 082015
 

Which are the most livable cities in Mexico? In an attempt to find out, each year the consultancy Gabinete de Comunicación Estratégica (GCE) publishes its National Quality of Life Index. For the 2015 version of this index, GCE polled more than 30,000 people in 55 cities about their housing, education, transport, cleanliness, recreational opportunities, security, natural beauty and local attractions.

Cities mentioned in this post

Cities mentioned in this post

Which city came top? The top-ranking city was Mérida, which scored 83.3 out of a possible 100 points, followed by Saltillo (79.6), and Aguascalientes and Mazatlán (tied at 78.8).

Which cities came bottom? The five cities rated least desirable were Tuxtla Gutiérrez, Ecatepec, Acapulco, Ciudad del Carmen and Chilpancingo.

Which cities rose most in the rankings? The cities which rose most in the rankings from last year were Saltillo, which rose five places; Tijuana, which jumped 21 places to #25, and Tlalnepantla, which improved 13 places to #36.

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Thirty years ago: the 1985 Mexico City earthquakes, a major disaster

 Excerpts from Geo-Mexico  Comments Off on Thirty years ago: the 1985 Mexico City earthquakes, a major disaster
Sep 172015
 

The worst earthquake disaster in modern Mexican history occurred thirty years ago this week. On Thursday 19 September 1985 a magnitude 8.1 earthquake struck at 7:19 a.m. and lasted a full two minutes. It was followed by a 7.5-magnitude earthquake 36 hours later.

Mexico's position in relation to tectonic plates

Mexico’s position in relation to tectonic plates.Map: Geo-Mexico.com; all rights reserved

These earthquakes resulted from the Cocos Plate (see map) pushing under the North American Plate. While the epicenters were 50 km off Mexico’s Pacific coast, near the Michoacán-Guerrero border, most of the damage occurred 350 km (215 mi) away in Mexico City because the city center’s subsoil, being former lakebed, is very unstable. The clay and silt beneath the city is up to 50 m thick in the area that received most damage. Geologists have likened the effects of the earthquake to the shaking of a bowl of jelly.

Further damage was caused by liquefaction, a process in which water is squeezed rapidly through the pore spaces in soil, dramatically reducing its cohesion. The sediments beneath Mexico City amplified the ground motions during the earthquakes and many buildings were stressed well beyond building code limits.

Damage from Mexico City's 1985 earthquake

Damage from Mexico City’s 1985 earthquake. Photo: Tony Burton; all rights reserved

Damage estimates range upward to 10,000 deaths, 50,000 injured and 100,000 homeless. More than 500 buildings collapsed, and a further 600 of the 3000 damaged structures were subsequently razed to the ground. The destruction was concentrated in a relatively small area near the city center and included many public buildings, such as government offices, as well as 11 hospitals and clinics, numerous multi-story apartment blocks, 11 hotels and 10 banks. More than 1600 school classrooms were damaged.

Buildings of between 6 and 15 stories were especially hard hit. The underbelly of the city was exposed; dozens of textile sweatshops were destroyed. The damages revealed many instances of poor construction standards and of poor enforcement of building codes. Well-built high rises such as the Latin American tower, designed to be earthquake-proof, were unscathed.

The total cost to the Mexican economy was estimated to exceed $5 billion, equivalent to 2% of the country’s GDP (Gross Domestic Product).

The disastrous 1985 earthquakes led to much tighter building codes, equal or superior to anywhere in the world, and to the formation of well-trained emergency search and rescue brigades. They also resulted in the establishment of a Seismic Alarm System which provides a 50-second warning for any earthquake measuring over 6.0 on the Richter scale occurring off the coast of Guerrero or Michoacán.

This is an excerpt from chapter 2 of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico.  Many more details of Mexico’s geology and landforms are analyzed in other parts of the book; take a look using Amazon.com’s Look Inside feature before buying your copy today!

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Repainting the walls of Palmitas in Pachuca leads to reduced crime

 Mexico's geography in the Press  Comments Off on Repainting the walls of Palmitas in Pachuca leads to reduced crime
Jul 302015
 

Palmitas is a small, densely-populated neighborhood in the city of Pachuca, the capital of the state of Hidalgo in central Mexico. It has a reputation for higher than average levels of deprivation, crime and violence.

An innovative social development project, based on artistic transformation, has turned Palmitas over the past few months into a rainbow-hued, quasi-kaleidoscopic, example of urban renewal.

palmitas-foto-jorge-gonzalez

Palmitas, 2015. Photo credit: Jorge González / UNIÓN Hidalgo

The project involved four main players: an art collective (“Germen Crew”), the city government, Comex (a major national paint manufacturer) and a youth organization that was previously better known for its graffiti art.

The youths joined “Germen Crew” and painted 209 houses, some 20,000 square meters of facade in total, into a single rainbow mural. The specialized materials used, supplied by Comex, have provided maximum long-term protection for the dwellings while turning the streets into ribbons of color. The greatest challenge was that many of the exterior walls were in a very rough shape, and some had never been properly finished or protected.

The “macro mural” has been called the “world’s largest” in some news reports. This title is hotly disputed; other contenders include a mural in Berlin and the Pueblo Levee Project in Colorado.

According to streetartnews, the community involvement in this project from start to finish, led to positive effects on 452 families (1808 people), and a dramatic fall in youth violence, to the point of almost eradicating it.

