Perspectives Papers | 2020

From the Top Down: The Governance of Urban Development in Mexico

Despite decentralization efforts in Mexico during the late 20th century, federal and state-level policy has continued to take precedence over local governance. Local governments in Mexico have limited financial and institutional capacities and are seldom able to guide urban development and construction processes. The result of this top-down approach has sometimes been sprawling and unsustainable development patterns, particularly during the 2000s, when federal and several state governments backed large housing developments at the edges of urban centres. These developments placed a burden on local governments to provide adequate levels of infrastructure and services.

More recently, however, the federal administration advocated densification strategies, including the implementation of Urban Growth Boundaries (UGBs) around 394 Mexican cities or towns with more than 15,000 inhabitants – including 74 metropolitan areas. This paper describes the experience of some of Mexico’s largest cities in implementing nationally mandated urban growth policies, in particular the top-down nature of these new policies and the lack of local consultation in their implementation. Furthermore, given initial opposition from private developers, the boundaries have shifted in subsequent years, thus continuing to privilege development interests above the production of affordable housing and more sustainable development patterns.

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