I took this picture from a bus, in the southern outskirts of Mexico City. About 22 million people live in the metropolitan area of Mexico City. The population of the Federal District itself (what we think of as Mexico City proper) is about 9 million, but it swells to 13 million on a daily basis with commuters.
Looking at this scene I wondered… Who owns that land? Is it the people who live there? Do they pay rent? Do they work inside this cinderblock city, or do they commute to somewhere else? How much does it cost them per month to live here? How wide is the disparity from one cinderblock family’s income to another’s? How much joy (or prestige?) does it bring to a cinderblock household when they can afford to paint their walls bright yellow or blue?
An afternoon drive around the state of Puebla a few days later provided clues to some of the ramshackle housing that can be seen around the Mexican countryside. My generous host explained that ownership of much of the land in central Mexico’s altiplano is atomized, broken up into small plots.
Revolutionary Mexico granted peasants some land, but after a couple of generations of family subdivision it’s worth more to many landowners to sell their tiny plots than to harvest corn once a year. Someone buys their plot of land to build a house, often without any sort of permitting or regulation. The house has no access to municipal utilities, and the neighborhood that grows up around it is difficult to supply with services because its construction was completely unplanned.
Urban development around Mexico City: a subject to continue investigating.