Mediating Metropolis: Walking Mexico City

Mediating Metropolis: Walking Mexico City

Every­where is walk­ing dis­tance if you have the time.

Steven Wright

With around 15, 000 km2 of urban land­scape to explore and upwards of 20 mil­lion peo­ple to nav­i­gate through Mex­i­co City rep­re­sents a very com­plex and dynam­ic urban envi­ron­ment. It is tru­ly a mind-bog­gling place that is filled with con­tra­dic­tion and strife. Yet, at the same time it can be won­der­ful­ly sim­ple and pre­dictable. Hav­ing vis­it­ed this metrop­o­lis sev­er­al times I have found the best way to under­stand it and devel­op a rela­tion­ship with it is to put my feet to the cement.

As awe­some­ly large and sprawl­ing Mex­i­co City seems, it is also an extreme­ly dense and lay­ered city. The den­si­ty and social­ly com­plex and lay­ered nature of Mex­i­co City cre­ates a fair­ly walk­a­ble city. The rea­son for this is that the com­mu­ni­ties are strung togeth­er by sev­er­al trans­porta­tion net­works and each have a dynam­ic infra­struc­ture weav­ing in and out of indus­tri­al, res­i­den­tial and com­mer­cial (and often on the same block). Fur­ther­more, food and drink can be found just about any­where from street ven­dors to food stalls and bars tucked into the entrance way of res­i­den­tial and busi­ness build­ings. To tru­ly under­stand a city and its peo­ple one must walk amongst them and that is what I aim to do in any city and Mex­i­co City is no excep­tion. It has been a won­der­ful begin­ning as I have braved the traf­fic, the peo­ple, the decay­ing infra­struc­ture and its renewal on my many walks through­out the city. I have come to my own under­stand­ing of the city and have devel­oped a pedes­tri­ans sense of things and I plan to con­tin­ue this rela­tion­ship as often as I can. I will, upon each vis­it, find new places to walk and rest and I am sure that I will nev­er run out of new places to see or new things to do in this immense and evolv­ing urban set­ting.

Walk­ing is med­i­ta­tion and medi­a­tion. It is at once relax­ing and infor­ma­tive. Per­haps the most impor­tant aspect of walk­ing in the city is when we are not walk­ing when we are tak­ing a break. It is of high impor­tance where we choose to take a break and for what rea­son. My favorite pit stops are 12797994_707995859340555_280897769_nthose for refu­el­ing with food and drink. For instance, on my most recent trip to Mex­i­co City, my part­ner and I stum­bled upon a won­der­ful strip of restau­rants and food carts in Bar­rio Chi­no as we worked our way from our hotel on Paseo de la Refor­ma to our friend’s apart­ment deep in the city cen­tre. It was ear­ly in the morn­ing but we could smell char­coal burn­ing mixed with some­thing sweet. Between a cou­ple of Chi­ne­se restau­rants sat a wom­an and her steam­er. She was steam­ing some delec­table pork buns. They weren’t ready, but only had a few min­utes to go so we wait­ed and watched folk shuf­fle along on their morn­ing com­mute and errands. The wait was well worth it. Soft sweet and salty steamed pork buns for break­fast. We felt warm in the morn­ing sun and our mouths sunk into the buns allow­ing the pork to melt in our mouths. After this quick recharge, we were ready to get back to12479053_935169816604512_644496786_n our short jour­ney.

Walk­ing Mex­i­co City allows you to begin to dis­tin­guish bar­rios and con­nect colo­ni­as cre­at­ing an ethno­graph­ic and social men­tal map of the city. Walk­ing reveals an eco­nom­ic mosaic of class­es lay­er­ing upon each oth­er and weav­ing them­selves through­out the urban fab­ric. Mex­i­co City is cul­tur­al­ly and eth­ni­cal­ly diverse. A city of 20 mil­lion peo­ple would have to be. This diver­si­ty cre­ates dis­tinct cul­tur­al dis­tricts, but each of the­se dis­tricts has a cer­tain amount of over­flow. That means the city’s dynamism cre­ates a dizzy­ing whirl of cul­tur­al patch­work mak­ing explor­ing by foot all the more inter­est­ing, fun and, of course, tasty!

