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Mexico City

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Main actors

City Government, National Government, Supranational / Intergovernmental Institutions, NGO / Philanthropy, Community / Citizen Group, Research Institutes / Universities

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Project area

Neighborhood or district

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Ongoing since 2018

The UTOPÍAS of Iztapalapa, a municipal initiative embedded within the Government Program, is a series of parks, social centers, learning & cultural centers, and sports facilities aimed at transforming urban peripheries in Mexico City's most densely populated borough. As an emblematic project of the current administration, the UTOPÍAS initiative seeks to regenerate public spaces and build high-impact facilities to overcome socio-territorial inequality and promote human rights and community well-being. By adopting a rights-based approach and focusing on the needs of children, youth, and gender equality, the project aligns with the principles outlined in the New Urban Agenda and contributes to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals set forth in the 2030 Agenda. The name "UTOPÍAS" stands for Units of Transformation and Organization for Inclusion and Social Harmony (Unidades de Transformación y Organización Para la Inclusión y la Armonía Social).

Sustainable Development Goals

End hunger, achieve food security and improve nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture
Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all
Reduce inequality within and among countries
Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts
Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss
Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels
Mexico City, Mexico

Size and population development
The population of Mexico City was recorded at approximately 8.9 million in 2015. The Greater City of Mexico recorded a population of approximately 21.6 million in 2018 and is expected to reach in excess of 23 million by 2030 according to the UN populations forecast. The City has great inequalities, with areas of affluence and conspicuous consumption existing nearby areas plagued with water born gastrointestinal infections, while air pollution affects all inhabitants of the valley City, with respiratory illnesses being a major issue.

Population composition
Of the millions who call Mexico City home, a significant amount of them belong to Mexico’s many indigenous peoples, including Nahuatl, Otomi, Mixtec, Zapotec and Mazahau. Additionally, the city is home to many expatriates and immigrants, largely from the Americans, North, Central and South, as well as the Caribbean. The average age is of 33 years.

Main functions
Mexico City is the oldest capital city in the American continent and one of the most economically active centres. The city extends across 607.22 square kilometres and is located in the Valley of Mexico at an altitude of 2,240 meters above sea level. It houses many of the country’s most prestigious cultural and educational centres, including universities such as UNAM and IPN, as well as theatres, libraries, operas, stadiums and auditoriums. The city also boasts many archaeological sites and museums that expose the pre-Hispanic heritage of the city, over which the Spanish conquerors imposed their new capital. Other sites of touristic and religious importance, like the main Cathedral at the Zócalo plaza (where the National and local governments are located), are examples of the Baroque and Neoclassical architecture styles that marked the city.

Main industries / business
Mexico City is undoubtedly the economic centre of the country, contributing 17 percent of the national GDP. Tertiary sector industries (services) comprehend almost 90 percent of the annual GDP, with the city excelling in the commercial and financial sectors (Mexico City houses the headquarters of most of the banks in the country, as well as the Mexican Stock Exchange). Other main industries include media companies, transport (privatized airlines and bus companies), and government activities.

Sources for city budget
Drawn from a progressive income tax, Mexico City’s budget is decided by the local Legislative Assembly, and the ceiling of public debt agreed upon by the Chamber of the Union, the legislative power of the Federal Government.

Political structure
Until the year of 2016, Mexico City was a Federal District, and one of the thirty-two entities into which the country is divided. In its search for autonomy from the ruling of Federal government over local situations, the city promoted changes in the national constitution that have altered its status and name since the year 2016. Now, Mexico City has become an autonomous entity with its own political constitution. The main differences from its previous status has to do with modifications in governance: the city now has 16 mayoralties belonging to each of the sixteen boroughs; and the Legislative Assembly was transformed into a Local Council with the same inherence in Federal decisions as every other state in the country. The City’s head is elected by popular vote and is charged with choosing the chief of police and the Attorney General, a task previously carried out by the President of the Republic.

Administrative structure
Mexico City is divided into 16 delegaciones, or boroughs, for administrative purposes. The boroughs are not equivalent to municipalities, yet they possess administrative structures comparable to these. In each borough, the mayors are tasked with ensuring that the necessary utilities and services are provided. The poorer boroughs are in constant struggle due to the lack of potable water, dignified housing, and medical services. The boroughs must answer to the head of government who represents its executive branch, and local councils must approval their budgets.

Iztapalapa, the largest and most densely populated borough of Mexico City has a population of 1,835,486 and accounts for 22% of the total population of Mexico City. As the second most populous city in Mexico, Iztapalapa faces significant challenges in meeting the high demand for services, consumer goods and economic benefits that come with such a large population. Forty-three percent of the population (800,000) live in poverty, with 33% between 15-34 years old and 23% working in the informal economy. Historically, Iztapalapa has been the city's backyard, with a significant lag in necessary physical and social infrastructure. 

The primary objective of the UTOPÍAS program is to reduce social and territorial inequalities and transform Iztapalapa into a place where the rights of all people are respected and guaranteed. This involves revitalizing neglected public spaces and creating a network of significant public facilities that enhance human rights and community well-being. 

