Mexico City Urbanizes Conserved Land for Irregular Settlements

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According to Mexico’s Institute for Democratic and Prospective Planning (IPDP), approximately half of Mexico City’s 3,138 hectares of designated conserved land have become occupied by irregular settlements – actions that have caused 1,510 hectares of said conserved land to be legally urbanized by the area’s surrounding municipalities.

While the land was originally conserved to keep the surrounding natural flora, fauna and environment intact, the Mexico City government has moved to gradually and legally urbanize these irregular settlements, most of which span between half a hectare to three hectares, in 2017.

In 1987, there were reportedly 296 of these irregular settlements spread across 348 hectares; by the year 2020, there were more than 891 irregular settlements distributed over 3,143 hectares, with an additional 32 settlements registered between 2016 and 2018 – including 21 settlements in the Tlalpan borough that were granted urban zoning under Mexico City Governor Claudia Sheinbaum in October 2022.  

“About 1,510 hectares are consolidated and concentrated in the Xochimilco, Tlalpan, Tláhuac and Cuajimalpa mayors’ offices,” revealed the IPDP’s Irregular Human Settlements: Diagnosis, Comprehensive Care Strategy study, which was based on data from 2020. “Small settlements with fewer than 50 houses in a scattered manner predominate.”

The changing use of the once-conserved land not only puts the surrounding flora, fauna, rain infiltration and oxygenation at risk, but also endangers the residents of said settlements; according to the IPDP, most of these irregular settlements are set up in places ripe for natural disasters, including landslides, flooding, fires and subsidence.

“Of the 859 inventoried settlements on conservation land, 728, or 85 percent, are exposed to some type of high-risk disturbing phenomenon,” detailed the IPDP report. “The landslides deserve priority action, by virtue of the fact that they are the risks that can cause the greatest number of deaths.”

Residents of these irregular settlements are mostly driven to live on this once-conserved land due to economic factors and social inequality. And due to the settlements’ far proximity from urban resources, many lack necessary basic services and resources – which in turn, forces their residents to take long treks through the land just to acquire these essential goods.

That being said, introducing modern equipment into areas intended for conservation only accelerates humans’ negative environmental impact on the land and causes “affectation of areas with high environmental value that determine the infiltration of water into the subsoil, oxygen production, thermal regulation and loss of ecosystems and biodiversity.”

The IDPD also pointed out that many of these irregular settlements use unregulated, unsafe or improperly installed equipment and methodology, including errant electric cables, sewage channeled into ravine pits, and burning garbage in the middle of forest land.

According to the IDPD, these irregular settlements – many of which have been officially urbanized into Mexico City – require comprehensive care policies to take care of their residents, the surrounding environment and, in turn, the capital itself.

“Settlement care should be based on risk reduction strategies and their relocation when they are in an area of ​​high environmental value or in an area of ​​non-mitigable risk,” concluded the IDPD report. “Also with regularization strategies when the social, environmental and territorial conditions warrant it.”

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