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"Mexsicko" City No More
January 12, 2013 5:22 PM   Subscribe

After years of dedicated rehabilitation, the people of Mexico City have transformed from one of the worst environments in the world to one of the "greenest" cities in North America, but there are still challenges to be faced.
posted by BZArcher (28 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
That's pretty cool.
posted by silby at 5:33 PM on January 12, 2013


I lived in Mexico City for several years, decades ago, and it was never "one of the worst environments in the world".

Mexico City is a beautiful place. On weekends we went to Chapultepec Park, eating helados and paletas. In the evening, we danced at the salsa clubs, tomando bebidas con ron, bailando todo la noche. Es un lugar especial, el D.F. Hay cultura, hay buen comida, hay buen amistad.

It's a beautiful place. Don't be rude. It has never been "one of the worst environments in the world."
posted by twoleftfeet at 5:36 PM on January 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


It has never been "one of the worst environments in the world."
In 1992, the UN declared Mexico D.F. the most polluted city on the planet.
posted by agentofselection at 5:46 PM on January 12, 2013 [25 favorites]


Yeah, I remembered the air pollution being terrible and turned up this article, which cites the same data. (and is actually an interesting article otherwise).
posted by selfnoise at 5:49 PM on January 12, 2013


It's not an insult to a beautiful indigenous culture to point out air pollution
posted by lalochezia at 5:53 PM on January 12, 2013 [22 favorites]


The pollution issue has been a going concern for many residents of the city and one that they have made considerable progress on since the 90s. The popular trope of feverish latins dancing all night long doesn't really detract much from research showing that breathing the air was killing children.
posted by Winnemac at 5:58 PM on January 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


This result pleases me, because Mexico City is among my wife's and my favorite place to visit (three times so far), and now it looks like I only have to deal with the altitude and not speaking Spanish (much)! More seriously, although the conscious efforts to reduce and control pollution in the D.F. have almost certainly had some impact (it is impossible that they would not have), my understanding is that the single biggest impact on air quality has been the closing of many industrial businesses in and around the D.F. and Mexico state that, e.g., were contributing VOCs in great quantities. Is that perception correct? Anyway, I'm going to look into bargain rates to Mexico City; this thread has given me the itch!
posted by JimInLoganSquare at 6:14 PM on January 12, 2013


This makes me happy for Mexico City. I've only been there twice for very short stays but the air pollution there was amazing bad. And I lived in L.A. at the time.
posted by Purposeful Grimace at 6:29 PM on January 12, 2013


Can this be true? What a remarkable turn-around.

I have not visited Mexico City since the late 1980s, but remember coming in on a bus and dropping under the smog cap. My eyes stung and watered whenever I stepped outside. I vowed never to return. It will be an unexpected pleasure to break that vow.
posted by LarryC at 6:43 PM on January 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


That "hoy no circula" program is really interesting. Apparently they pretty much just ban you from driving one weekday per week, depending on the last digit of your license plate. Low-emissions cars are not subject to the program but most cars (especially older ones, which incidentally are more likely to be owned by poor people) are subject to restrictions. They also ban you from driving one Saturday per month.

I would seriously love to see that implemented somewhere in the States. Not only would it cut down on emissions, but it would get people using alternative transportation like carpools, bikes, and public transit. It would also spur demand for better public transit and cycling infrastructure. What a great idea. Can you imagine the public outcry, though? I feel like it would be a really hard sell.
posted by Scientist at 7:06 PM on January 12, 2013 [7 favorites]


I visited Mexico City several times in the early 00s, then returned last year after a 9 year absence. The difference was remarkable. Not just the air quality, but the energy in general.

Part of it, I'm sure had to do with being almost a decade older and part of it had to do with my friends being a decade more prosperous and moving from a barrio popular to the Condesa. But even the Condesa itself is so much fancier than it was. And Carlos Slim's pouring money into the historic downtown has changed it completely. We strolled from the Zócalo to Bellas Artes and there was this whole relaxed European boulevard vibe that I had never experienced in Mexico before. In general, I'm way more uptight an anxious now than I was 12 years ago, so I'm crediting the change to the city more than to me.

I love DF, and confess part of me missed the zing of fear, but the cleaner air I appreciated unreservedly.
posted by looli at 7:24 PM on January 12, 2013


twoleftfeet: “It's a beautiful place. Don't be rude. It has never been ‘one of the worst environments in the world.’”

