Gabriella Gómez-Mont
Director General
Laboratorio para la Ciudad
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View from the Top

A Platform for Comprehensive Urban Planning Integration

Wed, 11/01/2017 - 14:56

Q: What led to the creation of Laboratorio para la Ciudad and which urban planning and policy areas are priorities?

A: Laboratorio para la Ciudad was born four years ago under Mayor Miguel Ángel Mancera and it is officially the experimental arm of the Mexico City government. I have 20 people on my team, half of whom come from disciplines related to areas like urban planning, sociology, political science and data analysis. The other half come from more creative, artistic fields, including artists, designers, filmmakers, historians, journalists, architects and activists. Most of what we do combines both these worlds. Another particularity is that we function as a bridge between civil society and government. Public participation is incredibly important because it can help us better understand the city and implement new methodologies.

We believe that many social and urban challenges require different players to sit around the same table, and one of the things we needed to do from the outset was to create new tools to better understand the city. In the last four years, we have been implementing a number of projects. Our urban geography department has developed interesting tools with which we have been geolocalizing certain information about the city. We can cross-reference data on the number of children per block with information on access to open and public spaces and marginalization and segregation indexes across the city. We understand that in a city as sprawling and diverse as ours, more datadriven and focused policy is required.

Q: What projects has the Laboratory implemented that demonstrate its value to the city?

A: To really understand the city and include the voices of citizens, we need to understand the city that lives in people’s heads. We surveyed 31,000 people across more than 1,400 neighborhoods and asked what they thought were the biggest challenges and opportunities of urban planning in the city. It was incredibly interesting because now we can categorize this information by age, by gender and by block and determine how we imagine the future of the city.

Even though there are differences from borough to borough, we find that topics like corruption, mobility, public safety and water are the main concerns. In terms of potential, the number one opportunity across almost all areas was culture. Under the leadership of Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, the first Mayor of Mexico City, we surveyed 70 high-level people. The survey results pointed to culture, creativity and diversity as the top sources of potential for Mexico City. Because of this, the Laboratory has focused its agenda not only on the city’s challenges but also its potential.

Q: Considering geopolitical transitions, how is Laboratorio changing its goals for the coming years?

A: The current times prove the need for governments to be much more agile and to accept more collaboration both on a local level and with other cities. This is extremely interesting because, although many of the systems in Paris, for example, can be adopted by Mexico City, Paris has also expressed interest in adopting some of our systems.

The average age in Mexico City is 30 and the life of its citizens is very different than it was 30 years ago, so we need to ask ourselves how we can make government a place where the new demographics have a say in the conversation.

During the 1980s and ‘90s, Mexico City was seen as a sprawling megalopolis that nobody really understood. In fact, the city was one of the first three to become a megacity worldwide and we have been one of the world’s largest cities since prehispanic times. The world is realizing that megacities are the future of humanity and critics are now having to take a second look to examine how cities have solved its problems. We are now starting to figure out the sheer potential that megacities could unleash.