The first mapping was commissioned to sociologist Rodrigo Bustamante, who applied a socio-anthropological methodology to this first formal attempt to understand the context and social networks in the community and its productive life. His objective was to identify possible alliances and enclaves for joint participation projects; to find out more about the knowledge and interests prevailing in the area; and to analyze the socio-cultural, human, productive, and material scope of the specific area.
Summary of the Mapping / Diagnosis
This exercise coordinated by Rodrigo Bustamante and Víctor Campos was the first formal attempt to understand the context and social network of the community and its productive life. The objective was to identify possible alliances and enclaves for joint participation projects; to find out more about the knowledge and interests in the area; and to analyze the socio-cultural, human, productive, and material scope of a specific area.
Approaches to different levels were used as research tools. The first step was a bibliographical scrutiny of articles and news items published about the barrio. Based on that information, researchers planned a series of walks with observation guidelines aimed at identifying meeting places and relevant junctures in the social and productive life of the neighborhood, and to better understand the daily dynamics and organization of it. The next step was to design semi-structured interviews for pedestrians, managers of local businesses, and key people in the neighborhood. At the same time, a statistical review using a Basic Geo- statistics Area (AGEBS, as per Spanish acronym) was carried out, disaggregating data of the area, block by block. Based on the resulting information, some interpretations were made that were then verified by new interviews on specific issues and on specific bibliographic reviews to identify the fundamental elements for the analytical scope. All information collected was organized in four analytical sections: 1) Socio-cultural, 2) Human, 3) Productivity/economy, and 4) Material/infrastructure.
Roughly speaking, three main elements that build identities in the barrio were identified:
a) Tensions between families and individuals who have lived in the barrio for several generations and who are interested in preserving its heritage and traditions, and those who, for different reasons, have immigrated and modify places and dynamics daily.
b) Places with a strong tradition where residents and people from other parts of the city meet: including the Santa María Alameda, certain educational centers, and several restaurants.
c) Emergence of new social actors, mostly groups of young people with very different backgrounds.
In the studied sample of 8,897; 1,120 people or 12.6 percent of the population are 60 years or older; 56.5 percent are between 25 and 60 years old; and about 20 percent are minors. This means that most of them belong to the working-age population sector, but as the rest of the demographic trends in Mexico City, this sector is increasingly aging.
The number of organizations dedicated to new housing is remarkable. They operate under the shadow of large corporate organizations in the Federal District. They begin by identifying buildings at risk, then obtain a seizure permit from the delegation (local government) and the Secretariat of Urban and Housing Development (SEDUVI, as per English acronym) with which they can exert pressure on occupants to waive their rights on the land, so that they can proceed to build homes, which are usually assigned based on political convenience. This tactic is very effective to win popular support locally, but it encourages other social dynamics such as dependence and paternalism, and generates ruptures in the social fabric of the neighborhood.
Two/three profiles have been identified among new residents: those with a middle or high socioeconomic status who have arrived to relocate near economic centers in the city such as Reforma Avenue, the Polanco neighborhood, or downtown Mexico City; those of low socioeconomic status who move to affordable housing units; and migrants from other states who live in run-down tenant buildings.
Despite these different profiles, a common concern is safety. There is a tendency to think that the arrival of people living in housing units or in tenant buildings has increased safety problems, as well as resulted in neglect of streets and public places. Such attitudes may be related to two catalytic moments in the barrio’s modern history. After the 1985 earthquake, many people were homeless because their homes had been destroyed or were at high risk and relocated to Santa María or its surroundings, either in tenant buildings or apartments built where an older house once had stood. The second critical period was a severe safety crisis experienced in the mid-1990s, as a result of the rapid expansion of Mexico City’s and the ensuing neglect of the downtown section and its surroundings. During those years both the number of robberies and car thefts increased. The barrio was even called “Santa María La Ratera” (ratera, colloquial for thief). Today, there are some gangs operating mainly around the Circuito Interior and in the area between the streets of Dr. Enrique González Martínez and Insurgentes Norte, from Manuel Carpio to Jesús Garcia, which are all outside the studied area.
While there are several places where people gather, the Alameda attracts the most; it is a vital point in the life of the barrio. The Quiosco morisco (Moorish Kiosk) rises at the center and is surrounded by flowerbeds protected with metal guardrails; new park benches were provided with the latest remodeling. Many different dynamics are observed at the park, depending on the time and day. A frequent scene in the morning is that of people jogging and working out; a number of senior citizens usually gather around noon, while people walking their pets come and go all day long. Young skaters and groups engaged in organized sports are also a frequent sight; this sometimes leads to conflict among the groups, as there is a constant demand to use the space for all kinds of cultural events, commercial fairs, sporting events, and political rallies..
Pet dogs have become an iconic symbol in the life of the barrio, and it is clear that pet owners establish contact and even friendship with other pet owners. There is a large number of veterinarians’ offices near the Alameda, and a committee meets on weekends to address health and safety issues related to pets; however no comprehensive solution has been found to address the demands to keep the park clean.
Other meeting places that have emerged among groups of different profiles are beauty and barber shops.
Among the emerging social actors observed, there are mainly three group profiles: those promoting environmental sustainability activities; groups interested in physical activities; and others focused on promoting artistic and cultural activities as well as recovering public spaces. Locals have also shown a significant interest in recovering public spaces for recreational and sporting purposes. In addition to formal spaces such as gymnasiums and the Casa de la Cultura, the Quiosco morisco is the meeting place for many different groups: boxing groups, those who practice aerobic dance (zumba) and are mostly women, and those who organize occasional bike rides. Therefore, the changes promoted by the local government of building sports facilities at Eje 1 were welcome, and a gradual appropriation of those spaces has been driven by community organization.