The fact that Mexico City faced epidemic pollution does not mean it's ever been anything but a beautiful place. But the facts must be faced, and the beauty and allure of a place like Mexico City cannot be allowed to distract from the scientific facts about pollution there. The article that agentofselection linked to above makes clear the actual toll of Mexico City's pollution, noting that a thousand people per year were killed by the high ozone levels. And it should be pointed out that the "Mexsicko City" pun in the post title is a quotation from Carlos Fuentes.

None of that makes Mexico City less beautiful or worth as a city. On the contrary, Mexico City's beauty is what makes it worth saving from pollution; and it's the reason we should be honest with ourselves about it.

And I have to say – I'm very, very pleased to hear what headway they're making on the problem.
posted by koeselitz at 7:32 PM on January 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


The problem with Mexico City is that it was founded by Aztecs based on a prophesy that they should build a city in a place where an eagle is perched on a cactus (possibly eating a snake... if the flag of Mexico is to be believed.) And fuck all if they didn't happen to see such a thing, on an island, in a lake, high up in the mountains. And fuck all if they didn't happen to build a city there, a city which blew the minds of Cortés and his crew, because it was the most beautiful city in the world at that time.

And fuck all if a quarter of the population of Mexico didn't end up living there, draining the lake, driving volkswagon beetle taxis, riding the metro all day. The lake was in a valley, and there's a thermal inversion. The smog can't get past the surrounding mountains. But that's not the fault of Mexico City, which is still one of the most beautiful cities in the world.
posted by twoleftfeet at 7:44 PM on January 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ok Beijing your turn now.
posted by humanfont at 7:56 PM on January 12, 2013 [7 favorites]


Yeah, humanfront, I was going to say that! C'mon Beijing, it's crazy what you're breathing, do something!

(And as a resident of the pollution-loving state of Texas, believe me, I know the US ain't got much to be proud of. Conservatives here think wanting to breathe clean air makes you a Jesus-hatin' communist).

Thanks for the post, BZArcher.
posted by emjaybee at 8:18 PM on January 12, 2013


Conservatives here think wanting to breathe clean air makes you a Jesus-hatin' communist

There's an interesting idea that the concept of "Hell", in Biblical terms, was communicated by reference to Gehenna, which according to some sources was the town rubbish dump. Apparently they had the equivalent of a giant tire fire, but with burning human carcasses. Anyway, there's an idea that the concept of Hell was first communicated by allusion to Gehenna. So how bad can things get? What's the worst that can happen after death? Really bad air pollution.
posted by twoleftfeet at 8:35 PM on January 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


While I would love to go to Mexico, the current state of lawlessness in most of the country means I ain't going anytime soon. A shame. Glad to hear they've gotten the air pollution under control.
posted by Windopaene at 8:42 PM on January 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


While I would love to go to Mexico, the current state of lawlessness in most of the country means I ain't going anytime soon.

It's really not that lawless. It's a big country, with lots of people, lots of visitors, businesses, day to day goings-on, and not really that many lawless things.

I had some visitors from Finland a few months ago. They'd never been to the U.S. before, but one guy told me that his mother was worried about it. "Why do you want to go to the U.S.? It's very dangerous there!"

And it is, if you only know about the U.S. from cowboy movies and cop shows. It's the same with Mexico.

I was in Puerta Vallarta a few years ago, right around the time that Swine Flu was being called Mexican Flu, and a taxi driver there told me that an entire cruise liner of passengers refused to disembark in Puerta Vallarta for fear of that flu. I had a pleasant week, lying on the beach, drinking cocktails, and I didn't get the flu. Neither did anyone else in Puerta Vallarta that week. And certainly not the timid tourists of that pleasure cruiser, who lived to tell the tale of a week confined to quarters.
posted by twoleftfeet at 9:13 PM on January 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Windopaene: "While I would love to go to Mexico, the current state of lawlessness in most of the country means I ain't going anytime soon. A shame. Glad to hear they've gotten the air pollution under control."

