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Emma Woodward Gonville and Caius College Pilot Thesis

The Contested Space of Mexico City’s Public Markets

A design thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the M.Phil. in Architectural and Urban Design 2016

Acknowledgements I would like to thank Ingrid Schröder, MAUD course director, for her input, insight and support. I am indebted to Felipe Hernández for his expertise on Latin America. Insights provided by his previous and upcoming works were key to the development of this essay. Andrew Smolksi, a contemporary researcher on the topic of Mexico City’s Public Markets, has been a critical contributor to both the formation of this essay as well as the academic relationships in Mexico City that will be developed during the

My sincere thanks go to Hector Fernández and Donna Woodward, for their interest, conversation, support and inspiration.

Words Text – 5,287 Bibliography – 951

This dissertation is the result of my own work and includes nothing which is the outcome of


List of Illustrations All photographs and illustrations are the author’s, unless otherwise stated

Figure 1 Figure 2 Figure 3 Figure 4 Figure 5 Figure 6 Figure 7 Figure 8 Figure 9 Figure 10 Figure 11 Figure 12 Figure 13 Figure 14 Figure 15 Figure 16 Figure 17 Figure 18 Figure 19 Figure 20 Figure 21 Figure 22 Fgure 23


Public Market, Oaxaca, Mexico Mega supermarket, Comercial Mexicana, Mexico City Map of Mexico City, the Federal District and surrounding Metropolitan area Metro Tacuba, informal vending surrounding station entrances, Mexico City Metro Guerrero, sign “Informal Trade Banned in Metro”, Mexico City Map of pre-Hispanic Tenochtitlan and Tlatelolco, Alfonso Caso, from “Los barrios antiguos de Tenochtitlan y Tlatelolco”, Memorias de la Academia Mexicana de la Historia 15 (1956), cited in The death of Aztec Tenochtitlan, the Life of Mexico City, 2015, Barbara Mundy Plano Parcial de la Ciudad de México, ca. 1565, unknown creator, Biblioteca Nacional de Antropología e Historia, Mexico, cited in The death of Aztec Tenochtitlan, the Life of Mexico City, 2015, Barbara Mundy Map of Mexico City and its public markets in 1872 Mercado de la Merced, Mexico City, architect Enrique de Moral, 1957, image LIFE collection Mercado San Juan de Díos, Guadalajara, architect Alejandro Zohn, 1956, image Mercado de la Merced, Mexico City,1957, image Guillermo Zamora Mercado de la Merced, Mexico City, current, image www. Market of Tlatelolco, mural by Diego Rivera, completed 1942, in the Palacio Nacional of Mexico City Site model, Tacubaya public market and station, Mexico City Tacubaya public market, Mexico City, photo of roof and exterior Tacubaya public market, Mexico City, south facade, image Tacubaya public market, Mexico City, south facade, pavement filled with products Tacubaya public market, Mexico City, condition of central internal area Street vendors, Calles Chilpancingo, Mexico City, May 2016 Government removal of street vendors, Calle Chilpancingo, Mexico City, June 2016 Metro Ciudad Azteca, Mexico City, shopping centre complex and station, image Tacubaya public market and station design proposal, large infrastructural project, integrated whole sale market, bus terminal and pedestrian walkways Tacubaya public market and station design proposal, minimal built intervention, porous integration of public market and bus terminal into urban grain




List of Illustrations






1. PART ONE Introduction Marginality Historical Background Marketplace Points of Interchange Cultural and Social Significance of the Public Market Privatisation of Land up to the Revolution of 1910 20th Century, Revolution of 1910 Post War Period 1940s - 1970s Moving into Neoliberal Adjustment Contested Space Conclusion

1 3 5 7 9 11 13

2. PART TWO Introduction Postcolonial Discourse Informal Sector Debate Bringing the Debate up-to-date Conclusion Bibliography

15 19 23 27 29


FIG 1 public market; Oaxaca, Mexico

FIG 2 supermarket; Comercial Mexicana


Abstract Over the past 30 years, the vast proliferation of self-service chain stores has had a profound impact on local community level exchange and distribution in Mexico City (Torres Salcido et al., 2015). On a wider scale, the rapid expansion of corporatised space and the privatisation of public space, particularly since the embracing of neo-liberal government policies since the 1980s in Mexico, has contributed to the displacement of a marginalised sector susbsisting largely through informal economic activity. The contestation of public space within Mexico City between formal institutions, informal economic agents, and the user, directly shapes the physical urban dynamic; such themes not only pertain to the present day, but have evolved historically. The first part of this essay examines the origins and evolution of the segregated form of the city, originating in the colonial period; the dispossession and marginalisation of the urban poor; and the contestation of land, communal space and points of interchange. The second section places the public markets of Mexico City within the wider debate on the informal sector, examining the wider formal and informal institutional structures and the relevent discourse pertaining to the site of interest for this design proposal.


