Order for urban spaces: A debate over uniformity vs. culture in Mexico

In the Cuauhtémoc borough of Mexico City, a new initiative from local officials aims to create more order.

Food and drink vendors are required to whitewash their stalls and allow the city to label them with the official crest and catchphrase “Cuauhtémoc is your home.” They also face ends for messy workspaces, and have to keep boxes of ingredients or trash cans out of sight.

Why We Wrote This

Differing views of what makes a place orderly are playing out in a neighborhood in Mexico City – where street vendors have been told to whitewash their colorful stalls. How should a city balance order and tradition?

The government has declined to engage directly with a growing group of unhappy businesses and neighbors on the topic. But the decree has generated conversations in the tourist-heavy, gentrifying borough about history, art, and the effects of globalization: How should a city balance the need for a general sense of cleanliness and order with calls to preserve tradition and culture?

The new policy “is part of a much longer history of officials and elites feeling anxious about what a modern city should look like,” says Tiana Bakić Hayden, an assistant professor of urban studies at El Colegio de México who is researching similar campaigns across the city. “It entails a large degree of aesthetic homogenization because of this idea that informality is, visually, a blight on the orderly, modern city that some aspire [to] for Mexico.”

Mexico City

Almost overnight, the color started to disappear.

Bright red, hand-painted apples and watermelons on the juice stand; the cake, drawn to show each vibrant ingredient so realistically that the picture itself could make mouths water; and the grinning pink pig basking in a pot – one by one these paintings were cloaked in white.

In the Cuauhtémoc borough of Mexico City, a new initiative from local officials aims to create more order. Food and drink vendors are required to whitewash their stalls and allow the city to label them with the official crest and catchphrase “Cuauhtémoc is your home.” They also face ends for messy workspaces, and are required to keep boxes of ingredients or trash cans inside their small structures.

Why We Wrote This

Differing views of what makes a place orderly are playing out in a neighborhood in Mexico City – where street vendors have been told to whitewash their colorful stalls. How should a city balance order and tradition?

The government has declined to engage directly with a growing group of unhappy businesses and neighbors on the topic. But the decree has generated conversations in the tourist-heavy, gentrifying borough about history, art, and the effects of globalization: How should a city balance the need for a general sense of cleanliness and order with calls to preserve tradition and culture?

The new policy “is part of a much longer history of officials and elites feeling anxious about what a modern city should look like,” says Tiana Bakić Hayden, an assistant professor of urban studies at El Colegio de México who is researching similar campaigns across the city ​​to modernize public fruit and vegetable markets. “It entails a large degree of aesthetic homogenization because of this idea that informality is, visually, a blight on the orderly, modern city that some aspire [to] for Mexico.”

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