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URBAN GEOGRAPHY, 2016

http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02723638.2015.1096114

Selective modernization of Mexico City and its historic


center. Gentrication without displacement?
Victor Delgadillo

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Department of Urban Aairs and Political Science, Universidad Autnoma de la Ciudad de Mxico
(Autonomous University of Mexico City), Distrito Federal, Mxico

ABSTRACT

ARTICLE HISTORY

The logic behind recent processes of urban restructuring in Mexico


City is market-oriented. This has increased land and housing prices
and has made it more dicult for low-income populations to
remain in revalued central areas. This article (1) reviews the grow
ing academic debates about the emergence of gentrication pro
cesses in Mexico City and Latin America, where the forms, timing,
and intensity of gentrication are dierent from those in cities of
the Global North; (2) analyzes public policies that since the year
2000 have focused on an intensive, compact, and sustainable urban
development, and have been oriented toward the selective mod
ernization of the more protable urban areas; and (3) analyzes the
rescue of the historic center of the city and the construction of
two megaprojects. The question of, and debates about, gentrica
tion that apparently occurs without displacement is central to
these three issues.

Received 1 May 2013


Accepted 7 August 2015
KEYWORDS

Mexico City; gentrication;


historic center;
megaprojects; displacement

Introduction
Mexico City has undergone processes of deep urban transformation since the early
1990s. These changes have been in line with market-oriented urban development and
state-entrepreneurial urban administrations that favor private real estate. In this paper I
argue that recent public policies and private investments have selectively modernized
the most protable urban spaces in Mexico City (from the historic core to parts of the
south and west of the city), and have contributed to a rise in land and housing prices.
This change has displacedand continues to threaten to displacethose low-income
populations that inhabit these areas: however, this displacement is not always direct.
Concerns for the environment and for economic growth have provided local govern
ment with arguments in favor of several policies aimed at a return to the center and
urban development that is competitive, sustainable, and compact. Under these
labels, several residential and service-oriented megaprojects have been carried out on
unused land in obsolete industrial areas. Other megaprojects include large-scale trans
port infrastructure, the most recent being toll roads under concession to the private
sector. Some central and historic neighborhoods in the city have been remodeled for
CONTACT Victor Delgadillo
2016 Taylor & Francis

Victor_Delgadill@hotmail.com

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V. DELGADILLO

use by the middle class. Frequently, these policies and megaprojects generate social
discontent and in some cases they have displaced the original populations either as a
pre-condition or as a consequence of the remodeling process.
The main goal of this paper is to show how recent urban trends, public policies, and
private investment are producing an exclusive and exclusionary city where low-income
populations have been displaced from central areas of the city toward an expanding
periphery.
First I analyze growing academic debates on the emergence of gentrication in
Mexico City and Latin America more broadly (including its dierent forms, periods,
and intensities in comparison to the same phenomenon in the so-called Global
North). I pay special attention to the debate about gentrication without displace
ment, which some Mexican and Latin American authors claim is occurring and
represents, according to them, the biggest dierence with the gentrication processes
of the Global North. Next, I analyze the policy of population densication in inner
city areas (rst called Bando 2 and currently branded as compact city policy by the
public authority), which has been the basis for the recent development of several
megaprojects. By September 2014 dierent foreign and domestic investors had built
35 megaprojects and towers in Mexico City: 6.5 million square meters1 in total were
built. In this paper I only have space to discuss two of the largest and most
representative megaprojects, namely New Polanco and Mitikah Progressive City.
The paper focuses especially on the selective rehabilitation of the historic center.
Since the 1990s public policies have tried to incorporate the private sector in their
rescue eorts in this area, recognized by UNESCO as a cultural World Heritage
site. In 2002, Carlos Slim, the second richest person in the world, decided to
participate in this (in his own words) honourable task with the support from
local and national governments (Fundacin Carlos Slim, 2011). He bought several
buildings and created a philanthropic foundation and a real estate company, which
includes 51 buildings valued at 781 million Mexican Pesos (USD$60 million)
(CENTMEX, 2007). However, this investment is just a small fraction of the mag
nates real estate portfolio in Mexico City.
The three cases I discuss in this paper (see map in Figure 1) can be understood as
gentrication processes, in which low-income populations are being displaced as a
pre-condition or exclusionary eect of public and private investments. This article
draws on the following operative denition of gentrication: a process where
particular urban land is subjected to large-scale capital investment (promoted or
supported by the government) with the aim of developing businesses and areas of
consumption (residential, commerce, services) aimed at groups of the population
with higher incomes than the previous residents and users of that space. This
produces an increase in urban rents and, in many cases, the direct or indirect
displacement of low-income populations, although displacement may also occur
afterward (Casgrain & Janoschka, 2013; Delgadillo, 2014; Gonzlez, 2010;
Hiernaux, 2013; Lpez-Morales, 2013, 2011).
The purpose of this article is to show that gentrication is the result of public eorts
that seek the transformation of the city to increase its economic competitiveness
through entrepreneurial urban policy prescriptions. The dierent cases addressed here

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Figure 1. Mexico City: recent urban projects and policies. Source: Author.

display diverse, yet simultaneous, processes of selective modernization in Mexico City


that can be seen as evidence of dierent types of gentrication.
This paper is part of a broader investigation into urban transformations in 10 central
neighborhoods in Mexico City. In this research, I use quantitative and qualitative
methods, namely analysis of population and housing statistics, constant monitoring
of the real estate market, and urban conicts in the press, and on-location eldwork
including interviewsamong other sources. I have also considered information and
data obtained from previous studies.