All the homes were first painted white to symbolize the unity of the community, that all community members are equal, and that all members of the community would benefit from the urban renewal. This pair of photos shows before and after images of Palmitas:

crew-germen-graffiti-town-mural-palmitas

Alongside the months of paintings, numerous community events were held to foment participation and a sense of local ownership of the project.

This short video on Youtube (Spanish) describes the project:

The colorful Palmitas project is an unusual and interesting example of urban improvement, urban renewal or urban regeneration.

Comex has said that it will support similar urban renewal projects elsewhere in Mexico that beautify the local settings and help improve people’s lives, so please report back if you find a similar project happening in your neighborhood.

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Historic photo of the month: Mexico City cave-dwellers

 Other  Comments Off on Historic photo of the month: Mexico City cave-dwellers
Jul 232015
 

A shout out to Marcia Ambler for sharing, via email, her memories of Mexico City in the 1950s. Among other things, she recalled how she lived as a child with her family, “in a suburb of Mexico City, where there was a deep barranca with people who lived as cliff dwellers in the barranca walls. There was also a cave nearby with a deep drop which I went in with my friends.”

Her email brought back some fond personal memories of Mexico City from the late 1970s and early 1980s. Shortly after I moved to the city, Time Life published The Great Cities: Mexico City, by John Cottrell. I found this book fascinating at the time, and a quick re-read earlier this week confirms that it still well worth looking for (inexpensive copies available via Abebooks) if you are interested in what makes one of the world’s largest cities tick.

Mexico City cave dwellers. Photo by from The Great Cities: Mexico City" (Time Life books).

Mexico City cave dwellers. Photo by Harold Sund in “The Great Cities: Mexico City” (Time Life, 1979).

Like most Time Life books, it is lavishly illustrated, which brings me back to the caves and cave dwellers, since one of the photos (above), by Harold Sund shows the area that Marcia remembers, and which was also my first introduction to the curious world of relatively modern-day troglodytes in Mexico City.

Sund’s photo shows the Belén de las Flores community, relatively close to western end of Chapultepec Park, though there may well have been, and almost certainly were, several similar settlements elsewhere. This short newspaper article, from the Bangor Daily News in 1978, describes the “year-round comfort” that can be enjoyed in such caves.

I haven’t had the opportunity to revisit this area of Mexico City for more than thirty years, so I’m anxious to know what it looks like now.

Sincere thanks, Marcia, for your message which certainly took me on a trip down memory lane!

Source of photo:

  • John Cottrell. 1979. The Great Cities: Mexico City (Time Life Books, 1979). Photography by Harold Sund.

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Ground subsidence in Mexican cities

 Books and resources  Comments Off on Ground subsidence in Mexican cities
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.)

ground-fissures

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.

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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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Which cities in Mexico have the highest cost of living?

 Mexico's geography in the Press  Comments Off on Which cities in Mexico have the highest cost of living?
Feb 262015
 

The recently published ‘Costo de Vida Nacional 2014-2015’ report from Recursos Humanos Mercer (Mercer Human Resources) provides a comparison of the cost of living in 42 cities, based on the cost of 182 different products and services. The study is released annually to provide a basis for corporations to decide on employee remuneration to reflect the varied living costs in different parts of the country.

The products and services used for comparison are divided into 9 different groups:

  • Housing
  • Food
  • Education
  • Public Transport
  • Clothing and footwear
  • Entertainment
  • Health
  • Domestic appliances
  • Personal care
Part played by different products/services in the cost of living of cities in Mexico

Part played by different products/services in the cost of living of cities in Mexico. Source: Mercer

The values for each city reflect differences from the cost of living in Mexico City, which is assigned an index value of 100. The cities with the highest cost of living in 2014-2015 were Los Cabos, Cancún, Monterrey, Mexico City and Cuernavaca (graph below). In the 2013-2014 version, the cities with the highest cost of living were Cancún, Los Cabos, Monterrey, Mexico City and Puebla.

Cities with the highest cost of living in Mexico

Cities with the highest cost of living in Mexico. Source: Mercer

The cities with the lowest cost of living in 2014-2015 were Tlaxcala, Zacatecas, Tepic, Guanajuato and Tuxtla Gutiérrez (graph below). In 2013-2014, the cities with the lowest cost of living were Zacatecas, Tuxtla Gutiérrez, Guanajuato, Tepic and Veracruz.

Cities with the lowest cost of living in Mexico

Cities with the lowest cost of living in Mexico. Source: Mercer

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Quick photo visit to Mexico City

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Aug 022014
 

The many stupendous images of Mexico City in “HA!!!, And You Thought We Were Riding Donkeys” on the “Lost in My Little World” blog undoubtedly only portray one side of Mexico City (the nice side), but that does not make them any the less worth viewing.

As the blog’s author puts it, “People are always asking me what living in Mexico City is like. Most people either think its dirt, sombreros and donkeys, or they think that drug dealers and kidnapers are waiting for you to get out of your car to kill you at anytime. None of these speculations are real!! It is one of the greatest cities on earth and this article is here to prove it...”

Sadly, the images lack captions, though many of the places are readily identifiable if you have ever visited Mexico’s premier cultural and social center.

Looking for balance? Some of the comments below the images offer links to the many alternative, less attractive sides of the city.