Adriana Lobo
WRI Mexico
View from the Top

Working Toward a Compact, Densified and Balanced City

Wed, 11/01/2017 - 14:46

Q: What are the main challenges and benefits of the new Law of Human Settlements?

A: In the next two years, municipalities are required to complete the overhauling of their urban development plans to adhere to the change of vision introduced by the new law. One of the biggest challenges is making sure that comprehensive mobility strategies are tied to urban development plans. This is sometimes difficult because the federal budget often overlooks public transportation and nonmotorized transportation methods.

Municipalities have the responsibility to make sure there are bicycle routes and pedestrian walkways but the lack of local resources and low prioritization at the federal level demotivates authorities lower down the chain. Power and fiscal resources should be more decentralized because no single authority has the capacity to oversee Mexico’s more than 2,000 municipalities. Cities could more successfully create a customized plan through a more balanced distribution of power.

The new Law of Urban Development will bring life back to cities. It substitutes an obsolete law that was created in the 1970s when Mexico City was experiencing a large influx of immigration. The challenges have changed since then, with almost 80 percent of the country’s population now living in urban areas and smaller families boosting housing demand. Low-income communities have now been pushed to the outskirts of the city. The future of Mexico City needs to be less dispersed, more compact, more connected and more balanced. But we do acknowledge the considerable advances cities have made in the past few years.

Q: Which Mexican cities offer greater opportunity to improve their urban development?

A: The country used to be highly centralized economically and politically in Mexico City but secondary cities are more relevant now, which is creating a better balance across the country. Cities such as Merida and Queretaro have many opportunities to explore because their more compact sizes allow them more flexibility to improve urban planning than larger areas like Mexico City.

Cities are capable of creating powerful transformations. Public space projects in Paris, Seoul and Amsterdam are clear examples of what an established vision and a coordinated effort to achieve sustainable urban development can do.

If Mexico City dedicated itself to shortening people’s commuting times, quality of life would improve considerably. The best projects take a long time to develop but can have a strong positive impact on the population.

The first step in urban planning is establishing a vision. If we cannot imagine the city we desire, we will be unable to create programs that provide the results we seek. The idea is to create a vision, share it and collaborate to make it a reality.

Q: What can be done to incorporate a more sustainable vision into the country’s infrastructure industry?

A: Authorities have a responsibility to tender projects that promote sustainability and comprehensive urban development. Developers are simply meeting the needs outlined in the regulations from the public sector and will develop a project whether it has a positive impact or not. Public regulations have a strong influence on a city’s urban development. If the government improves sustainability requirements, companies will begin to compete on that basis. The key to shaping the future of a city lies on planning and conceptual models.

Accountability mechanisms are among the issues behind the lack of quality in public works. When it comes to Mexico City, the political agenda is increasingly recognizing the importance of sustainable development. At the federal level, the agenda is beginning to tackle topics like corruption and transparency.