Hidalgo Hidalgo

Metropolitan Zone of the Valley of Mexico


Federal District Mexico City State of Mexico

FIG 3 map Mexico City; Federal District and Metropolitan area



1 Part One Introduction Like many of the world’s megacities, Mexico City has grown to encompass its surrounding regions, sprawling into what was, at one time, rural land. Today it is estimated that over 20 million people reside within the great Metropolitan Area of the Valley of Mexico, or Zona Metropolitana del Valle de México. The city proper, known as the Federal District, or Distrito Federal, is comprised of 16 boroughs and just under half the overall population; thus the population majority is metropolitan, pertaining to the 62 adjacent municipalities situated within two surrounding federal states, the Estado de México and Hidalgo (Mundi, 2014, Kaminer et al., 2011, SEGOB, 2016). Since the mid 1970s, but occurring mainly after the entry of neo-liberal policies in the 1980s and 1990s, socio-economic segregation has taken spatial form dividing Mexico City into two halves according to class and income: the wealthier in the west, the poor and lower-classes spreading east, north and south (Kaminer et al., 2011). The city’s transport infrastructure is inundated by thousands who commute into areas of the city to earn an income. In many cases this migration occurs across the city-state border where the extensive paratransit system of buses servicing the wider region connects with mainline rail and bus systems at the Metro terminal stations (Cervero, 1998). Within Mexico City, public spaces of concentrated footfall, such as the pavements and streets surrounding metro and bus stations, are utilised by informal merchants. During the pre-Hispanic and Colonial evolution of the city, the confluence of distinct sectors and classes of society took place principally in the vast public open-markets situated at main access points to the city (Mundy, 2015). The first part of this essay explores the historical development of these communal spaces, as well as the processes of land contestation and displacement implicit in their evolution.


FIG 4 Metro Tacuba; Mexico City

FIG 5 “Informal Trade Banned in Metro” Metro Guerrero; Mexico City


1 Marginality

Marginality, in physical and geographical terms, refers to the urban fabric that develops on the periphery

of the city. The term ‘marginalised’ with regards to Mexico City might define those who are outside of the Distrito Federal; however, patterns of urban segregation do not necessarily correlate to such a geographical juristic border. The economist, Hernando de Soto, renowned for his work on the informal economy, states that marginality is a resultant of the complex set of socio-economic, political, and ethnic factors that force people to live and work outside of the dominant legal and political systems that control formal participation in urban life, often forcing the informal use of urban space (De Soto, 2000, chapter 2).

Urbanisation occurred on a such a large scale in Mexico that the national population became majority

urban by 1970, a ratio of 58.7 to 41.3 urban to rural (Kaminer et al., 2011, p.102). Migrants arriving to Mexico City have often been ‘barred from legally established social and economic activities’ as they cannot be absorbed and supported within the legal system (De Soto, 2000, chapter 4). In his forthcoming work, Felipe Hernández, places emphasis on understanding contemporary conditions of marginality and informal development across Latin American cities in terms of urban processes established in the colonial period. Although marginality and informal activity are not defined by rural proletarian social class or heritage, Hernández and others argue that urban segregation and discrimination of the marginalised today is deeply connected to race (Hernandez, in press). To understand the role of ethnicity in patterns of urban segregation in Mexico City, it is necessary to trace marginality back to the pre-Hispanic origins of the city and the Colonial Conquest by the Spanish (Hernandez, in press, Vázquez-Castillo, 2004).

Historical Background Marketplace

Mexico City existed as Tenochtitlan until the Spanish Conquest of 1521 at which time it was one of

the world’s largest cities. Built on an island in the middle of a shallow lake, controlling and converting the surrounding water and land was essential to prevent the city from flooding and to provide agricultural land to sustain it. The labour for such large infrastructural works was sourced from the surrounding conquered towns (Mundy, 2015). Thus, socio-economic hierarchies underpinned the urban and societal structures of the city during its initial pre-Hispanic manifestation.


