Mexico City changes its name

Last week, Mexico City officially received a new name:

President Enrique Peña Nieto officially changed the capital’s name to “Mexico City” on Friday as part of a reform to devolve power from the federal government, allowing the city’s mayor to name senior officials including the police chief…

The reform moves Mexico City – the area of nearly nine million people surrounded on three sides by the grungy suburbs of Mexico State – closer towards becoming a state in its own right…
Campaigners – mostly on the left – started pushing for an end to the Federal District after the devastating 1985 earthquake, after an inept federal response left millions to fend for themselves. Leftwing movements rose from the wreckage, achieved political reforms and won the first mayoral and assembly elections in 1997…

Some analysts warned of potential confusion caused by adding a capital called “Mexico City,” to a country already named Mexico, whose biggest state is the “State of Mexico”.

It sounds like nothing may change from the outside. However, relationships between the city government and federal government as well as city residents and other residents of Mexico may be impacted.

Perhaps city residents who live in a major city that also doubles as a national capital have a unique urban experience? This article suggests that Mexico has a centralized system, centered in Mexico City, which may mirror other countries (London in England, Paris in France, etc.) where the most important city is also the capital. In contrast, other countries have capitals outside of their major city with the United States as a prime example with a space away from New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles.

Mexico City’s pedestrian superhero back in the news

Continuing to fight for pedestrians in Mexico City is “The Little Pedestrian”:

The mighty Peatonito (Little Pedestrian) pushes cars blocking the path of pedestrians, creates crosswalks with spray paint, and climbs on vehicles parked on sidewalks — though his mother has begged him to stop stepping on them.

“Pedestrians are happy because they finally have a defender,” Peatonito said, his face covered by a wrestling mask adorned with a pedestrian symbol and wearing a striped cape (sewn by his grandma) adorned with the black and white stripes of a pedestrian crossing.

“We live in a car dictatorship. Nobody had fought for pedestrian rights until some activists emerged a few years ago.”

Meanwhile, below the city streets five clowns are on a similar mission to send up urban incivility, barging into a metro carriage making monkey noises and holding a sign saying “It’s better without pushing.”…

Peatonito aims to reduce traffic deaths in a city where pedestrians account for more than half of around 1,000 annual road fatalities, according to health ministry statistics.

This is a fascinating way to draw attention to the issue. It is one thing to publish statistics or to have more road signs (read about the campaign in Illinois to post the number of driving deaths for all to see) but another for a handful of people to act in public spaces. With the line of “we live in a car dictatorship,” I’m surprised others haven’t taken up similar routines in other cities around the world (including the United States which might be as much as a car dictatorship as one can have). But, two things might be problematic:

1. I wonder if police or local officials could actually arrest them for being a disturbance. In a real car dictatorship, you don’t want fake superheros running around in the way of cars. Might it take some complaints from drivers or others who feel that these crusaders have gone too far?

2. How does one translate these activities into a broader social movement or changes in policies and regulations? If the pedestrians of Mexico City wanted to take over the roads, they certainly could. At the least, this superhero might publicly shame the city but that doesn’t necessarily lead to large-scale change.

By the way, this isn’t the first time Peatonito has drawn international news coverage. See this story from 2013 that discusses what his actions led to:

Peatónito is the alter ego of Jorge Cáñez, a 26-year-old political scientist in Mexico City who has also worked with the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP)…

His efforts got him invited to speak at the Walk 21 conference in 2012 and has met with officials from Mexico City’s department of public security to discuss the importance of putting pedestrians first in street design and traffic enforcement. He is hopeful about government efforts to improve infrastructure. At least, he says, they are now talking about giving pedestrians priority — which would only make sense in a city where 80 percent of the population doesn’t drive…

“Once the government has adopted the ‘pedestrian is the king’ in their speeches, I’m going to monitor and help them till the day there’s no pedestrian fatalities nor accidents, and also decent sidewalks and safety crossings in the streets. But even if the government calls me to collaborate, I will always be a non-partisan citizen hero of the public domain.” He has registered Peatónito as Creative Commons, so that anyone who wants can become Peatónito.

Perhaps there really are superheros…

Two fun structures: an “underground temple” in Japan and a proposed underground skyscraper

Here are two interesting spaces, one underground proposal from Mexico City and a large piece of infrastructure in Japan.

1. A Mexican architect has drawn up plans for a building that is just the opposite of a skyscraper:

Suarez has imagined a massive building for those who prefer holes to heights and a novel solution around a law that bans structures higher than eight stories in the crowded, historic center of Mexico City.

Instead of a soaring tower, Suarez wants to dig an inverted pyramid nearly a thousand feet deep with enough apartments, stores and offices to hold 100,000 people.

Kind of sounds like an acropolis from Simcity. What would people do for natural light – would people be more willing to live far underground than high above a city?

2. A large piece of infrastructure under Tokyo is known as the “underground temple.” Its real job: help control floods.

The Metropolitan Area Outer Underground Discharge Channel, also known as the G-Cans Project or the “Underground Temple”, is an subterranean water infrastructure project built to protect the capital Tokyo against floodwaters during rain and typhoon seasons. It is believed to be one of the largest water collection facilities in the world. Building began in 1992 and the massive structure now consists of five concrete silos, a large water tanks and 59 pillars connected to a number of pumps that can pump up to 200 tons of water into the Edogawa River per second. It has also become a tourist attraction, as well as a location for movies, TV shows and commercials.

This kind of looks like the depiction of the large temple-like spaces of Moria in The Lord of the Rings. This also reminds me of the Deep Tunnel project under Chicago which is also for floodwater – it is the largest infrastructure around (one of the largest such projects in the country – see some earlier pictures here) but hardly any Chicago area resident knows that it even exists.

(Two quick thoughts: both of these spaces would be large and impressive. Second, is getting one’s architecture news from Yahoo good or bad?)