Rising Rents in Mexico City’s Roma Neighborhood Put Strain on Daily Life
When he was 21, Pablo left his mother’s home in the gentrified, central neighborhood of Roma, Mexico City because he wanted to experience living on his own. He didn’t move far—just to the neighboring area of Doctores. Four years later, he decided to move back in with his mother and 30-year old brother.
Pablo’s case is common among middle-income families in Mexico City. Most people in central Mexico City have decent access to all services, except for the very poor and homeless. Pablo’s family used to be low-middle class, but now that his neighborhood has gentrified, he experiences both the benefits and consequences of Roma’s growth.
“You could say I live here for convenience,” Pablo says, since the house is close to his work at a music magazine publishing company. He also says that it is convenient that his parents bought the house when property values were cheap, after the 1985 Mexico City Earthquake. Then, no one wanted to live in Roma. Today, Roma’s proximity to downtown and historical Beaux-Arts architecture have made it a ripe for gentrification. Pablo says he feels lucky that his mother already owns the home, because now the prices are very expensive.
Pablo earns a monthly income of US $806.50 each month, nearly three times the city’s minimum monthly wage of $240 to $300. He typically works eight hours a day, seven days a week, and receives annual vacation and a Christmas bonus. His business benefits form its proximity to music advertising agencies and the area’s reputation as a historical district with a thriving arts scene. He works two kilometers from work—a ten minute walk or 20 minute commute by bus. “Luckily for me,” he says, “there are advertising agencies that I have to visit in this colony, and the National Auditorium where concerts are made are all near here.”
Still, Pablo and his family experience challenges from the neighborhood’s recent gentrification. “There are many bars, restaurants, and art galleries, as well as many new buildings and condominiums—but usually they take advantage of old houses that are demolished.” Pablo says “prices have increased in all services.”
This newer population mostly consists of younger people and foreigners who are able to pay the rent. Pablo estimates that real estate agents likely earn “ten times” more than they paid for the land. This speculation began after the earthquake, when businesses moved in along Alvaro Obregon Avenue and built large parking lots, which were later resold to new business owners. Pablo is not aware of the terms of development with private developers, but thinks that residents are usually included in local planning processes. “Usually neighborhood councils are conducted in
collaboration with different institutions, and doubts are resolved and we talk about important topics,” he says. He gives the example of residents overturning a commercial broker’s plan to redevelop an area of the expansive Chapultepec park .
While middle-income families like Pablo’s might be able to adapt to the increasing costs of gentrification and continue to access more expensive services, lower-income residents may not. However, some services, like water, are not even available for those who can pay. “Many people also complain about the shortage of water,” Pablo adds. “This did not happen previously. I think it has to do with there being too many people here.” Pablo says that both air and sound pollution are challenges to his quality of life in Roma. “There are areas where bars are very noisy and where it is almost impossible to walk,” like Orizaba Street, which Pablo says is a “disaster” because of the car traffic and lack of parking. Security is also an issue. “There are assaults on pedestrians and the business constantly,” he says. “It is a very dangerous colony although they have increased surveillance.”
Pablo’s story reflects the breadth and diversity of experiences in underserved communities. Mexico City’s planning and equity issues are unique from those in Brooklyn, New York; still, analyzing the experiences of the underserved is critical for action that can transform their cities.