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The Contemporary City at its Limits: Santa Fe, Mexico City

Santa Fe as seen from the Carretera Mexico-Toluca — Photo by Author, Click to Enlarge

Santa Fe, located about a 12-mile drive (or somewhat risky walk) from the center of Mexico City, is, depending on your perspective, the metropolitan area’s most modern district, or its most soulless. Set in the rolling hills west of the city, along the federal freeway to the nearby city of Toluca, it is tenuously connected to the older parts of the city by crowded buses sharing space with cars on boulevards that are ill-equipped to handle the number of commuters to the district.

The condo and office towers along Avenida Santa Fe — Photo by Author, Click to Enlarge

Over 200,000 people work in Santa Fe daily, tens of thousands of students come to study at the universities in the area, and untold numbers have traditionally come to shop at the handful of large malls. While some people live in the gleaming new towers, for the vast majority of people, Santa Fe is a temporary stop in a necessarily long working day.

The bus stop for the official city buses to carry workers back to the city center (and Metro) from Santa Fe— Photo by Author, Click to Enlarge

Developed atop a former sand mine (and later garbage dump), Santa Fe was aggressively developed in the eighties and nineties with the personal support of several heads of the Distrito Federal and the notoriously business and privatization-centric President Carlos Salinas de Gortari. It suffers not only from the above challenges of transportation, but, since it was built so quickly (and seemingly haphazardly) it lacks any sort of public parks, decent pedestrian paths, and adequate infrastructures for carrying water in and out of the area.

Continuing construction along Avenida Santa Fe— Photo by Author, Click to Enlarge

The office and shopping mall complex, Samara, looms over still undeveloped land— Photo by Author, Click to Enlarge

I’ve read that the Daimler-Chrysler headquarters in the area went without a connection to the municipal water supply for over ten years, and was forced to contract water delivered by trucks. This is the first, but by now means the last instance in which the business elite of the city here in Santa Fe are obligated to understand the material challenges of living at Mexico City’s edge. They are unable to rely on the government for basic services, like millions of households in other hilly, inaccessible districts of the city.

Builders must contend with the challenges of building on a slope, though where poor neighborhoods would make do with a bit of moving earth around for their small concrete homes, in Santa Fe, the hillside is exploded, torn away, and replaced with a tower that rises from a ravine bottom to peek above the canyon lip.

The Paradox, a luxury housing tower being built in Santa Fe— Photo by Author, Click to Enlarge

Santa Fe testifies to the realities of expanding development in Mexico City, just as a government-funded housing project in the north of the city, or an informally built neighborhood in the east. And like each form of growth, it functions as a sort of an urban Rorschach test; in it, do you see a greedy capitalist system cashing in on a land grab, or a gleaming city provided jobs and modern conveniences to a city that too often lacks for both?

I’m not really sure what Santa Fe “means” yet, if indeed a district that hosts the lives of thousands and thousands of people can be reduced to a theme. (This is becoming a pattern). But I can share a bit of history, some thoughts, and some images here to start.

In the face of continued construction, even brand-new streetscapes seem to be ill-designed for questions of drainage — Photo by Author, Click to Enlarge

Santa Fe and its surroundings, at the edge of the developed area of the city, threaten the development of huge amounts of open land — Photo by Author, Click to Enlarge

Though the buildings could be in any business district around the world, the tacos de canasta are pure Mexico City — Photo by Author, Click to Enlarge

Though perhaps when the trees mature it will feel different, at present the pedestrian realm of Santa Fe is overpowered by wide, car-oriented boulevards — Photo by Author, Click to Enlarge

This canyon, adjacent to Santa Fe, is still undeveloped by either informal or formal construction — Photo by Author, Click to Enlarge

As always, feel free to follow me on my instagram for more consistent photo updates, and leave a comment here with any thoughts.

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