Mexico City—A Growing Monster?
By Awake! correspondent in Mexico
“THE city of Mexico is a monster . . . that amazingly still functions,” stated Mexican architect Teodoro González de León. National Geographic magazine called it “An Alarming Giant.” To Carmen, born there some 30 years ago, “it is a bustling city of humble people who know how to be happy and to enjoy the simple things in life—including their favorite Mexican foods, such as enchiladas, tamales, tortillas and mole.”
Mexico City, with a population of some 15 million, is presently one of the largest cities in the world but has been a thriving metropolis for centuries.* It was originally founded about 1325 as Tenochtitlán and became the capital of the Aztec Empire. The Aztecs started building the city when they settled on an island within Lake Texcoco. In the course of time, they filled the lake with soil so that the city could be expanded, but it was a city of canals and always surrounded by water. When the Spaniards arrived in 1519, they were astonished by the grandeur, beauty, and organization of a city of some 200,000 to 300,000 inhabitants.
City of Contrasts
Mexico City, like most large cities, has a dark side of poverty and crime, but from many other points of view, it is very attractive. Its prodigious growth has won it the adjective “chaotic”; yet, in contrast, in the midst of the city, there is one of the largest parks in the world, Chapultepec Park, with an area of 1,600 acres [647.5 ha]. It has woods, several lakes, restaurants, and museums; and a great variety of cultural events are held there. The yearly presentation of Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake” ballet in a natural setting on the shores of a lake is a beautiful tradition. For those who are not able to leave the city for the weekend, the park becomes their resort for recreation and entertainment.
While hardly competing with New York or Chicago, Mexico City has its rascacielos, or skyscrapers. The Latin American Tower, a 44-story building completed in 1956, is an example of a design engineered to resist earthquakes. It is constructed on 361 direct-support piles that are intended to protect the building from seismic movements. From its restaurant, located on floors 40 and 41, one can admire the city, especially at night when its multitude of lights sparkle against a background like black velvet. The tallest skyscraper in the city, the World Trade Center of Mexico, is not yet finished. It has 54 floors and will house international offices for world trade as well as other facilities.
Mexico City has grown and spread to such a degree that its Benito Juárez International Airport, which was once outside the city, is now practically in its midst. It is one of the busiest airports in the world, handling about a million people each month.
In Mexico City contrasts are sharp. Huge and luxurious mansions, exclusive and expensive hotels, attractive condominiums, and shopping centers rub shoulders with the poverty of dark and gloomy slums. Yet, unlike many other big cities in the world, the streets are full of life late at night.
Problems of the Big City
Mexico City, like an ever-spreading octopus, now embraces over 380 square miles [1,000 sq km] and occupies all of what is called the Federal District as well as part of Mexico State. Many villages and suburbs, formerly independent, have now been overtaken by the city’s tentacles.
Naturally, a city with these dimensions faces huge problems. The main one is overpopulation, together with the consequent problems of pollution, housing shortages, and serious deficiencies in essential resources for living, as well as a constantly growing crime rate. Regular educational campaigns have been used to try to reduce the country’s birthrate, but large families are a cultural heritage in Mexico and are viewed as proof of male virility and female fertility. In addition, many people from the rural zones are moving to the city, looking for a better life. Although the 1985 earthquake forced thousands to leave the city, the population is on the increase. People move to where there is work and a better hope of survival.
Can the “Monster” Breathe?
Air pollution in Mexico City has become critical during the last ten years. In the 1960’s, there was a zone of the city that was called “the most transparent region.” Now no region of Mexico City is transparent. Warnings have been sounded in the media. “Air pollution in the valley of Mexico has reached dangerous levels,” stated one scientific journal. Time magazine said: “Three million cars and 7,000 diesel buses, many of them old and out of repair, spew contamination into the air. So do the approximately 130,000 nearby factories that represent more than 50% of all Mexican industry. The daily total of chemical air pollution amounts to 11,000 tons. Just breathing is estimated to be equivalent to smoking two packs of cigarettes a day.”
The situation is worsening. The newspaper El Universal of October 12, 1989, quoted the director of the Autonomous Institute of Ecological Investigation as saying: “The pollution ratio in Mexico City is alarming, since every person in the metropolitan zone receives daily an average of 580 grams [20 oz] of harmful substances.” Every year, over four million tons of pollutants are emitted in the city.
Recently, some emergency steps have been taken to fight pollution. A program was set up to prevent each day a certain number of cars from driving in the city because, according to a governmental report, “transportation vehicles generate 9,778.3 tons of pollutants every day,” of which 7,430 tons are from privately owned automobiles. People had already been invited to reduce voluntarily the use of their cars by pooling together in only one vehicle when going to work or elsewhere, but this was unsuccessful. What did the city government do?
Now, by means of the “one day without car” program, all private cars are banned by rotation one day a week, depending on the last number of their registration card or its color. This means that every day 20 percent of the three million private cars in the city are out of use. This program was originally to be applied only during wintertime to try to prevent thermal inversion, but now the authorities are trying to adopt it permanently. For those who do not obey, there are heavy fines as well as the troublesome procedures needed to recover the impounded car. These Draconian measures have convinced most drivers to support the program.
Another step being taken is improvement in the quality of the gasoline, reducing the amount of lead. Also, it is now required that all automobiles be checked periodically for pollution emissions. Furthermore, new laws require factories to have antipollution systems. Some factories have been closed down because they did not comply with this requirement. These steps have eased the pollution problem a little, but it is not yet solved. Like the rest of the world, Mexico needs a universal solution to its problems.
One day soon, under the rule of God’s heavenly government, mankind will use its resources wisely, and all humans will be able to enjoy, not crowded cities, but open spaces together with all that is needed for a happy life. Meanwhile, there is no option but to bear the crowds and inconveniences of Mexico City, while one enjoys the many good things it does offer—including the rich mosaic of the hospitable Mexican people.—Revelation 11:18; 21:1-4.
The National Census of 1990 has lowered previous estimates of the population.
[Pictures on page 26]
Skyscrapers and traffic in Mexico City