Gentrication without displacement?


Several researchers have shown that gentrication is undergoing a process of mutation in
the twenty-rst century and that the classical denition (the rehabilitation of old
neighborhoods in central areas which are in decay, the traditional narrative of gentrica
tion in the Global North) no longer describes current processes, as gentrication now
encompasses new territories and forms, and has expanded throughout the world (Lees,
Bang, & Lpez-Morales, 2015; Lees, Slater, & Wyly, 2008; Smith, 2002). It is beyond the
scope of this article to scrutinize the considerable literature produced in Europe and North
America (although Lees et al., 2008, 2010; do that); nevertheless the concept of gentrica
tion is increasingly used, and has been reappropriated, redened by several scholars, and
disputed by conservative researchers and public authorities in Mexico City. This Mexican
discussion is helpful in understanding similar debates in other Latin American cities,
which highlight the sizeable and multidimensional dierences between the Global North
and the Global South (see Hiernaux, 2013; Janoschka, Sequera, & Salinas, 2014; LpezMorales, 2013; 2011).

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Yet the main focus of this article is not to evaluate the contribution of Latin
American researchers to our understanding of the process of gentrication, nor to
review their eorts at applying the concept to their cities. Indeed, Janoschka et al.
(2014) provide a thorough review of this literature, showing that gentrication in Latin
America has been studied in relation to four fundamental processes: (1) symbolic
gentrication, the improvement of urban spaces with public resources, with the aim
of attracting private investment (renovation of historic centers, public security, the
relocation of informal street vendors); (2) neoliberal gentrication policies, the range of
state policies that favor private prot in selected urban territories and that attract new
users; (3) gentrication driven by the real estate market, particularly in central and
peripheral urban areas; and (4) social movements and protests that oppose gentrication
processes.
Janoschka et al. (2014) and Delgadillo, Daz, and Salinas (2015), amongst others,
show that gentrication has grown considerably in Latin America and explore a diverse
range of urban restructuring processes occurring in dierent parts of its cities. Mexican
researchers have thus far responded to the concept of gentrication in three dierent
ways: rejection, mechanical adoption, and critical adaptation. However, this is a rapidly
moving debate. Some authors who now observe these processes previously argued that
gentrication did not occur in Mexico City. Their argument was that population
densication and urban rehabilitation policies in the historic center and inner city
areas targeted uninhabited buildings in neighborhoods that had been largely aban
doned, and that new residents arrived without displacing other populations (Delgadillo,
2005). These studies, however, did not take into account some subtler forms of indirect
or exclusionary displacement that are described in the English literature (Davidson &
Lees, 2005; Lpez-Morales, 2013; Marcuse, 1985; Slater, 2009) and even in some
Mexican work (see for instance Delgadillo, 2015).
In 1993, Peter Ward claimed that gentrication was not happening in inner city
areas of Mexico City (and he also included Buenos Aires, Montevideo, Rio de Janeiro,
and Sao Paulo as part of his analysis) in the same way that it had happened in the
United States or the United Kingdom (Ward, 1993). For Ward, the rent gap was not
large enough to attract investors, partly due to the powerful and lucrative economic
activity based on services and craft production, which prevented the middle class from
being interested in those areas for residential purposes. Carrying this argument forward,
pioneering work by Hiernaux (2003) suggested that gentrication may happen in the
near future because conditions were changing: the government had attracted private
investment to some of the older neighborhoods, and middle-class youth (educated
abroad and able to speak other languages) used these areas for recreation and con
sumption. Indeed, Mel (2003) and Streule (2008) argued that a specic local variant of
gentrication, previously identied by Jones and Varley (2001), was occurring. They
point to deteriorated urban areas, previously occupied by low-income groups, where
increasing land values led to new land uses destined for higher-income groups, regard
less of specic use (residential, commercial, or services). The student collective Taller
del Mapa al Aire (Workshop on Aerial Mapping) (2009) highlighted the order and
simplicity (Clark, 2005) of a process that expels the poor from the renovated historic
center in order to capture the rent gap (Smith, 1996), namely the dierential between
current land rent and a much higher potential rent, driven by the advantages of

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location, infrastructure, services, and public construction regulations, and captured by


