Blog Post

How Mexico City's Outer Housing Projects Give Way to Changing Needs

Continuing his quest to document Mexico City, its neighborhoods and its 22 million inhabitants through writing, mapping, data visualization, photography and video, Fulbright-National Geographic Fellow Michael Waldrep shares pictures and observations about the metropolitan area's Galaxia subdivision, built in an era when the middle class aspiration was to own a certain type of single family house with room for a car. But as times and needs change, so does the city, morphing into a new landscape that reflects modern needs.

Galaxia, the subdivision of Cuautitlán in which I spent December, with its paved driveways and wide main boulevard, was designed for cars. It was developed by a government looking to international trends in an era when theoptimistic architectural image of prosperity for Mexico's growing middle class isn’t the Modernist towers of Tlaltelolco, but the single family home.

The typical home of around 600 square feet is enough for many, such as those that might already have their children living out of the house, or those with a household size around the average of about four. For others, the size of the average standard home designed by the local firm GW Arquitectura may not be enough. Those that have both the need for more and the means to afford it are able to retrofit their homes and expand them.

In an area where cars are still mostly out of the financial reach of residents and transportation is provided by roving peseros, a parking space was universally allotted to each home. Though the car may be both a useful tool and a desirable status symbol, only around half of the residents of areas like Galaxia own a car, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. From my own observation in Cuautitlán, the rate of ownership is even less. The open driveway, then, seems to be quickly giving way to structures, either for more secure parking or to launch small business ventures. Building upwards also allows for more living space and opportunities for income.

This small photo essay is, for me, part of an attempt to show how normal people in the "formal" housing developments of Mexico City's outskirts are making space their own, changing a formulaic architecture into something more useful to them in terms they define.

As the new year rolls on, follow the progress of my research here and on Instagram, @michaelwaldrep, as I begin to investigate different forms of planning and architecture, and the popular reactions to both that shape the environment of millions of lives across the city's edges.

Building a structure on the allotted space for parking in Galaxia offers families space to launch businesses, sublet space to other entrepreneurs, or simply to have as private space.

A small adaptation such as a simple chain link fence can give residents a sense of security and ownership over their space.

A third story on this corner home not only gives the owner more living space, but also the opportunity to rent or sell the higher vantage point to a cellular phone service provider.

In neighboring Haciendas Cuautitlán, an unofficial well-worn path through a vacant lot adjoining a local market should serve as a clue for planners and designers to how best adapt the landscape to resident needs and desire.

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