Course:GEOG352/Ciudad Neza: Urban Governance and Transformation

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The Streets of Neza

Our group members are Sean Cotterall, Sophia Sauvageau, Iris Van Hal, and Andrea Fast

The city we will be examining in this project is Ciudad Nezahualcóyotl, a municipality that sits in the Eastern outskirts of Mexico City, in central Mexico. Ciudad Neza was formerly an unrecognized municipality with no social services, land titles for its citizens, and no formal governing body. If we are to understand urbanization in the global south, we must understand the ways in which these informal settlements on the margins of the large cities have come to be governed. Urban governance is the way in which services, infrastructure, resources, and housing are provided, administered and distributed in the city context. Citizen participation is a key factor in this process, but as this case study will show, it is not always practiced in a democratic way.[1]

Ciudad Neza is a prime example of such a city. The evolution of urban governance in Ciudad Neza will show that although there has been an increased push for decentralization and democratization, the informal politics of clientelism and remaining dominance of the parties has kept citizens from truly participating in their local context. We will examine the evolution of Ciudad Neza from before it was considered a municipality in 1963 to the major city it is today. Neza began without any formal governance structure, but when its local residents mobilized to demand the formal provision of services and land access, urban governance began to take shape. From its creation as a municipality in 1963 to today, Neza displays the struggles around clientelistic political structures that are so pervasive throughout Latin America and the global south today. We will track the evolution of political participation and the relationship between the people of the city and the municipal government and how this impacted three key areas: Social services, political participation, and local governance.

Overview

The Evolution of Urban Governance in Ciudad Nezahuacoyótl

Our focus is urban governance, which is essentially the mechanism through which cities provide citizens with basic services. There are two components of urban governance that we must analyze. Firstly, When a group of people form a community, a system must be establish to collect taxes and form a bureaucracy to manage and distribute these services. Secondly, a democratic structure must be put in place to allow for citizen participation and dialogue. If those who administer services are not held accountable by the citizens, and if the government does not adapt to solve the ever-evolving needs of citizens, the society cannot properly function. While participation should be a central element of ‘good governance’ around the world, as argued by the UN and World Bank,[2] it must be contextualized by “distinct cultures of engagement”[3] that result from different political histories, institutions, and cultures. Throughout Latin America, with increased democratization and decentralization over the past three decades, new forms of citizen participation in urban governance have taken shape but have not necessarily led to citizen empowerment.[4] This transformative time of urban governance in Latin America has become the breeding grounds for uneven power relationships.[5] In Mexico specifically, formal urban governance structures often act simply as a decorative façade to legitimize the government, rather than keep it accountable.[6] This is the case in the evolution of urban governance in Ciudad Nezahuacoyótl, which moved from being an informal settlement or “slum” to a formal municipality over a relatively short period.

Before the birth of Ciudad Neza, citizens began to settle and had to find a way on their own to satisfy the basic necessities of life. One way or another, citizens must eat, drink and engage in basic bodily functions that require waste management. Citizens can satisfy these needs without the assistance of the government, but many cases around the world show that informal management of these services can lead to the spread of disease, a high infant mortality rate, low life expectancy, and a long list of other issues revolving around public health. When the municipal government was established in Neza, municipal officials from the same political party (PRI) that was in power at the federal level willingly cooperated with these practices for personal gain.[7] These corrupt practices stunted the growth of democratic processes and the provision of basic services. The practice of clientelism in the provision of basic services is widespread throughout Mexico City, Latin America, and the global south as a whole.[8]

This is a crucial issue because the well being of all citizens, but particularly the marginalized members of society, suffers a great deal.[9] For example, the average citizen will have to pay for clean water and may even be forced to pay a bribe to receive a driver’s license because of the city’s inability to provide these services.

This issue affects people around the world; this issue is not unique to Mexico City.[10] As more and more of the world's population moves from rural to urban areas, the issues of urban governance will become more elusive and nuanced. The ability of governments to provide basic services to its citizens is crucial to every component of societal well being. Ciudad Neza is just one example of how informal settlements play a key role in local and national economies and the creation of a formal municipality was crucial for the survival of its inhabitants. Local and federal corruption is an obstacle to stability for cities around the world.[11] If we wish to implement policies that benefit the marginalized members of society, a system has to be created that runs on principles of equity, rather than a system that favours the wealthy and powerful.