privately led redevelopment (Lpez-Morales, 2013). The rent gap grows when capita
lized rent prices fall, or when the potential rent increases due to public policies or
regulations.
Additional research on inner city neighborhoods in Mexico City (specically the
Roma and Condesa neighborhoods) describes the gentrication process in classical
terms, as a 1990s urban rebirthnot planned by the governmentthat represents a
creeping type of operation (Gonzlez, 2008, p. 191) where young people found
aordable accommodation in an attractive urban setting to live and work. They then
became interested in investing there (Quiroz, 2012; Salinas, 2013), even expanding real
estate businesses and service activities to neighboring areas. However, those pioneers, at
the beginning of the process, did not displace any residents.
In this sense, Gonzlez (2010) speaks of light gentrication where new private invest
ments that capture urban rents do not lead to population expulsion. In such locations there
is a new range of cultural and culinary activities and new options for living arrangements, as
well as services that are directed at higher-income groups (tourists, users, and residents),
which coexist with a range of traditional services that meet the needs of the local popula
tion. In a similar vein, Hiernaux (2013) speaks of creole gentrication in the center of
some Mexican cities where urban models imported from the Global North have been
adapted to the dierent local realities of the Global South. One implication is that the
process of gentrication is triggered by dierent factors: the most striking dierence
between Mexican cities and those of the Global North (Gonzlez, 2010; Hiernaux, 2013)
is the limited scope of the former to attract new residents, and the signicant (albeit almost
invisible) presence of low-income immigrants residing in urban centers in deteriorating,
precarious, and/or overcrowded dwellings. This explains the coexistence of consumer
services for high-income groups and traditional services for low-income groups, as well
as no visible direct displacement of original inhabitants.
This debate about gentrication without displacement reects the heterogeneity of
historic centers in Latin America, inheritors of socio-spatial segregation where slum
dwelling coexists alongside revalued buildings. This contrast, together with the diversity
socioeconomic strata often located cheek by jowl, is found in historic centers such as
those in Santiago de Chile, populated by migrants mainly from Peru and Colombia
(Borsdorf & Hidalgo, 2013); Buenos Aires, which attracts migrants from Paraguay and
Bolivia (Rodrguez & Fischnaller, 2014); and in some of the new loft apartments in the
Colonia Roma in Mexico City that stand next to sites occupied informally by indigen
ous migrants from other Mexican States (Delgadillo, 2014). Borsdorf and Hidalgo
(2013) show that the presence of slums (concentrations of cheap boarding houses) on
the micro scale in Santiago de Chile is not an obstacle to gentrication. They also
recognize that real estate reinvestments are at an initial stage, and that it is not known
whether the slums will stay or be replaced.
Disputed cities, disputed concepts
As an echo of the Hamnett (2008) and Slater (2009) debate, in Latin America not only
cities are disputed, but concepts and theories too. Some authors argue that gentrica
tion does not expel people, but puts dierent social groups close to each other and thus

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V. DELGADILLO

creates a possibility for social mixing (Sabatini, Sarella, & Vzquez, 2009). Rojas,
Eduardo, & Emiel (2004) suggests that the poor residents are not displaced in a coercive
way, but that their displacement is voluntary: they leave because they have improved their
socioeconomic conditions and buy land or houses in the periphery or elsewhere, similar
to the model of residential and socioeconomic mobility proposed by Turner (1968) in the
1960s. In the same vein, sources from dierent levels of government in Mexico City argue
that gentrication is positive and inevitable. The Miguel Hidalgo Delegation authority
(2012) states on its website that gentrication rehabilitates, revitalizes, and rejuvenates
neighborhoods and does not expel anyone. In this version no one is displaced and no one
needs to move to go to buy bread. In November 2014, in a web-blog discussion of Milenio
Newspaper (2014), the former head of the Urban Development Oce of Mexico City
argues that gentrication is an inevitable process with some negative collisions, but many
creative forms and positive impacts for cities and its inhabitants, for instance greater
security and better services for consumers (who can pay for it).
Two of the elements that clearly dene gentrication are the social class dimension
and social displacement (direct or indirect). However, gentrication processes happen
at dierent speeds, rhythms, and intensities, and thus social displacement can be either
a condition for gentrication to occur or the result of investments that have been made.
In this sense, Slater (2009), drawing heavily on Peter Marcuses (1985) work, identies
four types of displacement: direct displacement, when owners or tenants suspend
payments, when rents are increased, and when the state expropriates or evicts; con
secutive displacement, generated by urban deterioration; exclusionary displacement,
when the new land-related services are inaccessible to the low-income population;
and, nally displacement through pressure, due to rising living costs.
Those, and other causes and types of displacement, have been recognized by
Mexican and Latin American authors since the 1990s: displacement is occurring, and
there is little evidence that gentrication is occurring by way of the disappearance,
through social change, of the social classes originally inhabiting the gentrifying neigh
borhoods, as Hamnett (2008) has observed in Britain. Direct displacement is caused by
many factors: liberalization of frozen (control of low) rents (established in the 1940
decade); economic diculties leading to evictions because of mortgage default; eviction
for trespassing private or public properties; evictions to further the execution of urban
renewal projects, such as the creation of public parks and squares or expanding streets;
homeless displacement because of media events (Olympic games, the soccer World
Cup); or the visit of distinguished gures (presidents, the Pope). Other direct displace
ments are caused by disasters (earthquakes, oods), which represented an opportunity
to solve the problem of the poor in urban peripheries, through public aid (see
Delgadillo, 2015). However, from our perspective, the most common displacement
type in Mexico City, in the twenty-rst century, is the exclusionary one, as new real
estate and services are unaordable for resident populations.

