Mexico City, Megacity

20 million people and counting

By Rodolfo Kusulas
Creative at VBAT

Mexico City is home to more than 20 million people and like most of mega-cities in the world, it faces several urban problems such as mobility and traffic issues, pollution, poverty, crime, and problems with distribution of resources.

This city is enduring several contradictions regarding its urban development. These contradictions are a result of rapid, explosive and unplanned growth, with no consideration of available resources, space, and economic and demographic concentration.

Mexico City has grown by more than 20 million people in just over 110 years,
from 500,000 in 1900 to 21.2 million people in 2012.

However, the city still manages to work and keep growing everyday, being the #8 richest city in the world and the #1 richest in Latin America.

Mexico City has a very serious mobility problem due to the excess of cars and people in the city, in addition to the centralization of office zones within the city. A trip from A to B can be 15 minutes in a normal situation, yet it could take easily more than an hour with heavy traffic.

Mexico has a very large metro system, with 12 lines and continuous plans of expansion. It is used for about 5 million people everyday. In addition to the metro system, there are 5 lines of the Metro-bus (upper ground bus systems), a light train, and a broad bus and micro-bus network.

This already helps a lot in reducing the use of cars every day; however mobility in the city doesn’t seem to sustain the high and growing demand.

Fortunately other alternative solutions have been implemented, like the no drive day program, which prevents cars from being used in different days, depending on their license plates. This is to prevent a saturation of cars and excessive pollution.

In the latest years, the government is trying to encourage people to use alternative transportation. One of the most popular and successful cases is Ecobici, a public city bike system that can be used by anyone with a subscription (around 25€ per year). Take a bike from any station and leave it at any point at an Ecobici station in the city.

Ecobici, the public city bike system

This program was implemented in 2010 with 84 stations and 1200 available bikes. After 5 years, due to the great acceptance and high demand, the system has grown 400%. It currently contains 6000 bikes and a covered area of 35 km2.

It might not sound very interesting if we think about the specific reach of users, which is about 100,000, especially when compared to a 20 million people city. However, what makes it really interesting is that it’s not only that the city provides another collective that is more sustainable and a green way of transport, but that it has become a starting point for a growing bike culture in the city.

People start as users and soon become owners of a personal bike, while not only making other people want to join the trend, but also making the car drivers aware of them. It might have felt like a suicide attempt to think of commuting on a bike 15 years ago in the city, but now we see the big biking community expanding.

Bike lanes have been installed by the city, new transit laws have been made to protect the biker and drivers have become used to co-habitat with, and respect the biking community. Also, the authorities seek to popularize the biking habit further by implementing bike days on big avenues and roads, making them only available for bikes at certain hours.

Other programs like Carrot, which runs on the same principle as Ecobici but with cars, is getting more popular and resulting in making people conscious on using a car only when it is necessary. Carrot shows the importance of sharing and carpooling. These are just some examples of solutions in mobility that have also resulted in a big aid to the pollution problem of the city.

Carrot — Car Sharing System

Today, Mexico city has improved considerably regarding its air quality, comparing it to a couple of decades ago. In 1991, the air quality was announced as a public risk for 355 days out of the year. From that year on, the authorities have taken different measures improve the quality of the air in the city, which has resulted in a huge improvement to the situation.

Lead levels have fallen 95% since 1990. Sulfur dioxide levels have fallen 86%. Carbon monoxide has dropped 74%, while Ozone levels have been reduced by 57% since 1991.

The decay of certain urban areas many times result into the growth of crime centers. Luckily, the city has done a good job rescuing and uplifting certain areas, especially poorly lit parks, forgotten streets and big areas in the city center.

These projects consist of refurnishing the areas, installing new and more efficient lighting, providing better security and surveillance, closing driving streets and turning them into pedestrian-only. This has turned the areas into active commerce and leisure spaces, highly visited until late hours at night. Before, this was hard to imagine for fear of being mugged.

The city also came up with a project called Pocket Parks, where they look for unattended small spots in the city and turn them into small areas for people to sit, read, eat or just relax.

Pocket Parks

Another interesting project is called Underbridge, which focusses exactly on that; the unused and wasted areas under the city bridges. These normally become dumps or homeless hubs. Today these areas are becoming small gathering points, commerce spaces or even children parks.

In the city, the results of these measures are greatly noticeable. Mexico City has been seeing a huge decrease in crime rates in recent years. It has been said that it is now a safer place than a city such as Moscow or Washington DC.

Another project, which focuses on education and that I personally find very interesting, is called LibroBus. This project has been launched to to promote the reading culture amongst the population. Because of libraries becoming less popular, they took the libraries out of the physical space and moved them to reach the people.


The government has even created a new area to promote experimental concept development workshops, dialogs and discussion starters, and incubation of pilot projects focusing on social innovation and urban creativity. These areas are often supported by art installations, street art, and design workshops. This hub is called Laboratorio para la ciudad (the city lab).

One of my favourites from the ‘city lab’ is this one:

The Urban Artifact, a collapsible parasite that is placed in different spots of the city, to trigger a dialogue between the community and the government and gather ideas and questions from the people while recording data, visual and audio material as well.

An urgent problem in the city is the poor delivery of services to all the people living in the city. The water supply is very uneven amongst different areas, some areas have a habit of wasting water, while many of the poorest areas have just enough water to live.

I could not find any example of the project or program that focuses on this issue, which should be a top priority. It is clear that Mexico City has a lot of problems that still need to be addressed, but it’s also a big opportunity for creative thinkers that can contribute to improving these situations.

Are you inspired by these design solutions to Urban Issues? VBAT is holding a breakout session with the Rockstar of the Design Industry Stefan Sagmeister about Urban Issues in Amsterdam at What Design Can Do. Get involved now! Do you have a question or a design solution on the subject of Urban Issues in Amsterdam for Stefan Sagmeister? Use #asksagmeister on Twitter and we’ll ask him during our Q&A session at What Design Can Do.
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By Rodolfo Kusulas
Creative at VBAT