Case Study

Pre-Municipality

Lake Texcoco, Mexico

The city of Ciudad Neza lies on what used to be Texcoco lake, a body of water that was dried up by the federal government in the 1850’s to stop flooding in the area.[12] In 1917 the goverment began selling parcels of property to settlers coming to the area, and In 1921, reduced the cost of the land by 50 percent to encourage agriculture and protect small property holders.[13] As people moved from rural areas to capital, seeking work opportunities and a higher standard of living, some would buy land and engage in agriculture but the area quickly truned into a "bedroom community", a neighbourhood that serves as a cheap place to live for those who wish to work in the city nearby. Ciudada Neza greatly exapnded due to its proximity to Mexico's largest city and its affordability. By 1949 around 2000 people had settled in Ciudad Neza, by 1960 that number had risen to over 73,000.[14] Many of those that settled in the city did not have official land titles and, like many areas in Mexico, lacked basic services such as clean water and sewage. Because the city was not an official municipality, it lacked public spaces such as parks, town halls, libraries and cemeteries. The lack of public spaces combined with a void of local media, lead to an atomized society without public cohesion.[15] In 1959 the federation of the neighbourhoods, or "Colonias" of Mexico City denounced the state government for not providing clean drinking water or any other basic services to residents of Ciudad Neza.[16] In hopes of gaining formal representation that could work to solve the issues facing citizens, cuidad Neza demanded to become its own municipality, a request that would be granted in April of 1963.[17] The birth of Ciudad Neza as an official municipality would lead to progress but many challenges would lie ahead in securing the respect of the population at large and the federal government.

PRI in Power 1963-1996

Ciudad Neza as a formal municipality

With a new municipality came a long period of dominance by the national party, the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), in the local affairs of the city governance system. This dominance was maintained through a vast network of party-affiliated social organizations which gave the PRI control over all the major needs of Ciudad Neza as a growing city.[18] The PRI was the major national political party which was intricately linked to the national government itself, but it also governed the city council of Ciudad Neza because all who sat on the city council and all mayors were members of the party until 1982.[19] Not only did the PRI control the political and social structures in Ciudad Neza, it also maintained close ties to the major economic actors in the city, including the fraccionadores, or real estate developers, who had sole access to the city's land rights.[20]

The power of the PRI was mainly driven by clientelistic practices that were pervasive throughout every level of the system.[21] These clientelistic relationships were based on the exchange of social services in return for loyalty to the party.[22] No agreements or collaborations were established with organizations that were not loyal to the PRI. One such organization was The National Council of Popular Organizations (CNOP), which brought together the associations of owners and workers in the city's markets, and so functioned as the backbone of the PRI.[23] This association of organizations created the crucial link between citizens and public authorities, but while the political leaders boasted in a fully functioning democratic participation mechanism, citizen voices were not taken into account in practice.[24] This dynamic is clearly expressed in the practices of the Consejos de Participación Ciudadana (COPACI, Citizen Participation Councils), which was used as a political space to channel citizen demands through chiefs who had little to no connection to the local every-day life of Neza.[25]

However, this PRI dominance did not come without opposition. The greatest challenge to the PRI came during the 60s and 70s through the Movimiento Restaurador de Colonos (MRC), which represented a mass struggle against the real estate developers in the form of payment strikes.[26] The growth of this movement forced the PRI to negotiate with the MRC and to meet their principal demands in 1972.[27] This challenge, along with other smaller-scale movements which worked outside the PRI structure, laid the groundwork for the eventual erosion of the PRI.[28]

PRD Governance 1996-present

Location of Ciudad Neza relative to Mexico City

The Movimiento Restaurado de Colonos and other movements set the groundwork for determined structural change. In the 1980's, popular left-wing-affiliated organizations became involved in aligning with the movements' purpose in regards to land rights and services. These organizations put added pressure on the PRI, and the combination of the MRC and organizational action began to destabilize the PRI's position.[29] The social action seeped into the political scene in 1996, when a group of individuals who were linked to the movement banded together to run for mayor and the city council, pushing their platforms into policy-making arenas. They ran under the name of the PRD and won.[30] The PRD continued to win municipal elections in 1999 and 2003, strengthening the party's power and further securing the representation (and rights) of Ciudad Neza's citizens.