Mexico City: urban trends and urban policies


Although Mexico has historically been home to a highly unequal society in socio
economic terms, the situation has been exacerbated by the rollout of neoliberalism.
Between 2008 and 2012, the number of poor people (whose income does not meet their

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basic human needs) grew from 49.5 to 53.3 million (i.e. from 44.2% to 45.5% of the
Mexican population) (CONEVAL, 2013). According to the World Bank (2014), the
highest 10% of the Mexican population earns 38% of the total income, while the lowest
10% of the population earns just 2%. In addition, in 2007 about 9.5 million Mexicans
resided in the United States (8.6% of the countrys population) because of the high
unemployment rate in Mexico, which rose to 4.8% in 20072 (Ordaz & Ruiz, 2011).
However, Ordaz and Ruiz (2011) estimate that 27.1%or over 11.5 millionof eco
nomically active people work in the informal sector.
Mexico City, also known as Federal District (DF), is part of a Metropolitan Region
engulng a continuous urban area and a few more dispersed settlements. These include
16 administrative districts in the DF (called Delegations), 59 municipalities in the State
of Mexico, and one in the State of Hidalgo. At present, the population of the metro
politan area is 20 million people, of which only 8.6 million live in the DF while the rest
live in other metropolitan municipalities.
The metropolis has undergone major urban development processes: on the one
hand, the metropolis has experienced population loss in its center since the 1950s;
this trend had become more prominent by the end of the twentieth century. This
population loss is due to the expansion of activities in the tertiary sector in the more
accessible areas of the metropolitan center; land-use changes from residential to
commercial; the physical deterioration of the building stock; the absence of housing
policies; and increased housing supply at the outer reaches of the city (Delgadillo,
2008). There have been, since the year 2000, some policy attempts to mitigate this trend.
Yet, the formal and informal expansion of urban and suburban sprawl due to access to
cheap land (PUEC, 2011, p. 13) has overwhelmed policy attempts to slow it down.
Indeed, during the past decade, federal government housing policy has encouraged
formal subdivisions in the city outskirts, and has voraciously consumed peripheral land
to host residential housing units set in enormous housing estates (Delgadillo, 2014).
The Federal District (DF), which consists of the city center as well as the metropo
litan areas more central parts, has been unable to retain its population. However, a
close scrutiny of population changes within the metropolis seems to suggest that
population losses have been selective, driven by increasing land and housing costs
that push low-income populations to neighboring municipalities in the metropolitan
area. This is further explained below.
First, between 1990 and 2010 the population growth in the DF was only 615,000, while
population in the metropolitan region increased by four million. During the same period,
eight of the 16 Delegations that make up the DF registered population losses totaling
435,045 inhabitants. The other eight Delegations, despite having poor infrastructure and
services, and an urbanization ban due to their designation as ecological conservation
areas, registered population gains of 1,050,345 inhabitants.
Second, between 2005 and 2010, the number of people who were originally from the
DF but resided in the more peripheral areas of the State of Mexico rose from 255,000 to
382,202 (INEGI, 2005 and 2010). It is interesting to note that the Mexico City
Government is aware that 100,000 people leave the DF each year due to the increasing
costs of land and rents (La Jornada, 01/10/2013), and that during the real estate boom
370,000 families left the DF to live in the cheaper neighboring State of Mexico, despite
having to commute to the DF every day to work, study, or shop (La Jornada, 07/02/2014).

V. DELGADILLO

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An urban policy of (re)densication


Responding to this peripheralization, the local government of the Federal District
implemented, between 2000 and 2006, a policy known as Bando 2. The Bando 2
restricted the growth of the city in nine of the 16 Delegations and encouraged popula
tion growth in the four central Delegations.3 It restricted urban development through
out the city and restricted permits for new housing units to the four central Delegations
(Benito Jurez, Cuauhtmoc, Miguel Hidalgo, and Venustiano Carranza). This central
city area had lost 1.2 million residents between 1970 and 2000. The aim of the Bando 2
was to attract people to the central area and avoid uncontrolled suburban development
and the (often informal) urbanization of lands with ecological value (Tamayo, 2007).
However, this pragmatic urban policy was extraneous to the existing legal framework
(particularly the local byelaws and the Urban Development Programmes, none of which
forbade housing construction on urban land in the DF), and did not cover other areas
that had also undergone population decline and loss of housing stock (by 2000 eight
Delegations had lost population and not just these four).4
The Bando 2 created its own administrative and scal instruments to support the
construction of housing and social housing by private and public sectors, respectively.
These instruments were based on the following tax exemptions or advantages aimed at
property buyers or redevelopers:
(1) Tax exemption of up to 100% for property acquisition, and payment for utilities
(water and drainage), building permissions, and land-use procedures.
(2) The existing legal obligation for developers to provide parking places for resi
dential projects was lifted.
(3) The establishment of a single oce to process dierent permits that usually are
processed in various public oces. These permits include land-use licenses,
alignment, property registration numbers, construction licenses, and feasibility
estimates relating to introducing water, drainage, roads, soil uses, and service
access.
A review of the statistics between 1990 and 2010 shows that, in the four Delegations
covered by the policy, there was a population decline of 209,130 and an increase in the
number of housing units of 66,489. This apparent contradiction might be explained by
the fact that the resident population continued to be expelled by increasing land and
housing rents, while new in-movers were made up of younger individuals or families
with fewer members and more purchasing power. However, from 2000 to 2010, both
population and housing increased in the areas covered by Bando 2 (as Table 1 and
Figure 2 show).
During the period the Bando 2 was in operation, in the whole central city area,
33,497 housing units were built. Most of these were constructed by the private sector
aimed at middle-income groups and in areas where infrastructure, services, public
gardens, and public spaces were already available for newcomers (SEDUVI, 2006).
One immediate consequence of this policy was a large increase in the cost of housing
in the inner city. In 2000 the average sale price of a housing unit was seven hundred
thousand pesos; by 2008 it had risen to more than two million pesos5 (Benlliure, 2008).

