Conference themes

Around the globe cities are being confronted with the need to turn their attention to their expansion beyond their administrative boundaries, and to the formation of vast metropolitan regions. The consequence of this metropolitanisation is that local authorities are being outgrown, bringing about the inefficiency in urban governance and planning. Mexico City began its metropolitanisation process in the 1950s and its sustained growth has made it into one of the world’s largest metropolitan regions. Today, the Metropolitan Area of Mexico City is made up of the 16 boroughs of the Federal District, 58 municipalities of the State of Mexico, and one from the State of Hidalgo. Of the total population of over 18 million inhabitants, around 8.6 million live within the Federal District and 9.7million live in the State of Mexico.

For the last thirty years the governments of the State of Mexico and the Federal District have attempted to create coordinated measures to deal with the problem of metropolitanisation. The recognition of the need to create a comprehensive strategy for the metropolitan area by the different actors involved in the city is already a significant step forward. An example of such attempts was the establishment, in 1998, of the Executive Commission for Metropolitan Coordination. However, from the moment of its creation until its demise in 2000 the Commission held only three plenary meetings and adopted 30 agreements, which failed to integrate practical policies into a strategic metropolitan vision. A sign of political will and momentum is the reinstatement of the Commission in October 2005, led by the national Minister of the Interior, and the Governors of the State of Mexico and the Federal District.

The important advancements in democracy that are taking place in the country are adding to the complexity of the political setting of Mexico City and working as a further challenge to the governability of the city. The undoubtedly positive fact that the mayor of the Federal District is now directly elected, together with the expanded responsibilities given to its Executive and Legislative organs, have had the negative effect of making the relations between the State of Mexico and the Federal District increasingly complicated. An additional obstacle to the governability of the city is the fact that today the Federal District, the State of Mexico, and the Federal Government are led by the country’s three main opposing political parties. This complex political landscape adds salience to the argument that metropolitan governance cannot rely on a voluntaristic and contractual model as it has done in the past.

The greatest challenge posed to metropolitan governability and the main reason for urgent coordination is the shared use of services and infrastructure across administrative boundaries, which puts an unequal burden on the two governing entities. The infrastructure necessary for the metropolis to function well is, in practice, shared by the inhabitants of the Federal District and the State of Mexico. A significant number of people traverse the administrative boundaries which divide the two entities on a daily basis, thus adding to the pressure on the infrastructure in both political districts. The costs of this are absorbed separately by the two districts; investment and strategic planning of these infrastructures is not done in a coordinated fashion, although in practice they constitute a unified network

One of the biggest problems the metropolitan area of Mexico City is currently facing is the water crisis. For over three decades the Federal District has turned to the State of Mexico for the provision of water. The distribution of this resource, however, has been notably uneven both across the metropolitan region and within the Federal District itself. At present, the metropolitan region as a whole is facing a serious crisis as to how to cope with rising demand, when most of the nearby resources are drying out. Already today, disadvantaged areas are experiencing severe shortages, meaning that water is becoming an important factor for social and political confrontation.

The total population of the metropolitan area is almost equally divided between the Federal District and the State of Mexico. However, urban growth is now almost exclusive to the State of Mexico and the trend for the future is that population growth in the Federal District will stabilise, whereas that of the State of Mexico will steadily rise. Until today, this phenomenon has not been dealt with in a unified way by the bodies that constitute the metropolitan area, but rather localised policies have exacerbated this trend. An example of this is how the Federal District’s policy to densify the central boroughs, and to constrain growth beyond this area, has promoted the massive urbanisation of the State of Mexico. This not only means an increasing burden with regard to public investment, provision of services and infrastructure, but also that the population with lower incomes is concentrating in the State of Mexico, adding further complexity to the existing patterns of social inequality and segregation.

The Metropolitan Area of Mexico City continues to offer the highest levels of quality of life, and yet poverty and marginality are still lower here than in other areas of the country. It is the region that contributes most to the existing high levels of inequality. The historical divide within the Federal District between the affluent west and south and the poor north and east is being intensified by rising inequality and segregation between the Federal District and the municipalities of the State of Mexico that make up the metropolitan region.

Author: Iliana Ortega-Alcazar