The efforts of the local citizens who organized the Movimiento Restaurador de Colonos, and the subsequent social and political advocation for basic services and protections, successfully awarded Ciudad Neza's residents a new collection of amenities they were unable to attain before the social movement. Once desperately poor and neglected, almost each landowning citizen had access to sewage systems (98.8% of homes), electricity (99.4%), running water (98.2%), and land titles.[31] In addition, the average income Ciudad Neza's citizens exceeded that of the national average by 2002.[32]

The PRD win represented a new form of governance process in which a political party was formed through the union of popular organizations which directly represented the demands of the public.

Lessons Learned

The implementation of citizen participation mechanisms and the creation of formal political structures does not necessarily mean that citizens become more empowered. After all, these efforts have little to no effect if they do not translate into citizen empowerment. In the case of Ciudad Neza, we saw a predominance of informal institutions. Part of these structures are the unwritten rules that exist outside and alongside formal ones, which can reinforce, subvert, or even supersede formal rules. In doing so, they shape and constrain human behaviour and state-society relations. In Ciudad Neza, these practices of informality are weaved into the social fabric. For example, in formal political processes favours, handshakes, bribes, and family relation play a key role in getting things done.

Ciudad Neza has advanced greatly since the days of first settlement but formal representation and a municipal government did not simply translate into progress. In many ways, the government acted as an obstacle to economic growth and the establishment of basic services, because of a clientalistic system that, at times, exploits the needs of the population for political support. Also, it showed that an increased political plurality does not necessarily diminish power of the state and empower local actors. This does not, however, mean that democratic processes are not crucial to political stability and economic growth, rather it shows just how crucial a well-functioning democracy is.

Finally, acknowledging the concept of Ecological Urbanism can be of great importance in exploring the structures and processes in a rapidly-developing city like Ciudad Neza. According to this idea, cities are structured by ongoing processes of development and change and therefore, can be seen as (living) organisms. This implies that processes within cities need careful consideration and should be regarded as value-laden and multi-layered, rather than static and given. When examining or planning a city’s power relations and structures, one should always keep an open mind and constantly reinvent the city’s dynamic narrative.