URBAN GEOGRAPHY

Table 1. Population and housing in the central city 1990, 2000, and 2010.
1990
Delegation
Benito Jurez
Cuauhtmoc
Miguel Hidalgo
Venustiano Carranza
Total Central City
Federal District

Population
407,811
595,960
406,868
519,628
1,930,267
8,235,744

Housing units
115,319
159,410
99,335
117,820
491,884
1,798,067

2000
Population
360,478
516,255
352,640
462,806
1,692,179
8,605,239

Housing units
113,741
147,181
94,475
116,986
472,383
2,103,752

2010
Population
385,439
531,831
372,889
430,978
1,721,137
8,851,043

Housing units
141,117
173,804
120,135
123,317
558,373
2,132,368

Source: Authors results based on data from INEGI.

40,000

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20,000
0
20,000
19902000
20002010
19902010

40,000
60,000
80,000
100,000

Benito-Jurez

Cuauhtmoc

Miguel Hidalgo Venustiano Carranza

30000
25000
20000
15000
10000

19902000
20002010
19902010

5000
0
5000
10000
15000

Benito-Jurez

Cuauhtmoc

Miguel Hidalgo Venustiano Carranza

Figure 2. Increasedecrease of population and housing in the central city 19902010. Source:
Author.

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Since then, the new supply of housing has excluded the low-income population. This
is within the context of Mexico City, where a social interest (subsidized) house or
apartment must, according to law, have a maximum purchase price of fteen times
the minimum wage. This equates to an average purchase price of 354,561 pesos
(24,000 dollars at 2015 exchange rates), far below market rates. Seventy-ve percent
of the workers registered with the National Housing Institute for Workers
(INFONAVIT) in Mexico City have exercised their right to a housing loan to
purchase a unit somewhere in municipalities outside of the DF in the State of
Mexico, where land costs are cheaper (Morteo, 2005). The real estate publication
Metros Cbicos (JulyAugust 2013) reported that housing prices in Mexico City had
the eect of doubling and tripling housing prices in the neighboring municipalities,
except those included in the Bando 2 zone (see Table 2). Bando 2 also opened the way
for new real estate developments that increased building densities in the central city.
This is discussed in the following section.

The rescue of the historic city center and megaprojects


In the context of multiple urban problems, the Mexico City Government initiated,
in conjunction with its social policies (focused only on the poorest population), a
series of urban policies aimed at maintaining the adequate functioning (in the
local governments words), of the southwestern areas of the city. It undertook the
selective modernization of central urban areas, through megaprojects, reinforcing
the insular nature of the urban structure and its fragmentation (Duhau & Giglia,
2008). With the slogans sustainable urban development, compact city, and the
rescue of the World Heritage, the urban areas in the south and west of the city
were given advantages for privately led redevelopment. The following are some of
the most recent and signicant examples of these urban policies and megaprojects.

Mitikah progressive city


This is a controversial megaproject by the Ideurban Group and Prudential Real
Estate (US and Mexican capital) in the Benito Jurez Delegation, which is conve
niently located and has good transportation facilities. The project is situated on an
unused urban plot, a parking lot, and includes the provision of a clinic, a hotel, 500
luxury apartments, a commercial center, cinemas, oces, a heliport, and under
ground parking for more than 2000 cars. It comprises seven 12- to 30-storey
buildings, and one 70-storey tower designed by the Argentinean star architect
Table 2. 2013 housing sales prices in Mexico City and the State of Mexico.
Mexico City
House value
Lowest
Average
Highest

Size (M2)
62
88
152

Price*
104,557.38
220,756.31
389,509.46

State of Mexico
$/M2
1,686.41
2,508.59
2,562.56

Size M2
49
91
176

Source: Own results based on data from Metros Cbicos, JulyAugust 2013.
Note: * US dollars (considering 13 Mexican pesos for each US dollar).

Price*
30,169.15
101,520.62
267,427.54

$/M2
615.70
1,115.61
1,519.47

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11

Csar Pelli. In 2009 and 2010 the original residents of the adjacent neighborhood,
Xoco, received many oers for their properties. Hitherto, zoning in this project area
was for mixed housing to a maximum height of six stories. In 2012 the inhabitants
demonstrated against the physical impact of the project on their church and houses.
Afterward they complained about the discretionary way that land-use regulations
had been modied for the project and the impunity of both the real estate company
and the civil servants involved in its administration. The ocer who approved the
environmental statement procedure for the project is a founder, a partner, and was
the director of the private company that undertook the environmental impact study
for the project,6 an example of endemicand unpunishedcorruption.
The residents of the Xoco neighborhood sued the state to cancel or reduce the
scale of the megaproject. According to interviews I conducted in October 2014,
between 2009 and 2014 property taxes increased by 500% and the cost of welfare
services for the low-income and original residents tripled. These residents feared
they would be displaced by the impact of the mega construction. They also faced
considerable disadvantage as their eorts to confront the colluding powers of real
estate business and the authorities were unsuccessful (see Figures 3). However, in
July 2014 a decision by a Mexico City court decided in favor of the Xoco neighbors
and stoppedmomentarilyconstruction of the buildings. However, the local gov
ernment acted quickly to defend the legality of the construction in the name of
job creation and urban competitiveness, and construction resumed.

Figure 3. Mitikah seen from the church, and a protest poster. Photos: Author. Note: The protest
banner says: Urban Development Oce (SEDUVI) understand, Xoco neighbourhood is not for sale.
Middle: I am the mega-destruction. Bottom: It builds 181 ats of impunity.

