When I came here, I tried to be optimistic and open minded, but Mexico City reminded me a lot of pre-olympics Beijing. I thought it was a dirty, gritty, city. You glance around where you’re walking along the streets and it's easy to say, yeah, Mexico City is pretty dirty.
However, like most things in Mexico City, the truth seems to be more complicated once you start to really stop and look. It's just like the usage of “sketchy" in reference to neighborhoods- what is it, really, that you’re pointing to? So what is it about the city that makes me think it's dirty? Is it really?
Actually, the Capitalanos take great care in cleaning the city. Everywhere I go, people are sweeping sidewalks, washing things, picking up trash. There is such a vast population of low income workers and labor is so cheap that it is possible to have an army of garbage collectors, sweepers, recycling sorters, subway moppers etc.
The walls and floors of the metro stations here are usually spotless as far as grime and dirt are concerned. The most rickety combi you climb into smells vaguely of antiseptic lemon cleaner, which I smell in the background of most places I go. Actually, I wonder if everyone in the city uses the same brand or knockoffs of the same.
Sometimes I find trash in the gutter. I will find trash in the medians and planters, but not nearly on the same scale as Beijing. There is a grit in the air though, a mix of the native dust (there’s no grass lawns in Mexico City that I’ve seen) and the particulates of the car exhaust, all of it carefully swept back into planters.
There is a lot of pollution and garbage in the canals (if you can find them) and the air quality here is some of the worst in the world. So there is some truth to that kind of dirtiness.
My impression is that I am visually substituting dirty for in disrepair. The things here, the streets, the sidewalks, the buildings, people's clothes, are all clean, but are in generally poor condition, broken, torn or worn.
Clean shirts with holes and tears that would not take much to mend. Well swept sidewalks in desperate need of patching and re-leveling. Aging infrastructure and public transit systems in need of upgrades rather than a daily thorough scrub.
In other words, the city and the population appear to be either too poor to repair and upgrade, or it's just not a priority in a city with bigger problems. Mexico City is a patent leather oxford, kept shined to a high glossy black even as the laces fray apart and the sole detaches.
Urban and architectural explorations from Mexico City to Stuttgart Germany through the eyes of a iterant architectural designer