It is important to emphasize the urgent need for green areas where people may be in direct contact with nature in the barrio. It seems that urban development has been dedicated to erecting barriers between people and green areas, and a good example is the metal guardrails surrounding the flowerbeds that were built during the last renovation of the Alameda.
Although there are educational institutions from pre-school to undergraduate level in the barrio, some neighbors consider that, unlike the local grammar and middle schools, high schools or colleges in Santa María do not meet the expected standards, and that their pedagogical methods do not contribute to making students aware of the community problems. This trend is reflected in the lower number of older students who continue their education in the barrio.
In regards to religious beliefs, five congregation centers were located within the studied area. Two are Roman Catholic: the Parish of the Holy Spirit, built in 1904, which is next to the Virgen del Consuelo Church where a group of Alcoholics Anonymous meets, as well as a group of women who organize religious activities; and a small Evangelical Lutheran Church at Dr. Atl street. There is also a Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Temple, and a Born Again Christian congregation that meets at a former shop.
Also identified were institutions dedicated to people with mental or physical disabilities that prevent them from performing everyday tasks. Among those institutions, two are schools for children with special needs and one for people with impaired vision. In the studied area there are 688 people who are impaired to perform everyday tasks, that is 7.73 percent of the total population.
Economic activities in Santa María are many and varied, from offices offering professional services to convenience stores, street vendors, warehouses, auto repair shops, and food stalls, among others. People of different socioeconomic sectors from other places in Mexico City or from the provinces have found the neighborhood to be a good place to sell their products and do business.
Along with established businesses, a network of two types of informal trade has developed: people who come from other parts of Mexico City and nearby states to sell their products, mainly vegetables, cheese and other goods, and occasionally wooden furniture or cleaning supplies; and residents in the barrio (some born in other states) that place stands at entrances of buildings or even turn ground floor apartments with street access into shops. Among the goods sold are vegetables, groceries, clothes, and fashion jewelry.
A noticeable element in the barrio’s productive life is the diversity of trades. In most cases, people learn trades by watching and helping a more experienced person. The most widespread trades in the studied area are auto mechanics, tailors, blacksmiths, beauticians, and hairdressers.
In regards to employment conditions, 48 percent of the population in the studied area, that is 4,281 people, are economically active (defined as individuals of 12 years of age or older who have worked, and those who were not working nor seeking for a job during the week studied), of those, 203 or 4.74 percent reported being unemployed (at the moment, but were looking for a job).
According to the characteristics of employment, 80.5 percent of the population in Santa María are employed in third sector activities, such as trade and services, while 16.75 percent are working in the second sector, such as industrial activities, and only 2.75 percent are in the first sector, that is, professional activities. Of the working population 75 percent are workers or laborers, while almost 19 percent are self-employed.
Concerning income: 54 percent earned less than three times the minimum wage (SM) a month, that is, approximately $4,850 pesos; while 23.4 percent earn more than five times the minimum wage (SM).
Santa María La Ribera was designed according to the 19-century concept of urban subdivisions with the intent of achieving large lots. Many of the old houses in Santa María are vestiges of that period. Over time, the large lots were divided, and the grand gates in residences were turned into small entrances that led to mazes of corridors. The land where a mansion once stood was divided into two or more lots.
Housing is, no doubt, a key element to understanding the social dynamics in the barrio, particularly now because there are strong pressures from developers. While there are many old houses, most are classified as historic buildings; therefore owners are forbidden to make substantial modifications (restrictions vary according to categories in the official catalog), but it is very expensive to keep those residencies according to their original design. Many of them are in very poor condition; some even seem to be abandoned with apparently sealed-up doors, although people are living inside. An indirect result is that while the façade and outside walls remain, the inside structure is modern.
Faulty urban services such as sidewalks in disrepair, potholes, lack of infrastructure for people with mobility or visual disabilities, and poor lighting, as well as garbage and feces on public roads, contribute to the perception of Santa María as a neglected and unsafe barrio.
Santa María is in a strategic location in the city. The studied area is only three blocks away from a key intersection: Insurgentes Ave. and Eje 1 Norte Jose Antonio Alzate. Several public transportation lines run along those avenues: Metrobus 1 (Caminero – Indios Verdes), Metrobus 3 (Buenavista-Tenayuca) and Metrobus 4 (Buenavista-Airport); there is also a Metro Station with two important routes: Buenavista Line B, and Buenavista-Ciudad Azteca, as well as a suburban train Buenavista- Cuautitlán. Additionally there are regular buses that complete this very good transportation network connecting Santa María with close-by downtown Mexico City, as well as with distant boroughs. This network enables both residents and non-residents to sell products and services and is a key element in the shaping of the barrio’s dynamics.
Researchers expect a continuing decline in Santa María La Ribera due to poor maintenance and a lack of infrastructure renewal, as well as the government’s lack of foresight to improve construction planning and adequate housing. However, traditions and cultural activities—many promoted by the local government—are as strong as the sense of belonging and unity in the barrio. Numerous neighbors are eager to improve the quality of life by actively promoting cultural events, and they strongly oppose any effort to tear them from their roots.