FIG 6 map of pre-Hispanic Tenochtitlan and Tlatelolco

FIG 7 Plano Parcial de la Ciudad de MĂŠxico ca. 1565



After the Spanish conquered Tenochtitlan in the 1520s and established themselves in the city centre,

hierarchies of class, wealth and status subsisted and evolved. The city’s rulers became the Spanish cabildo or town council, alongside which served an indigenous government that exercised power until 1820. Ethnic segregation was a significant resultant of the urban and social hierarchical structures established during the colonial period. Apart from select rulers, the indigenous peoples were displaced to the outer regions of the city as the Spanish established themselves in the centre (Mundy, 2015). After the Conquest, the inner city Spanish population was small in comparison to the peripheral indigenous, as evident in the map of Tenochtitlan and Tlatelolco showing four indigenous neighbourhoods surrounding the Spanish centre (marked in blue). Beyond the Spanish city centre and Plaza Mayor, the region was dominated and controlled by indigenous Nahuatlspeaking agriculturalists and labourers that worked the expanse of the agricultural land gridded by canals. As shown in the Plano Parical de la Cuidad, a 16th century map of the valley, there was almost no trace of Spanish authority in the indigenous regions (Mundy, 2015).

Points of Interchange

Mexico City, like its former pre-Conquest Tenochtitlan, was not self-sustaining. The city and its elites

depended on the peripheral lands, both in terms produce and labour. A water transport system of canals together with marketplaces formed a vital delivery and distribution network of products into and throughout the city. Marketplaces, tianguis in Spanish or originally tianquiztli in Nahuatl, have been crucial to the survival of the city since it was first established in the pre-Hispanic period (Mundy, 2015). With the urban and ethnic changes that came about during colonialisation in the 16th century, the marketplaces became places of confluence between various races and sectors of society, whilst still retaining indigenous significance.

Cultural and Social Significance of the Public Market

At the time of the Conquest, the Spanish conquistadors took over the system of imperial tribute

collection previously run by the indigenous native lords. Displaced and dispossessed, the indegenous elite claimed and operated the tianguis as a means of retaining power. These open-air markets were officially recognised by the Spanish cabildo as indigenous property, thus the tiangius remained the property of the indigenous government through the 16th century. By the 1560s, however, the tianguis became spaces of 5

causeway to Tlacopan

Lake Tetzcoco

Mysteries causeway

causeway to Tenayuca


aqueduct from Nonoalco

Tlatelolco market


Santa Catarina Mártir market

causeway to Tlacopan and Chapultepec La Alameda central mall

omnibus Mexico - Tacubaya

tianguis Mixcalco

Avenida Reforma Plaza Mayor Viceral Palace


El Volador market

tianguis El Maíz

san Juan market Plaza de las Vizcainas

La Merced market

La Romita indigenous village

drainage canal

Piedad cuaseway

La Viga Canal

FIG 8 markets of Mexico City; 1872 Acachinanco 1m



Mexico City 1872 The central market, El Parián, was destroyed in 1844, due to fires. By end of the Virreinato (1521 – 1810), three categories of market existed. Firstly, the principal core in and around the Plaza Mayor, and those of Los portales de Mercaderes, Las Flores, La Diputación, and El Volador. Secondly, there were markets with fixed wooden stalls located to the peripheries in plazas such as, Santa Catarina Mártir, La Cruz del Factor, and Las Vizcaínas. Finally, there were non-fixed stalls in plazas spreading to outer regions, between which formed informal street markets, known today as tianguis, sich as the tianguis of Jesús, La Cal, Santa Ana, Carbonero, Burros, Mixcalco, La Paja, and El Maíz (today located corner of Pino Suárez and República del Salvador). The market of San Juan (Iturbine) was constructed between 1841-50. The market La Merced formed in 1863, later to become the city’s central point of food distribution, until the much larger Central de Abasto. The market Guerrero was constructed in 1869. During the Porfiriato years 1877-1911, the Commission of Market Construction and Improvemnet was formed and a major wave of market modernization was undertaken. The city’s first public mass transit was formed, the horse-drawn omnibus between Mexico City centre and Tacubaya.



1 contestation. Ownership disputes of these public places within the city demonstrate the fundamental difference ‘between an indigenous understanding of communally held land and a Spanish understanding of land as private property’ (Mundy, 2015, chapter 9), and form the basis of land dispossession based on race that led up to the 20th century (Vázquez-Castillo, 2004).

Privatisation of Land up to the Revolution of 1910

Through historical analysis, the progress of the power of displacement of indigenous peoples up to the

20th century is evident. In the post-colonial period, and particularly during the dictatorial regime of Porfirio Díaz (1876–1911), ejidal land belonging to indigenous people was privatised. By the time of the Independence Revolution of 1810, approximately 52% of total national land was considered ´abandoned´, baldío. Land owned by Spaniards totalled 39% of the entire Mexican territory, while 9% belonged to indigenous peoples (VázquezCastillo, 2004, chapter 2). A combination of land mapping aimed at mining and transport probabilities and other types of foreign investment, plus the expansion of vast hacienda estates powered by an enormous labour force of indentured servants, meant that by 1911 nearly a third of the republic had been surveyed; 57% of the national territory was controlled by 11,000 haciendas, comprising of 50% of the rural population and 82% of indigenous communities (Thiesenhusen, 1996).