Reference List

  1. Lombard, M., 2013. Citizen Participation in Urban Governance in the Context of Democratization: Evidence from Low‐Income Neighbourhoods in Mexico. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 37(1), pp.135-150.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid., 136.
  4. Selee, A. (2012). Ciudad Nezahualcóyotl: Social Movement Democracy? In A. Selee (ed.), Decentralization, democratization, and informal power in Mexico. University Park, Penn.: The Pennsylvania State University Press, pp. 130-162.
  5. Lombard, M., 2013. Citizen Participation in Urban Governance in the Context of Democratization: Evidence from Low‐Income Neighbourhoods in Mexico. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 37(1), pp.135-150.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Montambeault, F., 2015. Ciudad Nezahuacóyotl: Participatory Democracy or Clientelistic Participation? In Montambeault (ed.), The Politics of Local Participatory Democracy in Latin America: Institutions, Actors, and Interactions. Stanford University Press, pp. 66-98.
  8. Gilbert, L. and De Jong, F., 2015. Entanglements of periphery and informality in Mexico City. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 39(3), pp.518-532.. Available from: Wiley Online Library.
  9. Montejano Castillo, M 2008, Processes of consolidation and differentiation of informal settlements : case study Ciudad Nezahualcóyotl, Mexico City, dissertation, University of Stuttgart. Available from: OPUS.
  10. Lombard, M., 2013. Citizen Participation in Urban Governance in the Context of Democratization: Evidence from Low‐Income Neighbourhoods in Mexico. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 37(1), pp.135-150.
  11. Gilbert, L. and De Jong, F., 2015. Entanglements of periphery and informality in Mexico City. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 39(3), pp.518-532.. Available from: Wiley Online Library.
  12. Selee, A. (2012). Ciudad Nezahualcóyotl: Social Movement Democracy? In A. Selee (ed.), Decentralization, democratization, and informal power in Mexico. University Park, Penn.: The Pennsylvania State University Press, pp. 130-162.
  13. Pedro Gutiérrez Arzaluz. (2018). Estado de México - Nezahualcóyotl. [online] Available at: http://www.inafed.gob.mx/work/enciclopedia/EMM15mexico/municipios/15058a.html [Accessed 30 Mar. 2018].
  14. Selee, A. (2012). Ciudad Nezahualcóyotl: Social Movement Democracy? In A. Selee (ed.), Decentralization, democratization, and informal power in Mexico. University Park, Penn.: The Pennsylvania State University Press, pp. 130-162.
  15. Ibid.
  16. Inafed.gob.mx. (2018). Estado de México - Nezahualcóyotl. [online] Available at: http://www.inafed.gob.mx/work/enciclopedia/EMM15mexico/municipios/15058a.html [Accessed 30 Mar. 2018].
  17. Selee, A. (2012). Ciudad Nezahualcóyotl: Social Movement Democracy? In A. Selee (ed.), Decentralization, democratization, and informal power in Mexico. University Park, Penn.: The Pennsylvania State University Press, pp. 130-162.
  18. Selee, A. (2012). Ciudad Nezahualcóyotl: Social Movement Democracy? In A. Selee (ed.), Decentralization, democratization, and informal power in Mexico. University Park, Penn.: The Pennsylvania State University Press, pp. 130-162.
  19. Ibid.
  20. Ibid.
  21. Gilbert, L. and De Jong, F., 2015. Entanglements of periphery and informality in Mexico City. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 39(3), pp.518-532.. Available from: Wiley Online Library.
  22. Montambeault, F., 2015. Ciudad Nezahuacóyotl: Participatory Democracy or Clientelistic Participation? In Montambeault (ed.), The Politics of Local Participatory Democracy in Latin America: Institutions, Actors, and Interactions. Stanford University Press, pp. 66-98.
  23. Selee, A. (2012). Ciudad Nezahualcóyotl: Social Movement Democracy? In A. Selee (ed.), Decentralization, democratization, and informal power in Mexico. University Park, Penn.: The Pennsylvania State University Press, pp. 130-162.
  24. Montambeault, F., 2015. Ciudad Nezahuacóyotl: Participatory Democracy or Clientelistic Participation? In Montambeault (ed.), The Politics of Local Participatory Democracy in Latin America: Institutions, Actors, and Interactions. Stanford University Press, pp. 66-98.
  25. Ibid.
  26. Selee, A. (2012). Ciudad Nezahualcóyotl: Social Movement Democracy? In A. Selee (ed.), Decentralization, democratization, and informal power in Mexico. University Park, Penn.: The Pennsylvania State University Press, pp. 130-162.
  27. Ibid.
  28. Ibid.
  29. Selee, A. (2012). Ciudad Nezahualcóyotl: Social Movement Democracy? In A. Selee (ed.), Decentralization, democratization, and informal power in Mexico. University Park, Penn.: The Pennsylvania State University Press, pp. 130-162.
  30. Selee, A. (2012). Ciudad Nezahualcóyotl: Social Movement Democracy? In A. Selee (ed.), Decentralization, democratization, and informal power in Mexico. University Park, Penn.: The Pennsylvania State University Press, pp. 130-162.
  31. Selee, A. (2012). Ciudad Nezahualcóyotl: Social Movement Democracy? In A. Selee (ed.), Decentralization, democratization, and informal power in Mexico. University Park, Penn.: The Pennsylvania State University Press, pp. 130-162.
  32. Selee, A. (2012). Ciudad Nezahualcóyotl: Social Movement Democracy? In A. Selee (ed.), Decentralization, democratization, and informal power in Mexico. University Park, Penn.: The Pennsylvania State University Press, pp. 130-162.


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