Interview: Re-Imagining Mobility

In Mexico City, traffic chaos is a part of daily life. Pioneers José Castillo and Monica Arzoz are investigating organizational improvements to urban traffic through their urban planning and architecture practice ‘a | 911.’

Jose Castillo

Together with Saidee Springall, Architect and City Planner José Castillo founded the ‘a | 911’ planning office in Mexico City. Their portfolio ranges from large-scale civil construction to low-income housing projects. The office has received a plethora of awards and has exhibited its work at biennials including those in São Paulo, Rotterdam and Venice Photo: Frank Jörger

What makes Mexico City so special when compared with other large cities such as London, Beijing and New York City?

Arzoz: Mexico City has grown dramatically over the last 100 years, from 300,000 people to a sprawling metropolis of 21.1 million people covering 1,400 square
kilometers. Every day, around 15 million cars hit the road in the metropolitan area. The city’s public transport is insufficient to cope with worsening commutes. Three hours of commuting per day is not unusual, and while only 28 per cent of people use a private car, the low average of 1.2 passengers in each car puts extreme demand on both parking lots and traffic infrastructure. As a result, 42 per cent of all structures built in the city between 2009 and 2013 were parking lots, covering approximately 7.2 million square meters.

What is the main idea behind your concept?

Castillo: Mobility has become a painful activity, which is isolating people rather than providing them an enjoyable experience of the city. In Mexico City – a city marked by social inequality and where data and information is only accessible by a few – we believe that by democratizing and making data available, we can trigger a change in how citizens live in and experience the city. The “Living Mobilities” project examined crowdsourcing technologies to develop a new culture of mobilization. The project proposed a new social contract for mobility, where a new set of stakeholders, platforms and protocols could re-imagine mobility in the megacity.

How could commuters benefit in respect to time and money in future?

Arzoz: Through our previous work, we were able to identify a series of pilot projects. These are founded on a thorough understanding of the commuter’s decision process. This is the basis for positive development – development that can have a direct effect on both quality of life and productivity. Due to its size, as well as both its social and geographic complexity, we see Mexico City´s ideal mobility network as an integrated system incorporating many modes of transportation, prioritizing public transport over individual mobility. A network of metro, fast buses and bike-sharing systems should be combined with improved pedestrian infrastructure. We also need to rethink the role of the car in the city. After all, cars themselves are not the problem – it’s how we use them. Such approaches would lead to considerable improvements to the mobility experience in this megacity.


Monica Arzoz: The architect and city planner has been project manager for “Living Mobilities” since 2014. The project was recognized with the Audi Urban Future Award. Photo: Diddo Ramm

How and where were you able to collect commuters’ mobility data?

Arzoz: During the first phase of the project, we established a collaborative relationship with 43 companies, institutions and organizations, thus gathering data from 14,000 employees and students in Santa Fe – an urban area located west of Mexico City with six universities and many businesses. Public transport and pedestrian infrastructure is virtually non-existent here. In the second phase, we established partnerships with seven companies and institutions to study the mobility behaviors, patterns and dynamics of the commuters more closely. We also evaluated the results of 2,000 online surveys and 21 in-depth interviews with directors and decision makers.

Were there any concerns about privacy and data security?

Castillo: Fear for privacy and security when it comes to sharing data is a major issue and source of controversy here in Mexico too. The strategy we have implemented for the pilot projects in recent years mainly consists of identifying whom our target group trusts. For example, it is more likely that an employee trust his or her data to their employer than to an unknown group or initiative.

To what extent was the city government involved?

Arzoz: Mexico City’s government proved a strong ally and provided lots of support throughout the process. They are seeking to foster the collaboration between
the public and private sectors to address mobility challenges in the megacity, as do we. Also, Mexico City´s Ministry of Mobility has provided us a great amount of useful data that we have incorporated into our research.

What are the future plans for Mexico City?

Castillo: We are currently working on a strategy that will ensure the optimal implementation of our pilot projects. By the end of 2017, our first pilot project should be realized in the Santa Fe district. In the next step, we aim to replicate the strategy and methods in different parts of the city, and then to different Mexican cities. Simultaneously, we intend to win further partnerships and allies, who can aid us in driving change processes by providing new ideas and suggestions for improvement. In the long term, sustainable and reliable mobility would have a direct positive effect on citizens’ quality of life, as well as Mexico City’s air quality and energy consumption. As such, a revolution in the city’s mobility culture would result in a win-win for all involved and affected.

Interview: Jan Oliver Löfken

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