Much of the remaining peasantry fled to Mexico City as a

‘central place’ to absorb ‘200,000 [peasants] who had lost their lands, but not their country ways’ (Johns, 1997, p.12).

20th century Revolution of 1910

Ongoing processes of governmental legislation that warranted the illegal expulsion and ethnic cleansing

of the rural and indigenous peoples, along with the conditions outlined above, led to the 1910 Revolution. Fighting for the restoration of democracy, movements led by Emiliano Zapata and Francisco Villa contributed to the fall of Diaz’s dictatorship, and brought about Agrarian Reform in 1917, which attempted the redistribution of ejidal lands castillo(Vázquez-Castillo, 2004). After years of repression and dispossession, the Revolution worked towards the restoration of the nation state and resolving social conflicts originating in the colonial period. 7

FIG 9 public market; La Merced, Mexico City 1957

FIG 10 public market; San Juan de Díos, Guadalajara, Mexico 1956


1 Post War Period 1940s -1970s

During the post-war period, the Mexican government was consolidated and centralised with a shift

towards public and foreign investment in infrastructure and agriculture. Industries were expanded and nationalised, and commercial exports focused towards supporting the USA, encouraging further rural-urban migration (Vázquez-Castillo, 2004). Under President Miguel Alamán (1946-52), the economy as a whole formalised as part of a larger modernisation project, building a domestic economy for consumption (Smolski, 2013). With the rapid acceleration of the city’s population, there was a need for infrastructure that had ‘the essential urban services of water, sewers, paving and markets (Olsen, 2008, p.118). Between 1953 and 1966, a total of 174 public markets were constructed or reconstructed, raising the number from 44 to 200 within the Federal District (Cross, 1998, p.164). Public markets aimed at serving the popular classes through the regulation of public space. The scheme was also a political tool; by removing informal activity in public spaces through harsh repression, politicians offered politican support to informal vendors in exchange for votes (FernándezKelly and Shefner, 2006).

During the colonial period, Mexico City’s open-air markets, tianguis, were the contested urban spaces

of the dominant spanish elite and the indigenous mexicans; the city’s built public markets of the 20th century became public urban spaces of contestation between the government and informal vendors. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s public markets successfully provided 90% of the food supply in Mexico City (Castillo, 2003), but, by the end of the 1960s, increased resistance of informal street vendors to manipulative political control, along with lack of government maintenance, saw the beginning of the state’s retreat from the national food distribution system and investment in its inherent native communal spaces (Torres Salcido et al., 2015).

Moving into Neoliberal Adjustment

Moving into the 1970s, a short-lived oil boom fuelled a shift in government trajectory towards creditbased public spending intended to regain the confidence of the ‘popular’ classes (Kaminer et al., 2011, p.115).

Government policy concentrated on foreign investment, focusing spending away from social programs towards large public projects such as the Olympic Games of 1968 and the Metro rail network inaugurated in 1969 (Correa and Garciavelez Alfaro, 2015). With an already increasing trade deficit and unchanged tax structure, 9

FIG 11 public market; La Merced, Mexico City 1957

FIG 12 public market; La Merced, Mexico City current


1 Mexico’s economy was badly affected by the drastic increase in US interest rates due to the Volcker Shock of 1979 that effectively doubled Mexico’s foreign debt overnight (Kaminer et al., 2011). During this climate of economic crises and instability, the international oil crisis of the early 1980s plunged the ‘petrolized’ Mexican economy further into debt to the point of declaring a moratorium on debt payment (Vázquez-Castillo, 2004, chapter 4).

Within the decade between 1972 and 1982, Mexico’s foreign debt had increased from $6.8 billion to

$58 billion, which led to the forced adoption of neoliberal policies going into the 1980s (Harvey, 2005). A combination of the IMF, the World Bank, and US Treasury pulled together to help pull Mexico out of its financial difficulties dependent on its application of economic structural adjustment (Bello, 2009, p.17); ‘in 1984 the World Bank, for the first time in history, granted a loan to a country in return for structural neoliberal reforms’ (Harvey, 2005, p.99). Culminating with the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994 that opened up Mexican markets to foreign investment and competition, privatisation deepened going into the 1990s. By as early as 1992, 488 out of 711 public entities had been privatised representing a privatisation of 69% of the total State enterprises (Vázquez-Castillo, 2004). At the same time, beautification of the Historic Centre under the Salinas de Gortari administration (1988-94), saw the displacement of thousands of long established street vendors and development oriented towards capitalist investment (Harvey, 2008).