Two of the most impor­tant roads when it comes to walk­ing in Mex­i­co City are Insur­gen­tes, bisect­ing the city east/west begin­ning at the north­ern­most edge to the south, and Paseo de la Refor­ma bisect­ing the city north/south weaves around skirt­ing the north­ern most edge of Cen­tro pass­ing Balles Artes and con­nect­ing the mas­sive and won­der­ful Bosque de Cha­pul­te­pec and beyond. Hik­ing the­se two arte­ri­al roads can lead you to sev­er­al areas includ­ing the pop­u­lar inner city colo­ni­as of Polan­co, La Con­de­sa and Roma, and the per­haps less glam­orous but unique and amaz­ing neigh­bor­hoods of Pequeño Seúl (Kore­atown) and Lit­tle Tokyo in and around Zona Rosa embed­ded with­in the siz­able and eth­ni­cal­ly diverse Colo­nia Cuauhté­moc. The cen­tral point of the­se neigh­bour­hoods is where Insur­gen­tes and Paseo de la Refor­ma inter­sect and they con­sti­tute a vast sec­tion of the inner city. One could spend days con­sumed by wan­der­lust explor­ing the­se areas. While Insur­gen­tes and Paseo de la Refor­ma are impor­tant trans­porta­tion cor­ri­dors feed­ing into the cen­tre of the city, if one were brave enough to fol­low on foot, say, Insur­gen­tes much fur­ther north­ward they could find them­selves at the beau­ti­ful Par­que Nacional El Tepey­ac; or, south­ward by foot one might walk far enough to catch a foot­ball match at Esta­dio Azul. Don’t get me wrong, Insure­gen­tes is a mas­sive­ly long road push­ing 29 kilo­me­ters (18 miles) in length. But it is a valu­able for trans­porta­tion, even if by foot. The much more mod­est Paseo de la Refor­ma mea­sures at about 15 km in length, and is sure­ly a much more beau­ti­ful and com­fort­able walk with plen­ty of the cities most impres­sive mon­u­ments to find along the way.

Of course, there are plen­ty of oth­er high­ly walk­a­ble and inter­est­ing streets and with­in reach of the­se two larg­er road­ways. One of my favorites, espe­cial­ly for cock­tail stops, has to be Avenida Álvaro Obregón in Roma whic11116818_1600803766831993_1563940091_nh includes a lush green stone path medi­an walk­way between two one-way streets. The avenue is lined with res­i­den­tial homes, store­fronts, gal­leries, bars and restau­rants. It is per­fect for an after­noon stroll and a few drinks before din­ner. A great place to stop for one, two or sev­er­al of the­se drinks would be the Auro­ra Roma Bar which includes a won­der­ful­ly lit patio space and a dark­er cock­tail bar for a lat­er night drink. They will also feed you one of my favorite cock­tails in Mex­i­co City, the Gua­n­a­bana Moji­to. A per­fect­ly bal­anced sweet/sour con­coc­tion of rum punchy good­ness. Try one! If you are get­ting hun­gry you might want to walk fur­ther up the avenue to Romi­ta Come­dor, if you can sneak in with­out a reser­va­tion, which also has fan­tas­tic cock­tails and a fair wine list, if you fan­cy, to accom­pa­ny your deli­cious feast. If you’d prefer a beer you might wan­der a bit off the beat­en path to Escol­lo four blocks south of Avenida Álvaro Obregón on Quére­taro for an arti­sanal micro­brew and some grub instead.

Like walk­ing, food and drink are med­i­ta­tion and medi­a­tion as well! How bet­ter that the­se three aspects of life con­verge into a dai­ly rou­tine as if we were hunter-gath­er­ers. So per­haps we could drink fine drinks in such estab­lish­ments as found in Roma or grab a pulque or some cheap beer in an old dilap­i­dat­ed can­ti­na in Cen­tro. After which we might find our­selves in Kore­atown for bibim­bap and shochu, or fur­ther into Cuauhté­moc for sushi and sake, or a sweet­er affair with chur­ros and a thick sen­sa­tion­al hot choco­late at the new­er Chur­rería El Moro loca­tion. We might get mid­day 11821193_1609688365947068_432325867_ndrunk some­where in Zona Rosa in a cheap laugh­able water­ing hole good only for peo­ple watch­ing and walk on up to Bosque de Cha­pul­te­pec along Paseo de la Refor­ma to find some of the city’s best street-side tos­tilo­cos. Whichev­er path we choose on our walks of Mex­i­co City we can always be assured it will be bro­ken up with tasty inter­ludes and fueled by scat­ter­ings of drunk­en indul­gence.

Sobri­ety cer­tain­ly won’t bring us any closer to under­stand­ing a city with the mag­ni­tude and com­plex­i­ty of Mex­i­co City. So whether intox­i­cat­ed by the vari­ety and inten­si­ty of Mex­i­co City’s aes­thet­ics, or by wan­der­lust, or by the devil’s med­i­cine we are sure to find some­thing out about the city. If we don’t get to know the city bet­ter, it cer­tain­ly will teach us some­thing about our­selves. So next time you find your­self in Mex­i­co City, skip the metro and jump out of the Taxi. Take the beast by foot and mouth, you sure­ly won’t regret it!