May '13 - Feb '16
Thirty years ago, the area known as Santa Fé was a massive landfill at the edge of Mexico City. When the dump reached capacity (around the same time NAFTA was creating wealth and attracing international businesses), the powers that be decided to transform the dump into the glittering new central business district. For the past 20 years Santa Fé has been growing upwards, described to me as an "American-style" suburb, lacking street life, pedestrians, public transit, or any kind of non-luxury housing.
Mexican author Rubén Gallo, in the introduction to the Mexico City Reader, writes: "Driving through Santa Fe- one can get there only by car -is an eerie experience: the streets are deserted, and nothing at all distinguishes this suburb from its counterparts in Atlanta, Caracas, or San José. Santa Fé has no history and no identity, it is a typical generic city."
It sounded so soulless and awful I had to check it out. It turned out to be not as bad as I'd heard. There were in fact, a few bus routes. Everything else was spot on.
Basically, I found manicured collection of hypermodern mirrored glass and steel towers containing luxury condos and office buildings, sprawling corporate campuses, and giant malls. Wealth and power live there, along with their bodyguards. Santa Fe does have an identity- it just happens to be awful.
I admit I'm a little biased. For one, I despise suburbs in general because they're basically a tax on everyone else when you consider the amount of infrastructure that has to be extended (which the city as a whole pays for), the extra pollution from cars, the waste of energy and water, the highways to and from which chop up the city, ad nauseum.
Secondly, there is the nature of isolation. I have no problems with people being rich, it's just dangerous and harmful for everyone else when the rich live in a santized bubble. Why is this bad? Because you end up with either no connection to the city, or worse, a totally misunderstood one. A lack of empathy coupled with paranoia and misunderstanding in the very people who have immense power over the city is a bad situation.
Driving to Santa Fe (there's no metro connection there), is more surreal than eerie. As you approach, the neighborhoods you pass through get more and more impoverished, which is logical when you consider that 30 years ago, you were approaching a massive landfill. There's a sudden break of nothingness and bam, the two lane roads become four lanes, the grass on the medians are manicured, and you're passing mirrored skyscrapers.
The Santa Fe mall is one of the largest in Mexico. It's a really nice mall, immaculate, white stone floors, polished steel, glass railings soaring atria, freezing air conditioned climate, diffuse sunlight. There is both an Emporio Armani and an Armani Exchange, any and all luxury labels, a Chili's, a BestBuy, a Sak's Fifth Avenue, a Sears, Zara, Crocs, and Gap. To navigate the five floors of the mall, the directory is an massive interactive touchscreen which gives you verbal directions to the store you're looking for.
The upper floors with fewer stores, massive open spaces, and more daylight, feel like an international airport terminal. It was also pretty deserted. I was there on a sunday afternoon. Maybe its the family meal time, but usually, sunday afternoon, malls are packed.
Leaving, I walked down the avenue between the massive towers, marveling at both the architecture and the uncanny resemblance to Dubai. There was only building on the avenue which had a few stores at the base- a few upscale restaurants and a gourmet grocery store. There were a few people out on the street. All of them were private security guards or parking attendants.
The architecture is really all over the place. Without a history or identity, the architects were given free reign for the tabula rasa site, and there a lot of daring which sometimes works, and sometimes fails. In Dubai, the architecture tends to be wildly fantastic- Santa Fe seemed to be more like the Facist and post-facist architecture of EUR. The buldings scream intimidating threats while waving fistfulls of money. Many buildings had helipads.
I was stopped by the police who told me not to take any photos of any buildings. No explanation why. Welcome to the land of paranoia. I finished my walk to the end of the street, and jumped on a bus to take me away from this sterile wasteland.
Urban and architectural explorations from Mexico City to Stuttgart Germany through the eyes of a iterant architectural designer