Contested Space

By the end of the 20th century, there had been a near total reversal of the Nation State ideals fought

for from the Revolution of 1910 onwards. The denationalisation of the state and reduction in government intervention in the economy has had a profound impact on communal space within Mexico City and its local distribution networks. The Neoliberal climate brought about the proliferation of supermarkets and global chain stores with a devastating affect on public markets that have gone from providing 90% of food distribution during the 1950s and 60s, to only 22% by 2003 (Castillo, 2003).

By tracing the origins of urban segregation and dispossession within Mexico City from the colonial

period through to the current Neoliberal corporatist political economy, the struggle of the underprivileged for viable economic space within Mexico City today is better understood. The evolution, contestation and degeneration of the public market and vital communal space throughout the city’s history explicates the fight of the marginalised for a socio-economic, political, as well as spatial position within the urban fabric. 11

FIG 13 Market of Tlateloclo; mural by Diego Rivera completed 1942


1 Part One Conclusion

Thus far, the contemporary condition of marginality has been explicated via a postcolonial perspective,

defining the contemporary marginal and informal use of urban space as the persistence of socio-political and ethnic constructs formed during the sixteenth century. The second part of this paper frames this perspective within the larger informal sector debate in order to provide a critical analysis of the impact of the colonial legacy and role of ethnicity on the patterns of urban space in contemporary Mexico City and its specific relevance to the public market, which is the focus for this design proposal.


FIG 14 site model; Tacubaya public market and station, Mexico City


2 Part Two Introduction

The project and supporting research is centred on the existing public market situated on the terminal

metro station, Tacubaya, in the western periphery of the Federal District. In this case, framing the colonial perspective of marginality within the wider debate surrounding the informal sector, enables the site to act as a vehicle for understanding the larger theoretical context of the public markets in Mexico City, and assess which wider formal and informal institutions and structures impact the site physically, economically, socially and politically. Central to this area of debate is an investigation of the role that ethnicity plays in contemporary marginal, or informal, use of urban space. This essay questions the degree to which contemporary informal economic activity can be attributed to patterns of rural-urban migration, and thus to ethnic origins. Furthermore, it tests the extent to which postcolonial discourse can account for the interdependence of formal and informal structures affecting the public market, and how this, in turn, is situated within the polarities of the informal sector debate.

The main positions of the informal sector debate since its emergence in the 1970s are typified by two

key texts: Contrapunto (1993) edited by Cathy Rakowski, and Out of the Shadows (2006) edited by María Patricia Fernández-Kelly and Jon Shefner. The investigation of the Tacubaya market has been conducted within the context of these texts and situates the public markets of Mexico City within the current discourse surrounding informality. By understanding the evolution of this discourse, it is possible to understand the complexity of the issues surrounding formal and informal urban activity on a more global scale, as well as focus on specific aspects of the debate pertinent to the Mexico City’s public markets. By placing public markets within such wider contemporary socio-political and economic contexts, a robust theoretical framework can be established and inform the project’s primary design objectives.

Postcolonial Discourse

When the informal sector debate was forming in the 1970s, informal activity, i.e. all economic activity

legal and illegal ‘not fully regulated or registered’ (Rakowski, 1994b, p.4), was considered by some as a ‘vestige of precapitalist social formations’ (Fernández-Kelly, 2006, p.2). Within the contemporary context of postcolonial nations it was understood in terms of societal and urban constructs established during the dominance of 15

FIG 15 exterior and roof; Tacubaya public market Mexico City


2 colonial rule. Contemporary authors across the various research disciplines of sociology, anthropology and urbanism uphold this perspective, correlating current conditions of informality—or more broadly, marginality— with those of colonialism and imperialism (see authors such as Loïc Wacquant, Carl Nightingale, James C. Scott and Abdou Malique Simone). By locating the postcolonial discourse on informality within the wider debate, we can see the various agreements, disagreements and over-laps across the various strains of thinking.

A prominent voice within postcolonial discourse, and proponent of the ‘undoing of colonisation’ dubbed

‘decolonisation’, is Walter Mignolo. According to Mignolo, while the ‘colonial domination of the Spanish or British models’ no longer overtly subsists in our ‘current reality’, ‘the logic of coloniality remains in force in the “idea” of the world that has been constructed through Modernity/Coloniality’ (Mignolo, 2005, preface). Thinkers such as Mignolo and those involved in the upcoming work of Felipe Herrnández, analyse the contemporary Latin American context in relation to its postcolonial legacy. I posit that in the contemporary Mexican context, exclusive consideration of current conditions of informality through a dualistic construct of a prevailing colonial dominance, i.e. the dominant formal elite versus the indigenous informal, is one aproach amongst others needed for a full understanding of the complexities of formal and informal economic activities.

