Thursday, January 22, 2009

Mexico City - Ingenuity and Improvisation


Mexico City – large, crowded, ancient, modern. I have just finished reading First Stop in the New World: Mexico City, the capital of the 21st century by David Lida, and I am both fascinated and repelled.

David Lida is a freelance journalist who moved to Mexico City 20 years ago. He has a voracious curiosity and wide-ranging interests, and his book provides a window onto life in this city of 20 million inhabitants (8 million in the Federal District - the central core - and another 12 million in the surrounding neighbourhoods. Topics range from indigenous saints to shopping malls to wrestling matches to modern art.

The chapter on the justice system reminded me of how fortunate we are in Canada. Our justice system isn’t perfect, but it’s certainly far superior to the system in Mexico City. Investigative police pay for their own bullets, and many police ‘rent’ their bulletproof vests from their station chiefs. Three out of 10 people arrested have never been told what crime they have been charged with, and 80% of the accused never go before a judge. Everything in jail has a price – from food and water to floor space to sleep on.

But residents are creative and adaptable. For example, in response to fears about crime, a boutique opened in 2006 selling four separate lines of high-fashion bulletproof clothing – from $300 for a t-shirt to $3,000 for a suit.

Lida sums it up by saying, “Yet Mexico City is still here. Despite its foibles, it’s still going to grow, it’s still going to be important, and most significantly, it’s still going to be driven by ingenuity and improvisation. What gives the city its dynamism today is the resilience, ingenuity, and talent for improvisation of its residents.”

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