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The new Polanco


The Polanco neighborhood is known as the home to rich Mexican people, particularly
those of Jewish and Lebanese origin. In the 1940s a large industrial area was constructed
in the northern part of this district and became obsolete by the 1990s. The derelict land
had strategic importance due to its central location in what was previously the edge of
the city, and was further attractive because it was within Polanco. The old Chrysler,
General Motors, and Vitro factories were demolished between 2004 and 2005, and were
subsequently sold under the precepts of the Bando 2. Construction began on several
megaprojects with mixed uses (oces, housing, services, and commerce). One of these,
Plaza Carso or Slim City, comprised two million square meters and included 430 luxury
apartments, two museums, a shopping center, a theater, a hotel, and three blocks of
oce buildings, occupied by companies owned by Carlos Slim (TELMEX, TELCEL,
INBURSA, and CARSO) (Real Estate, Market & Lifestyle, 2014). There are other
megaprojects in the area benetting from international investments: City Towers,
Grand Polanco, La Quadra, Parques Polanco, and Polrea.
Recently the residents of adjoining districts have expressed discontent. In 2012
residents from the Irrigacin district complained about the eect of the megaproject
on trac and urban services. Furthermore, at the same time as new high-rise buildings
are constructed and factories await demolition, a small low-income settlement still
exists. Built by the original residents of the area, it is located along a street called
Cerrada de Andromco, at the center of the redevelopment frenzy (see Figure 4). There
have been some attempts by investors in the area to eliminate this space as they claim it
is a pocket of poverty (Delgadillo, 2014). During a visit in November 2014, around

Figure 4. Cerrada de Andromco Street. Exterior and interior views. Photos: Author.

URBAN GEOGRAPHY

13

ve residents prevented me from taking photos of their street and houses, and they
asked me (with fear and anger) who is your boss who wants to buy our houses?.
The local government recently developed a program for the improvement of the
Cerrada de Andromco Street. This appears to be a program to make the self-built
houses invisible. In addition, the cost of water and property taxes has increased.
Meanwhile, the residents have expressed their fear of displacement as their houses are
surrounded by luxury constructions.

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The cyclical7 rehabilitation of the historic center


The political cycle of recovery of the historic center began in 1967. By now there have
been seven generations of public programs whose actions have taken place mainly in
the same area (Delgadillo, 2005). One key policy was passed in 1980, and this is the
creation of Mexico Citys Historic Center Zone, which covers 668 street blocks, 9,263
plots of land, and measures 9.1 square kilometers. It is divided into two subareas: the
rst, called perimeter A, is where most historic buildings are concentrated; the second,
called perimeter B, is a transitional zone between the old city and the new one
(Delgadillo, 2005). The historic center has the largest concentration of historic monu
ments in the country and is the main central space in the metropolitan area. It is an
important commercial center specializing in services and activities that have importance
at a regional scale. It is also an accessible area, and this generates a oating population
estimated at more than one million people per day. It is a small area with great social,
political, and media visibility, and has a strong symbolic signicance for Mexicans.
In the context of neoliberal reform at the beginning of the 1990s, the program called
chame una manita! (Lend me a hand) (19911994) aimed at promoting private
sector participation to save the heritage of the building stock, add value to the
Business District (34 blocks in the historical center), and relocate street vendors to 28
modest shopping centers (plazas comerciales).
The historic center has always been characterized by deep contrasts. At the begin
ning of the twenty-rst century the southern and western zones were in a better
condition than they were in the 1990s as several buildings had been restored, and the
lower oors were used as shops, oces, commercial outlets, banks, and cultural centers
for high-income clients (although the higher oors remain underutilized). Tourists visit
the zone, it has lost more population than the other central areas, and it is the place
where the millionaire Carlos Slim invests most (Delgadillo, 2005). The northern and
eastern zones are characterized by the poor condition of their buildings and public
spaces: this may reect the fact that there was no program of urban heritage rehabilita
tion in these areas until 2007. The families here are low-income, and a large amount of
informal economic activity occurs in the area in parallel with the formal trading sector.
Socioeconomic dierences between residents of the historic center are wide: 52% of
the resident population earned less than twice the minimum wage in the year 2000. In
2002 Carlos Slim initiated his project to recover the historic center when he pur
chased 63 buildings destined for a variety of activities (Delgadillo, 2005). The area
underwent a major process of population loss. Between 1990 and 2010 it lost 36,965
inhabitants and gained 7,083 housing units, to move from 194.544 to 157.579 inhabi
tants and from 48,511 to 56,594 dwellings. Recently, however, in the period 2005 to