The sociologist Andrés Villarreal addresses the question of ethnicity as a root of informality through a

quantitative study of the ‘extent of skin-color-based social stratification in contemporary Mexico’ (Villarreal, 2010, p.652). His work identifies a more ‘fluid’ form of racial classification stemming from the Mexican Independence period towards the beginning of the nineteenth century. At this time individuals could redefine themselves through education and affluence. However, rural immigrants arriving to the city of an indigenous ethnic origin became known as mestizos through the adoption of the dominant urban culture and language (Villarreal, 2010, pp.654-655). Since the time of the Mexican Revolution a century later, a nationalist ideology promoted by policymakers defined Mexico as a ‘mestizo nation’, creating an ‘extreme ambiguity’ of social classification based on ethnicity and, more explicitly, on skin colour (Bonfil Batalla, [1987] 1996, Brading, 1988, de la Peña, 2005, Knight, 1990, Lomnitz, 1992, Villarreal, 2010). With this ambiguity of ethnic classification still in force today, defining the informal sector as ‘indigenous’ is highly contentious1. Importantly, Villarreal states that it is due to ‘low levels of social mobility’ that the belief in social stratification based on ethnicity is sustained. It is social

Acknowledgement, however, must be given to Villarreal’s evidence showing that ‘individuals with darker skin tone have significantly lower levels of educational attainment and occupational status, and they are more likely to live in poverty and less likely to be affluent’ Villarreal, A., 2010. Stratification by Skin Color in Contemporary Mexico. American Sociological Review, 75, (5): 652-678.



FIG 16 south facade; Tacubaya public market

FIG 17 pavement filled with products; Tacubaya public market


2 mobility based on class, as well the definition of political, economic and social institutional structures preventing class mobility, that are pertinent to the case of the public market in Mexico City. Furthermore, determining what structures cause and maintain the process of ‘informalisation’ of formal businesses, is critical to understanding the causes of the ever-increasing amount of informal activity.

Informal Sector Debate

In her introduction to Out of the Shadows: Political Action and Informal Economy in Latin America (2006),

Patricia Fernández-Kelly states that a major shift in the discourse around the informal sector occurred in the 1980s, moving away from the notion that ‘unregulated economic activity’ was a ‘relic from the past’, towards an understanding of informality as ‘an aspect of Latin America’s evolving present’. A growing set of research at the time showed an interdependency between the formal and informal sectors; rather than a dichotomy of separate autonomous entities, there was wide agreement that the two economies were complexly interlinked and interdependent (Fernández-Kelly, 2006, p.2). In support of this, Alejandro Portes and Kelly Hoffman (2003), through their analysis of social class structures across the region of Latin America during the 1980s and 1990s, assert that emerging research revealed that informal economic agents relate to the formal sector in ‘manifold ways’, their activities contributing ‘to capitalist accumulation’ (Benería, 1989, Birkbeck, 1978, Peattie, 1982, Portes and Hoffman, 2003, pp.49-50, Roberts, 1978).

At this time the informal sector debate emerged in the 1970s, much of the discussion was centred

on defining what constitutes informal economic activity, with a profusion of interchangeable terms being used: economic dualism, continuum, petty commodity production, marginality and traditional sector. Such terms arose from discourse around the ‘the nature of the relationships between large and small-scale enterprises’, with two main camps of thought being that of the ‘dualists’ and of the ‘petty commodity production school’ (Rakowski, 1994a, p.32). The dualists considered the relationship as ‘benign’; their view on policy measures advocated ‘the development of closer links between the two sectors through subcontracting and credit’, while contrarily the petty commodity approach ‘advocated the increasing autonomy of petty commodity producers and the cutting of links with large-scale capitalist enterprises’ based on their view of the relationship as ‘exploitative’ (Moser, 1978, p.1061, Moser, 1994, p.12). The International Labor Organization (ILO), and later the Programa Regional del Empleo para América Latina y el Caribe (PREALC), undertook studies at various scales, encouraging governments to adopt ‘active full-employment policies’ that shifted emphasis away from economic growth to 19

FIG 18 internal condition; Tacubaya public market


2 employment ‘as a major policy concern in its own right’ (ILO, 1964 cited inMoser, 1994, p.15). Within the dualist approach definitional distinctions arose throughout the 1970s, the principal stance taken being that the formal and informal sectors are autonomous entities based on their attributes of economic enterprise.

