News from Mexico, Metropolitan Planning in Guadalajara

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By Antonieta Castro-Cosío

With a population of about 4.5 million, Guadalajara, is Mexico’s second largest city after Mexico City, the country’s capital. Given its strategic location, it has historically been the economic hub of Mexico’s western region, which also explains its fast growth (between 1.4% and 2.7% from 1990 to 2010) in the last three decades and its expansion into a bustling metropolitan area made up of nine towns (called “municipios” in Spanish) including Guadalajara, Zapopan, San Pedro Tlaquepaque, Tonalá, El Salto, Tlajomulco de Zúñiga, Ixtlahuacán de los Membrillos, Juanacatlán, Zapotlanejo.

Historical center of Guadalajara

All in all, the population in the nine cities that make up the metropolitan area of Guadalajara (or AMG, as it is referred to for its Spanish acronym) represent 60% of the entire state. The need for coordination, not only among the governments of all nine cities, but with the State and Federal governments, seems inevitable. Nonetheless, this need was not reflected in their institutional reality until relatively recently, in 2014, when the city governments formally agreed with the State government to set up the institutions that would address the challenges they faced from a metropolitan perspective. Thus, they established the Metropolitan Coordination Board (made up of the State Governor and Mayors of all nine cities), the Metropolitan Citizen Council, which channels citizens’ participation, and the Metropolitan Planning Institute (IMEPLAN), the technical arm. The three entities ensure that there is coordination at the political, technical, citizen, and consultative spheres. That same year, it received a budget allocation and held its first ever governing board meeting, who then appointed IMEPLAN’s General Director.

While the institutional arrangement mandates all metropolitan entities to plan the development of the area, manage the territory, prevent risks, and generate strategic data for the whole metropolitan area, each one of them preserve their individual representation, autonomy and legitimacy. According to its website, the metropolitan area’s governance model is built upon the basic principles of cooperation, shared responsibility, and complementarity. Importantly, the metropolitan level of authority does not formally exist anywhere in Mexico, which means that any such arrangement must be supported on the members’ own willingness to participate, which makes this development even more important.

Street view from Guadalajara

With a view to make the metropolitan area a city with communities that are compact, close, connected and equitable by 2042, the Institute has launched a series of initiatives to address a number of urban challenges from a metropolitan perspective, including land zoning, water management, urban forests management, and mobility. They have also launched the metropolitan planning data and management system, which collects and provides data on mobility, urban growth, water management, informal settlements, risk and resilience instruments, and other urban services. It will be interesting to follow the initiatives and lessons that emerge from this thriving city, which is also home to one of Mexico’s best-known industries, tequila, as well as an important technology and manufacturing sector. 

About the author: Antonieta Castro-Cosío, PhD in Public and Urban Policy from the New School for Social Research, is currently a research consultant for a private investment firm in New York and collaborates as a fellow with CSU.