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V. DELGADILLO

2010, the area modestly increased its population by 5,506 inhabitants (as well as adding
a further 14,340 housing units). By the year 2010, the area housed 1.78% of the Federal
Districts population and 2.06% of its housing stock (Delgadillo, 2014).
A key change occurred in 2001 when Carlos Slim decided to invest in the rescue of
this World Heritage preservation district, supported by the local and federal govern
ments. The local government implemented the Historic Center Rescue Program
(Programa de Rescate del Centro Histrico 20022006). The same territory was targeted
for rescue as had been a decade before. In the new program, the federal and local
governments created a Consultative Board for the Rescue of the Historic Center
(Consejo Consultivo para el Rescate del Centro Histrico), where intellectuals and artists
had a voice, although it did not include any local residents. The program also estab
lished an Executive Committee, which was made up of three federal cabinet ocials,
three local government secretaries, and four representatives of civil society (one
journalist, one historian, a Catholic archbishop, and Carlos Slim). The Mexican mag
nate was President of both the Board and the Committee. The Executive Committee
dened public security and the scal incentives for the recuperation of the historic
center (Delgadillo, 2005).
The renovation of public space in 34 square blocks was nanced by the local
government, and it also included the construction of Plaza Jurez, which is home to
the nations Tribunals, the Foreign Relations Secretariat, and a museum. Close by, in
the area surrounding the public garden La Alameda, a ve-star hotel and a convention
center were built. These have drawn the attention of academic specialists who consider
that these developments represent the beginning of a scaling-up of urban renovation to
include large-scale residential buildings and recreation facilities, attracting foreign
companies, the return of high-income groups to the center, and the displacement of
lower- and moderate-income groups (Davis, 2005).
Additionally, the former Mayor of New York, who adopted a policy of zero
tolerance to crime, became an advisor to the Mexico City public security program.
According to Davis (2007), the zero-tolerance program in Mexico was more political
ag waving than an ecient solution to delinquency. In the context of Giulianis
recommendations, on 5 May 2004 the Mexico City Legislature passed the Civic Culture
Law (Ley de Cultura Cvica), which grants powers to the local government to evict
people from the streets for engaging in informal and suspicious activities (Delgadillo,
2005).
As previously mentioned, between 2002 and 2004, Carlos Slim purchased 63
buildings8 (Delgadillo, 2005) in the southwest part of the historic center. Here there
were no social displacements, because those buildings were uninhabited. The purpose
of the purchases was to develop commercial outlets, services, and housing for youth,
and also to house some oces of Slims telecommunication corporations (see Figure 5).
Until then, all activity deriving from the public programs for the recuperation of
the historic center were carried out in less than 10% of its total area. However, the
Historic Center Recovery Program 20072012 extended the territory for the recovery of
building heritage to include some neighborhoods in the north and the east. This
Program created the Historic Center Authority (2007) and introduced the fourth line
of the Metrobus urban transport system, which links the historic center with the
international airport. At the same time, the local authority relocated (yet again)

URBAN GEOGRAPHY

15

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Figure 5. Historic Center: Buildings bought by Slim. Source: Author.

15,000 street vendors who occupied 87 streets. The vendors took their trade indoors to
36 commercial plazas handed over to them through government programs. This has
been described by Walker (2008) as evidence of gentrication, and for Janoschka et al.
(2014) it represents symbolic gentrication, preparing the eld for private investment.
However, these informal vendors have not been sent to the city outskirts. They are
organized in strong quasi-corporations that are linked to political parties. They have
resisted being moved out of the historic center and have negotiated relocation within
the same area. Whilst his can be considered as a symbolic preparation for private
investment, it can also be construed as a type of resistance to gentrication: the street
sellers organizations are strong enough to resist being sent to the citys periphery. They
may give up working in the street, but not working in the historic center.
During 10 years of rehabilitating the historic center, the Historical Center Real
Estate company, owned by Carlos Slim, has renovated 620 apartments in 55 buildings
(Fundacin Carlos Slim, 2011). However, the historic center has many other small
investors and housing construction companies that are active in perimeter B, where
they can construct new buildings on plots without historic value. Those investors and
companies are not interested in rehabilitating existing buildings. Between 1998 and
2001 private investors constructed 10 buildings with 579 housing units in perimeter B.
These were on unused plots, or replaced buildings with no heritage value (Delgadillo,
2005). It should be noted that the legal norm that preserves the built heritage acts
against capturing the rent gap, as it prevents structural substitution and prevents the
large-scale modication of historic buildings.
In the Slim-dominated part of the Historic Center there is a particular street, Regina
Street, that has been transformed into a cultural corridor and has become an interesting
urban and social laboratory, mainly due to the coexistence of unlikely groups: as close
neighbors, the new middle-class residents and consumers share spaces with the old low
income residents. This is not very common in a city as segregated as Mexico City. The
street became fashionable in 2002 when several renovation works were carried out in
conjunction with its pedestrianization, the creation of a public garden, the relocation of
street sellers, new security measures, new cultural activities, and new coee shops,
restaurants, and galleries. (Figures 5, 6). Carlos Slim purchased 19 buildings in this
area (six on Regina Street and 13 on adjacent streets), and several of these were
renovated and put on the market as housing for new middle-class residents. The

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V. DELGADILLO

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Figure 6. Regina Street in the 1970s and in 2011. Archive and Photo: Author.

reconstruction program, called Renovation of Popular Housing, had rehabilitated and


reconstructed 36 social housing buildings in the same area after the 1985 earthquakes.
Publicity advertising apartments for sale in Regina Street started to appear in 2011.
Some of these were social housing units located in historic buildings that were reno
vated after the 1985 earthquakes. At the same time (2011) the real estate website Live in
the Center (Vivir en el Centro), published by the Historic Center Trust, advertised 85
properties for rent and sale. Three of these were located in Regina Street. By August
2013 there were 54 advertisements, of which seven were on Regina, with sales prices
ranging between 600,000 pesos (60 square meters) and 1,440,000 pesos (70 square
meters).9 In October 2014, among other housing on oer, there was a loft in Regina
57 (70 square meters) sold for 2,480,000 pesos.10 These prices are out of reach for the
low-income population.
The Population Census registers that between 1990 and 2010 the number of inha
bitants in the Regina neighborhood fell from 8,354 to 5,122 residents and the number of
housing units fell from 2,133 to 1,555. However, between 2000 and 2010 the decline
slowed down considerably, with losses of 649 residents and 36 housing units.
It remains to be seen how this neighborhood will develop in the future. How long
will traditional residents resist the displacement pressures? Whether or not middle
and high-income youth are interested in living in social housing that was rehabili
tated and reconstructed after the 1985 earthquakes, the new bars, restaurants, cafes,
and housing are expensive for the old residents. This constitutes a typical form of
gentrication, as identied by Jones and Varley (2001) since the 1990s in Latin
American historic cores.