The strategy of the UTOPÍAS initiative aims at profound social and urban transformation to overcome the structural socio-territorial inequality prevalent in urban peripheries. This is achieved through the regeneration of deteriorated public spaces and the construction of a comprehensive system of large, high-impact public facilities that promote human rights and community well-being. The focus is on the equitable distribution of public services and the creation of a 15-minute city model, where essential amenities are within a short walking or cycling distance from residences. The UTOPÍAS provide aesthetic spaces of great architectural quality, innovative and sustainable design, freely accessible and inclusive for people of all ages and genders. They offer free social, cultural, sports, and recreational activities and services, fostering active citizen participation and serving as living schools of citizenship.
The transformation is taking place progressively throughout the current government administration, with the goal of achieving significant progress by the end of its term in 2024. The aim is to create a city where every resident can fully exercise their rights and enjoy a decent standard of living, with access to essential services, opportunities for personal growth, and a sense of belonging to a thriving and inclusive community. This focus on ensuring the Right to the City encompasses programs and policies that enable better quality of life, access to healthcare systems, physical and mental health services, reduction of addictions, access to education, culture, sports, preservation of memory and identity, access to decent, beautiful, and sufficient public facilities and spaces, a healthy environment, and active citizen participation.
In just four years, 12 UTOPÍAS were built, recovering over 500,000 square meters of degraded public space. These facilities now serve more than 100,000 people weekly, transforming their lives by providing access to vital community resources and public goods.
The resources utilized for the implementation of the UTOPÍAS initiative are entirely derived from the budget allocation granted by the City Congress. This is because City Halls in Mexico do not possess budgetary, administrative, or financial autonomy, and they cannot collect taxes or acquire debt independently.
In response to this limitation, the city has established a strategy to strengthen its own resources and resume basic works and services through self-administration. This self-administration approach serves as a key mechanism to finance development projects, fostering greater autonomy and self-reliance.
Furthermore, the city has actively pursued strategic alliances with academic institutions, public entities, and private sector organizations. These partnerships contribute valuable human resources, technical expertise, material support, and economic resources to develop specific activities within the UTOPÍAS initiative.
Through a combination of budgetary allocations from the City Congress, self-administration efforts to generate internal resources, and strategic collaborations with diverse stakeholders, the city is actively working to implement and sustain the transformative UTOPÍAS initiative, despite the lack of direct financial autonomy at the municipal level.
The UTOPÍAS initiative has fostered diverse partnerships and collaborations. Public-public partnerships have been established with universities and international agencies for educational spaces such as workshops, planetariums, geological observatories, and dinosaur parks. Additionally, public-community partnerships have been formed for the co-management of various activities. Furthermore, public-private partnerships have been created with NGOs and enterprises that have donated equipment, furniture, and supplies, all under the leadership of the mayor's office.
Innovations have occurred in areas such as science and technology, exemplified by the Geological Observatory, as well as the incorporation of eco-technologies in the construction and management of spaces. All partners have benefited from this collaborative approach, gaining valuable learning experiences and opportunities to implement innovative actions that would not have been possible without mutual association and cooperation.
The initiative has had a significant impact on the city. It is the first time that an action of this magnitude has been implemented in the history of the city. Innovative approaches have been taken to public policies in many ways, such as integral vision and integrated, trans-disciplinary, and trans-sectoral action. More than 500,000 square meters of public space have been recovered and transformed in record time - just 4 years. The initiative has implemented fundamental changes in the inertia and current model of public management.
The initiative involves a series of principles and approaches that are current trends in global agendas resulting from historical social struggles. These include the Right to the City, territorial justice, the transition from sectoral policies to population policies, the perspective of rights, humanism, gender equality, care, sustainability, peace, agro-ecology, and solidarity economy. It also emphasizes responsible production and consumption, the decommodification of social welfare, solidarity and collaboration between various sectors, and the generation and care of common goods, among others.
During the planning and development stages of the UTOPÍAS, participatory planning processes were implemented, revealing resistance to change from some local actors. This resistance stemmed from the entrenchment of customs and practices related to the activities carried out in the area. Additionally, the resistance was attributed to the misuse and adverse effects on public spaces by certain social groups with specific interests, such as the occupation of public spaces for private profit-making activities and the invasion of these spaces for individual use.
The UTOPÍAS initiative successfully reclaimed large areas of public space, which led to unexpected consequences among the local actors who opposed the projects and the temporary seizure of the space. They demanded solutions to their concerns. To address this situation, mediation processes were initiated through dialogue and citizen participation, including assemblies and working groups. These efforts resulted in agreements that prioritized the use of public spaces to meet collective needs and diversify activities and services offered in these areas.

The UTOPÍAS represent an innovative model of public management that integrates participatory, transdisciplinary, and trans-sectoral approaches. This model has led the various departments within the mayoralty to collaborate on a unified project that goes beyond individual contributions, fostering a sense of shared ownership and purpose. The UTOPÍAS challenge the team to think of themselves as a cohesive unit, encouraging collective planning, organization, and a strong sense of unity – ultimately creating the UTOPÍAS-team. This management model emphasizes shared responsibility throughout the entire project lifecycle, from design and planning to execution, operation, and sustainability. Adopting this approach requires a significant transformation in the way governance is exercised, promoting a more collaborative and integrated decision-making process.

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