Mexico City is one of the most populous and polluted cities in the world. Because of high rates of urbanization, the city’s facilities and infrastructure can’t cope with the increasing number of people flowing into the city daily from rural areas. This has resulted in numerous squatter settlements where people live without running water, electricity and sewer facilities. Open garbage dumps, fecal snow, factories and motor vehicles beyond capacity have added to the intense air pollution in the city, to the extent where birds have dropped dead flying through the smog. The air and water pollution cause an estimated 100,000 premature deaths a year. WHO has stated that 7 out of 10 babies born in the city have unsafe levels of lead in their blood that threatens to stunt the intellectual development of children. The city is also known for its high rates of unemployment and crime. The Mexican government has been trying to solve the city’s woes by addressing the relocation of factories and industrial plants away from the City and bringing in policies to reduce vehicle emissions. Although these measures may affect some change, a paradigm shift at a much a larger scale is required to make a long lasting change that is sustainable (Miller & Spoolman, 2012).
The problems facing Mexico City are huge, the scale of which is hard to fathom and dealing with them is a daunting task for anyone hoping to find solutions for the City. The major problems of Mexico City can be categorized into the following; urban planning, water, air, transport, waste and other issues of sustainability. Mexico City and the 17 municipalities surrounding it is collectively called the Mexico City Metropolitan Area (MCMA) and is arguably one of the largest and most polluted urban centers of the world (Manzini, 2006).
Mexico City underwent a massive inflow of people and heavy urbanization between 1950 and 1990, a period during which people from rural areas migrated to the City to take up factory jobs that were readily available. This increased the population of the City from just three million to over twenty million, making it the kind of city it is today. The government planned for economic development and growth, but failed to consider housing and urban expansion which is bound to accompany economic development in the area. Urban planning did not even play a role in the political framework and did not have any representation at the time. With low wages and no options for housing provided for the workers by the government or the companies, people settled on hillsides and slopes out of desperation, with no basic necessities such as water, electricity, road or sewerage provided. The condition was so bad that water was brought by trucks and supplied to areas by means of garden hoses.
Not owning the land legally meant that they could be evicted by demolition squads from the government at any time. This would happen from time to time and after demolition of these squatter settlements, residents would rebuild it again. These self-built houses without legal ownership accounts for about 60% of the inhabitants and land use of the city (Platt, 2010). With such a large number of unplanned settlements in the City, there can be serious consequences to public health and the overall well-being of people living in the City. Settlements such as these do not tend to have connections for running water or sewerage.
Research done by Cifuentes, E., & Rodriguez, S. (2005) revealed that children living in these areas were mostly affected by water borne diseases such as diarrhea due to fecal contamination in water. The presences of preventable ill health such as these are evidence of the prevailing environmental injustices
plaguing the City.
In order to address the problem of the existing squatter settlements within the MCMA, the first step that could be taken is to legalize these settlements by granting legal titles to the land. This is based on the idea that residents will improve their living conditions if they have ownership over the area they live in. There have been cases where residents in these areas build their own schools and day care centers (Miller & Spoolman, 2012, p. 22). Implementation of such schemes can be a starting point towards further developments of these settlements. Navarro & Turnbull (2014) conclude that evidence from similar cases in Argentina and Peru supports the view that legal property rights lead to better child education and health and higher labor supply but not necessarily improvements in housing quality.
Other actions that could be taken to prevent future settlements in depraved conditions is to designate land, provide clean water and sanitation and bus services to and from their workplaces, as done in Curitiba, Brazil. Curitiba also has a program where building materials and free consultation with an architect is provided for those who want to build a house. Similar programs suited to the local needs can be adopted, which would ensure better living and public health conditions for people coming into the City. Going one step further would be to encourage investments and industrial townships away from the City and improve education and health care in those areas (Miller & Spoolman, 2012, p. 596).