Mexico City is actually one of the least problematic parts of the country in that regard. It's likely safer here than in most large US cities. It's the areas close to the border with the US, and certain other parts, that are totally fucked up.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 10:20 PM on January 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


lawlessness

I was just down there for six weeks on my motorcycle - the only issue I ran into was roving mariachi bands looking for tips. Out of all the people I met down there I know one guy who got held up and just lost some money. He's still traveling south, probably in Nicaragua or something by now.

Pollution wise my anecdotal take is that it's somewhat worse than the US both in urban and agricultural respects, but not remotely as bad as India, which has by a wide margin the worst pollution I have experienced (although I haven't been to China).
posted by MillMan at 11:19 PM on January 12, 2013


Yeah, I did a semester abroad in Puebla and visited DF several times. My only real issue with "crime" there was high-level corruption... having to give bribes to guards to cross state borders, a bribe to the post office to be allowed to take home a package someone had sent me, having things stolen out of packages I sent back to the US, rampant academic dishonesty at the university I went to, and some very sketchy things going on with teachers at an elementary school I volunteered at. But I walked alone late at night, hitchhiked out of a small village, and enjoyed the hell out of my travels without ever feeling personally unsafe. It's just like anywhere else in the world: don't be a dumbass.

Very pleased to see this about DF. The pollution was quite bad there even when I was there in 2004 but it was noticeably better then than during my first visit in 1999. And DF is a really awesome city -- it is absolutely worth a visit for anyone.
posted by olinerd at 1:20 AM on January 13, 2013


Now if only cities like Beijing can follow Mexico City's lead! When I was studying abroad in Beijing, there were a few days where the air pollution levels went completely off the chart. I remember laughing at the US Embassy's Air Quality Twitter feed saying something like "Crazy Bad" because there was nothing left to describe it. It felt like it was going to rain coal at any second. And today in Hong Kong, I can barely see the waterfront of Victoria Harbor which is only 600m away...
posted by astapasta24 at 3:22 AM on January 13, 2013


On the lawless front, do they still have the issue in Mexico City about NEVER getting in a street taxi if you are a tourist?
posted by smackfu at 8:20 AM on January 13, 2013


We have a law similar to "hoy no circula" in São Paulo, rich people just buy another car.
posted by Tom-B at 9:00 AM on January 13, 2013


On the lawless front, do they still have the issue in Mexico City about NEVER getting in a street taxi if you are a tourist?

Last I was there, you were just supposed to make sure you got a registered taxi from a taxi stand, not randomly flagging one down. Which has also been my experience in a number of other large modern cities.
posted by olinerd at 9:10 AM on January 13, 2013


Echoing looli, I have visited Mexico City off and on for the last 12 years. I am actually here now, just finishing up a 6 month stay (leaving in two weeks!). The changes I have seen are quite remarkable. The first time I was here, my eyes were burning from the pollution in the air. I didn't stay long, but it left an impression. The green VW bug taxis were everywhere. This was around 2000. There are no more green taxis and it is now pretty safe to hail a taxi right from off the street. Although I'd still recommend a "sitio" if it's at night.
Since then I have seen the growth of the metro system, the metro bus system and the "EcoBici" bike sharing program. There is another system near the city center where you can get a free bicycle to ride anywhere for three hours called "BiciGratis". All you need to do present an ID and you don't have to be a local. On Sundays they close down Reforma for a few hours for cycling, walking, rollerblading and even free Zumba classes. The last Sunday of the month closes even more of the city off to traffic to allow longer cycling routes. All of these things are VERY popular.
More trees and green spaces have been added. The air no longer burns my eyes, although on certain days it does have a brown hue if you look about a quarter mile into the distance. The last week has been as clear as any day in a major city in the US. nearly cloudless and deep blue skies. It amazes me that a city this large can make such great strides in so little time.
posted by Captain Sunshine at 2:46 PM on January 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


smackfu: "On the lawless front, do they still have the issue in Mexico City about NEVER getting in a street taxi if you are a tourist"

As a 13-year resident, I can tell you this was always basically bullshit.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 1:00 AM on January 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


When I lived in Guadalajara for a year in the early '90s, we had four rush hours a day -- morning, go home for siesta, come back from siesta, evening. I wonder if the (trip home for the) siesta is becoming less common, and if that contributes to less pollution from driving. Personally, I vote for the siesta to come to the U.S. Naps are awesome.
posted by Hello Dad, I'm in Jail at 2:25 AM on January 14, 2013


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