Conclusions
Climate change, sustainable development, and economic competitiveness (accompanied
by job creation) are public discourses that legitimate private business in Mexico City.
For instance, the urban redevelopment policy Bando 2 was allegedly created to halt
urban expansion in ecologically sensitive areas and enable low-income groups to access
housing. However, it ended up increasing the cost of central land and housing for these

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17

groups (thereby exacerbating pressure on the sensitive outlying areas), and it enabled
the private sector to construct housing for higher-income groups, besides opening the
way for recent urban megaprojects. Thus the policy spearheaded displacements due to
exclusion, as the majority of the population cannot aord the housing units produced
in the central city.
The common denominator of the recent urban megaprojects, despite their dierent
characteristics and dimensions, is the role the local government has played in their
development and the pursuit of prot by real estate capital, which regards the city as a
money-making machine. Public policy and private investors have made Mexico City
signicantly more expensive, and have even made it inaccessible for low-income
populations, turning it into an insular and even more unequal society. Planning and
urban laws have been modied and oriented to enable the maximum exploitation of
urban rents.
The classication of gentrication studies in Latin America by Janoschka et al. (2014) is
useful provided that the highlighted processes are not considered to be sequential. That is
to say, symbolic gentrication is not necessarily the rst step toward public policies for
gentrication, nor is it a prior stage to market-led gentrication. Their classication is
useful if it is considered as porous, and with processes that are juxtaposed. In this sense, I
would argue that the historic center of Mexico City represents a type of gentrication that
has been copromoted by the state and the market, whose emblematic gure is one single
investor who has recuperated the World Heritage in the historic center, even if the
sprawling real-estate interests of the Mexican magnate are dispersed throughout the
metropolis.
Finally, exclusionary displacement seems to be the current and widespread expression
of gentrication processes in Mexico City. Indeed, recent private investments facilitated
by public policies are made in sparsely populated, uninhabited, and seemingly empty
territories, so that no large-scale evictions occur, specic cases notwithstanding: the
Mitikah and New Polanco megaprojects, as well as the historic cores rescue, were
constructed or undertaken on unused land, in long-depopulated areas and on the sites
of obsolete factories. However, as Davidson and Lees (2005) argue, this is also a form of
gentrication and a clear example of exclusionary displacement, as the new housing is
not accessible to population groups who could have aorded the areas (and neighboring
spaces) before the Mitikah and Ciudad Slim redevelopment took place. The issue is not
so much one of a disgruntled local population, but the impact of these developments in
the future. Overall, the revaluation and gentrication processes occurring in selected
urban areas of Mexico City are not positive, as some authorities and local ocials try to
show or as some scholars assume: these processes expel some, and exclude many,
resident people. The great challenge is to shed light upon the quasi-invisible displace
ment and social exclusion of low-income people that public policies and private
investments make, under the discourse of ecological and competitive urban
development.

Notes
1. These are corporate buildings, residential complexes, retail, and mixed-use megaprojects
(housing, trade, and services) (Real Estate, Market & Lifestyle, 2014).

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V. DELGADILLO

2. This unemployment rate is low relative to Western standards, reecting the very low
ocial participation rates in Mexico and the high prevalence of insecure and casual
employment. It is the upward trend that is of note. In Mexico, the government recognizes
as unemployed those economically active people who have lost their formal job, but not
those who have never worked in the formal economy.
3. About the other three Delegations nothing was mentioned. However, those Delegations
were used to build social housing by the local government.
4. In addition to the four central Delegations, the following Delegations also underwent
population decline: Azcapotzalco, Coyoacn, Iztacalco, and Gustavo Madero.
5. In this period the ination rate was of 54.23%, while the workers income increased by
39%.
6. In the history of Mexico City one can usually nd that private investors work as public
ocials in some administrations, and vice versa. There are uid relationships between the
public and private spheres, always in benet of the investors. So entrepreneurial urbanism
is nothing new in this city.
7. Since 1967 each designed or elected government has rescued the historic center. So the
last four democratic governments have invested four times in this urban territory.
8. Carlos Slim invested 375.2 million pesos in the purchase of 31 buildings. Information
about the costs of the other 32 buildings is not available.
9. Between 48,000 and 115,000 dollars.

10 Around 198,400 US dollars.

Acknowledgment
The author is very grateful to the anonymous reviewers and also to the guest editors for their
comments and observations.

Disclosure statement
No potential conict of interest was reported by the author.

Funding
This research was supported within the 7th European Community Framework Programme [FP7
PEOPLE-PIRSES-GA-2012-318944] by a Marie Curie International Research Sta Exchange
Scheme Fellowship, titled CONTESTED_CITIES: Contested Spatialities of Urban
Neoliberalism, Dialogues between Emerging Spaces of Citizenship in Europe and Latin
America.

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