Monday, November 12, 2012

The enigma that is Mexico City

Mexico City, 3rd largest in the world - photo mlbreports

It's humbling to walk in a city with the population of Australia and a million more than New York City's metro. In North America it is The Giant!

At over 21 million people Mexico City, where I am this week, is by some counts the world's 3rd largest and the most densely populated. It is impossible to define. For lovers of cities, it is irresistible.

Consider this: Insane traffic chaos, easy winner of the Graffiti-City-of-the-Year award, a profusion of public statues of every artistic bent, evocative architecture and buses with women-only safe seats. There are thousands of street vendors clustering around subway entrances and they create lively, unplanned street markets that are both pickpocketing bonanzas and part of Mexico City's financial boom.

Speaking of crime...

Mexico City's architecture is eclectic, stunning, and world-class
Mexico city is considerably safer than cities like Houston, Washington DC and New Orleans. True, there are thugs mugging folks, especially in poorly regulated taxis and in nasty neighborhoods (Note to self: Crime Prevention 101 - Don't get drunk and wander aimlessly at night in nasty neighborhoods!)

However, as elsewhere, staying safe boils down to simple street smarts.

NARCO CRIME?

What about the epidemic narco-violence we hear about? Crime maps show it is clustered elsewhere, like in the north of the country. Maybe Mexico City is a neutral zone? Maybe the pervasive police, security and military help? Or maybe the government is cooking the stat books, just like the NYPD during the Compstat Caper? Difficult to say.

Ironically even the intellectually vapid press lauds Mexico City's success. USA Today and CNN suggest perceptions about crime are worse than the truth.

I don't know the truth. What I do know is this: walking the streets of a few neighborhoods has been safe and fascinating. People are incredibly warm and easy-going.

Youth entertaining CPTED conference delegates
A CPTED CONFERENCE IN MEXICO

I also know there are impressive ground-up, practical crime solutions underway, like CPTED. Last week I attended a conference of the Latin American chapter of the International CPTED Association at Mexico City's IberoAmerican University.

There were 500 delegates from around the world, over 60 different sessions on dozens of new approaches. I saw some remarkable Mexican (and Latin American) creativity for building safer communities.

Then there was the children representing youth programs throughout the country, many whom participated in the conference. My favorite was young musicians who entertained conference delegates. Pretty inspiring stuff.

As for Mexico, I'll be back.



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