Unsatisfied with the subsequent dualist models, the opposing camp identified the majority of informal

activity as a form of petty commodity production ‘that exists at the margins of the capitalist mode of production but is integrated into and subordinate to it’ (Moser, 1994, p.20). Based on Marxist and neo-Marxist theories of ‘different modes of production and their mutual articulation’, this was a critical shift in the debate as the formal and informal sectors began to be viewed in terms of the full complexities of their interdependence, linking them in a continuum of economic activities (Moser, 1994, p.20). A poignant example of this interdependency is a case study of the specific market in Bogotá, Colombia, during an eight-year period from 1970 to 1978. Conducted over a period, this example revealed a heterogeneous spectrum of economic agents connected to the market, with various degrees of ‘access to sources’ (Moser, 1980, Moser, 1994, pp.25-26). Directly contradicting the a priori dualistic framework, this case study, conducted in a specific context, identified with accuracy the complexity of interdependent subordinate-dominant relationship within the capitalist system; now recognized as comprising the informal sector. Although later, in 1994, Orlandina de Oliviera and Bryan Roberts also use specific case studies, particularly Mexico, in order to evidence the significance of context and its impact on construct of the formal-informal continuum within a specific location (Rakowski, 1994b, p.7).

From the 1980s onwards, research on the informal sector shifted focus away from the definition of

informality, to the understanding of the phenomenon (Rakowski, 1994a, p.32). The dialogue developed at this time between two main schools of thought, the structuralists and the legalists; the main approaches within these being the: ILO-PREALC Structuralist, Marxist and neo-Marxist, Legalist, and Microenterprise Development approaches. The main difference between the structuralists and the legalist camps is their perception of the state’s role within the socio-political and economic construct that comprises the formal and informal sectors: the structuralists predicate the need for greater states intervention through microeconomic policy to help alleviate the differences and inequalities between the sectors, while the legalists believe that it is ‘discriminatory state regulation’ that forces people into the informal operations (Rakowski, 1994a). For the purposes of this essay and relevance to Mexico City’s public markets, I will briefly focus on two of the main approaches of this period: the Legalist approach and the neo-Marxist-based approach or, as aforementioned, petty commodity production school of thought. 21

FIG 19 street vendors; Calle Chilpancingo, Mexico City, May 2016

FIG 20 government removal of street vendors; Calle Chilpancingo, Mexico City, June 2016



Based on the legalist stance that ‘informals’ have the abiltity to engage with capitalist development

dependent on the removal of state regulation, some claim that De Soto and other legalists reject the conceptualization of informality based on external forces such as colonialism or imperialism (Rakowski, 1994a, p.40). I argue, however, that there are similarities between the legalist position and postcolonialism. In his semenal text, The Other Path (1989), De Soto regards the position of informal workers, or people engaged in ‘extralegal’ activities, as a result of mercantile repression. As the geographer Ray Bromley (1994, p.137) states: ‘De Soto’s portrayal of “mercantilists” and “informals” is linked to a highly simplified interpretation of world history, explaining the wealth of the rich countries in terms of a process of enlightenment to the values of the free market’. I believe that with regards to the informal sector, both the legalist and postcolonial positions regard formal and informal economic activity as a dualistic relationship between dominant and subordinate actors.

Perspectives based on neo-Marxist writings, as mentioned previously, regarded the formal and informal

sectors as complexly interlinked and interdependent. Instead of being forcibly excluded from formal institutional structures by the state as the legalists stated, Marxist-based researchers considered informal condition as consequential to a lack of formal support and protection from governmental and trade union institutions (Fernández-Kelly, 2006, pp.2-3). Whether Marxist or non-Marxist, legalist or structuralist, the positions and approaches that dominated the informal sector debate up to the end of the twentieth century ‘fall analytically short’, as Patricia Fernández-Kelly states in her introduction to: Out of the Shadows: Political Action and Informal Economy in Latin America, published in 2006. Fernández-Kelly identifies in previous discourse an absence of analysis of the roles of the state and the individual economic agent in the ‘maintenance of the informal economy’. The following section will explore important developments in the recent informal sector discourse, focusing on contemporary issues relevant to the Mexican context of the public market.

