Mexico City: North America's Largest Urban Center
Article by Ennis Davis, AICP
A short flight from many major American cities, Mexico City is an easily overlooked cosmopolitan hub worth taking a visit to. Originally established by the Aztecs in 1325 as Tenochtitlán on an island in Lake Texcoco, it was rebuilt with Spanish urban standards and officially called Ciudad de México (Mexico City) by 1585. “Mexico” was selected as the new name because the Spanish found the word easier to pronounce than Tenochtitlán. To relieve problems associated from periodic flooding, the Spanish drained much of Lake Texcoco in the 17th century.
Much of Mexico City’s growth has occurred since the 1969 opening of the Metro, which is now the largest subway system in Latin America and the third busiest in the world, behind Moscow and New York City. Known for years as one of the world’s most polluted cities, levels of signature pollutants are similar to those of Los Angeles today, making it a model for significantly reducing pollution levels. In recent years, in an effort to reduce air pollution, the implementation of the Metrobús bus rapid transit and the Ecobici bike-sharing program have made it easier to get around the city without the use of a car. With that being said, according to TomTom Traffic Index2016, Mexico City has grown to become the “most traffic congested city” in the world.
Nevertheless, with 8.9 million residents, Mexico City is considered an “alpha” global city and one of the most important financial centers in the Americas. Situated at an altitude of 7,350 ft, it’s actually the largest Spanish-speaking city in the world and the 8th richest “alpha” city globally, after Tokyo, New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Paris, London and Osaka/Kobe. It’s also home to a pristine urban park system, great architecture, culture and boasts one of the world’s best street food scenes and has been declared by the New York Times as its number one destination for 2016.
Here’s a brief photographic tour to help illustrate why Mexico City is a must see for any city lover!
Centro Histórico or the historic center of Mexico City contains 9,000 buildings and covers 668 blocks. Here, the Spanish began to build modern day Mexico City in 1521 on top of the ruins of the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan. The heart of Centro Histórico is dominated by the Zócalo, the largest plaza in Latin America. By the 1980s, the area had fallen into deep decline and its sidewalks had been taken over by pickpockets. However, since the early 2000s, Centro Histórico has benefited from a significant economic resurgence. According to Wikipedia,
“All over the historic center, streets have been pedestrianized, buildings have been remodeled and restored, and new museums opened. In the 1990s, after many years of controversy, protests and even riots, most street vendors were evicted to other parts of the city. The impetus to bring things back to the city center included the construction of the new mayoral residence just off the Zocalo. The government has buried electric and telephone cables in the area, and replaced old asphalt with paving stones. It has also installed nearly 100 security cameras to help with crime issues. This paved the way for the opening of upscale eateries, bars and fashionable stores. Also, young people are moving into downtown lofts. To attract more tourists, there are new red double-decker buses.
As of 2004, investment in the city center has climbed to over 5 billion pesos or 438 million U.S. dollars. According to the Historic Center of Mexico City Trust, this has led to the creation of 15,000 jobs and property owners in the area are showing interest in improving on their investments here. It has also attracted outside investment into the area.”</i>
Centro Histórico, is served by several Mexico City metro stations including the Zocalo, Allende, Bellas Artes, San Juan De Letran and Pino Suarez stations. Free daily walking tours of Mexico City’s historic downtown area are provided by Estacion Mexico.