These days, you see the announcements everywhere in Mexico’s bustling capital: “Sonrisas por tu ciudad” — Smiles for your city. Closer examination reveals that this is a project designed to strengthen tourism, led by Mexico City’s Secretariat for Tourism and the new mayor, Claudia Sheinbaum. Ms Sheinbaum was elected mayor in July 2018, but only started her job on December 1, 2018. She is still in the process of drawing up an urban development plan, something that Mexico City urgently needs. The process is designed to be participatory: Until November 2019, citizens can vote online and suggest projects of their own making with the hashtag #enchulatucolonia (“pimp your borough”).
While this is a commendable approach, there is currently not much going on in Mexico City when it comes to actual city planning. Even the hashtag has only been used 52 times on Instagram and a handful of times per month on Twitter, suggesting little interest by citizens (or bad marketing).
The “Sonrisas” project is one of the initiatives designed to bridge the current consultation phase. However, it seems doubtful that citizens would have voted on it. The idea is to provide free bus tours for less privileged people of “scarce resources” and for vulnerable groups so that they can see Mexico City’s many and beautiful sights. Luxury tourist buses will be used, and you can pick between different routes online. This, according to the city government, will implement the right to tourism of countless people.
However, this poses many problems, which are intrinsic to urban development in Mexico City. While the idea sounds good at first glance, the question remains: Is not the right to water or the right to adequate housing much more pressing than the right to tourism? Will the appreciation of city center’s beauty inspire poorer people to go back to their home in the periphery of Mexico City and change something about their neighborhood? Could the city’s funds be used towards a more sustainable and possibly even system-changing project? After all, that is the promise of Claudia Sheinbaum’s Morena party.
On a technical level, it is rather unlikely that the people who are targeted with the “Sonrisas” project will manage to book one of these bus rides. Office hours to place a reservation are short and lines are busy. What is more, illiteracy rates in Mexico City are still an issue. It seems almost ironic to ask people to smile through their city, or to travel smilingly through their city, when there are so many urgent challenges. The program is openly marketed as an investment in tourism in Mexico City. Again, it seems unfair to ask the city’s poorest, who do not profit a lot from tourism, to contribute to this with their time and to smile at it.
In the metro, opposite the advertisement for the “Sonrisas” project, you find a much smaller ad for housing loans. It seems that this is something that Mexico City’s urban poor would find much more useful than a free bus ride. Maybe it would even make them smile when they think about their city.