Bringing the Debate up-to-date

As we have seen, there are weaknesses in the legalist position with regards to the informal sector,

however, one of the significant impacts it has had on the development of the discourse was to place emphasis on the role of the government within the formal and informal economic construct (Smolski, 2013). Contemporary researching within the discourse are focusing on the correlation between politics and economics and the political power of economic agents to affect governmental socio-economic and political regulation (Smolski, 23

FIG 21 Metro Ciudad Azteca; shopping centre complex and station, Mexico City


2 2013). Building also on the earlier neo-Marxist concept that the informalisation process causes a ‘fragmentation of class consciousness and an incapacity for political expression’, contemporary voices in the debate are acknowledging and analysing the political agency of informal economic actors (Fernández-Kelly, 2006, pp.23). Here, the concept of social mobility based on class, and concepts pertinent to the case of Mexico City’s public markets are readressed in order to analyse the political, economic and social institutional structures that prevent class mobility and maintain the process of ‘informalisation’ of formal businesses.

In terms of macro-legislation, politics in Mexico shifted dramatically with the adoption of neoliberal

policies in the 1980s from a state-led to a market-led institutional political economy, which had a profound impact on the ‘social structures’ and ‘long-term patterns of social stratification’, not only in Mexico, but across Latin America. In their study of class Composition and Change during the Neoliberal Era (2003), Alejandro Portes and Kelly Hoffman explain how social class is characterised by inequalities in access to ‘power-conferring resources and related life chances’ (Portes and Hoffman, 2003, p.42). The shift to a capitalist driven society in Mexico had profound consequences, with social class becoming inextricably defined by economic agency and competitive capacity, which are explicitly dominated by market forces. Class mobility within the currently corporate dominated capitalist institutional political economy of Mexico is thus determined by economic status. This is pertinent to the case of Mexico City’s public markets; it is clearly evident that the social mobility of small-scale economic agents, operating at a competitive disadvantage to large multinational self-service stores, is severely hampered. During the state-led era, the corporatist one-party government under the PRI facilitated small-scale enterprise by allowing organizations of market vendors to become members of the political party, granting them a degree of political agency and representation (Cross and Peña, 2006, pp.64-65). Today, one of the gravest issues faced by the vendors of the public markets is a lack of political agency.

Ironically, the informal street vendors, or ambulantes, in Mexico City today pocess greater political

agency than the vendors of the public markets. This is one of the significant fallouts of the major public market construction regime of the 1950s and 1960s, which inflicted harsh repression on informal street vendors in the effort to clear them off the streets and into public markets (Cross, 1998, Fernández-Kelly, 2006). As part of a political scheme to gain votes, politicians agreed to negotiate with street vendors on the grounds that they formed trade organisations. Political mobilisation took the form of a multitude of associations representing informal street vendors, that to this day gives informal vendors economic advantage over regulated vendors of the public markets (Cross, 1998, Fernández-Kelly, 2006). By understanding the complex interdependent relationship between the formal and informal sectors, and the historical context of informality in Mexico City, we can establish a framework for the challenges faced by the public markets today. 25

FIG 21 Tacubaya design proposal; large infrastructure

FIG 22 Tacubaya design proposal; porous urban grain


2 Part Two Conclusion

The first part of this paper explores the history of Mexico City’s public markets alongside the development

of the city. The marketplace has immense cultural significance within the city, from its pre-Hispanic origins as open-air tianguis, through to its various manifestations today, including the built public market. The built public markets emerged in the twentieth century as a way of addressing the proliferation of informal activity resultant of massive rural-urban migration in the twentieth century. In the first section, the role of the public market is understood in relation to the marginalised sector of society: a distributer of basic goods, place of cultural exchange and patrimony, and regulator of informal vending.

In order to understand the contemporary context of Mexico City’s public markets and the challenges

they face, the second part of this essay analyses the conditions of formal and informal economic activity today by framing postcolonial discourse within the wider informal sector debate. By exploring the main proponents of this debate from its emergence in the 1970s, a theoretical framework is established for understanding the complex interdependencies between the formal and informal institutions that impact both the congested street space and the public markets in Mexico City today.

The design project seeks to explore and challenge the institutional hierarchies of the contested space

of the public market. The existing public market and metro station of Tacubaya will serve as the testing ground for such hierarchies in the specific site context, and as a microcosm of a set of conditions prevalent across developing cities. The spatial ramifications of the contested space of Mexico City’s public markets can be manifested in a variety of ways, from the large infrastructural project enforcing regulation, through to the more porous urban development of a piece of city that allows for an integration of informal and formal activity. A framework of the contemporary issues affecting the public markets of Mexico City has been established through this essay, that are in part policy related, and in part spatial. Both aspects will be thoroughly tested on site in the coming months of fieldwork.



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The contested space of Mexico City's public markets - Emma Woodward  

MPhil in Architecture and Urban Design - University of Cambridge

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