Malls and Plazas in Mexico City

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For the past week I’ve been working on a long essay about public and private space in Mexico City. It was first inspired by Andres Lajous’ essay, “The Political Economy of the Metro” and by sections Daniel Hernandez’s book, Down and Delirious in Mexico City.

820px Zocalo Panorama seen from rooftop restaurant

Mexico City’s Zócalo, one of the world’s largest public plazas.

Quite a few academic papers feed into the essay, but Maria Moreno Carranco’s “Producing Globalization in the Public Space of Mexico City” has especially given me food for thought.

800px Santa feconj

Santa Fe, formerly a trash dump surrounded by lower income neighborhoods, now the upscale home to multinational corporations and private universities on the western edge of the city.

What I find fascinating is how seamlessly discussions of public and private physical space apply to discussions of public and private online space. I once believed that the Internet would become the world’s largest public plaza – a global, multilingual, multicultural Zocalo. Instead, platforms like Facebook, Blogger, Twitter, Flickr, Foursquare, and Tumblr have become the largest possible malls imaginable – quasi public spaces that are built on top of the promise to shareholders to raise profits.

Tepito 2

Tepito, a notorious and mythologized downtown neighborhood where you can find pirated just-about-anything.

An excerpt from Moreno Carranco’s paper:

Let us consider 19-year-old Alan whom I interviewed while he worked handing out pieces of paper advertising the women’s gym Curves at a traffic light in Santa Fe. He was born in the village of Santa Fe, the area next to the Megaproject that gave it its name. He earns less than 200 USD a month and was promised health insurance, which after a month of work he does not yet have. Alan remembers when the garbage dump was still open. At that time, rumors about the shopping mall being built started to circulate in town. He says that then no one believed it possible. Nevertheless the mall was built and furthermore it was accompanied by an unbelievable transformation of the place. Alan claims that simply visiting the mall makes him feel like “having money”. He and his friends go to the shopping center to see güeritas (blond girls). He says that a few of the niñas fresas (rich girls) will talk to them and even invite them to raves, but they have no money to go. They also look at the clothing and music stores to see what is fashionable. After getting some ideas Alan and his friends go to Tepito – the largest market of pirate products in the city- and they buy almost identical items at prices they can afford. To Alan, many girls from his neighborhood go often to the mall and, even if they cannot buy anything, just by being there they feel fresa.

Rather than represent a separation of public and private, rich (inside) and poor (outside), and global and local, the malls offer a tangling of these categories, indicating once more that these distinctions are not separate and dualistic. On the contrary, we see them as mutually constituted: the private becomes public as the private space of the mall allows more social interaction than public areas. Mimicry too resurfaces. As the rich seek to copy the lifestyles of Miami, Milan, Paris or London through the acquisition of ‘originals’ so people like Alan acquire the pirate versions. The slippage between the “original” and the “copy”, the possibility of resistance through appropriation is opened and the impossibility to be part of a certain consumer culture is challenged through the informal markets. The shopping mall has become a place for encounters where a desire for inclusion and a desire to be alike through consumption of similar brands, some original some not, can be played out.

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