THE BEACH (January 24, 2018)

The Sierra of Oaxaca

So that was it. Like all the great trips, this one seemed to be much shorter than it really was--almost one month. After finishing my report for the Instituto Oaxaqueno del Emprendedor y la Competitividad, we took some days to go to the beach to relax before the semester starts again at MIT. Huatulco, one of Oaxaca's see towns, is about 235 km to the south of Oaxaca, but it takes over six hours by car to arrive there, because they have still not finished the hightway that will connect the center and the coast of Oaxaca, whose construction started around 20 years ago... Anyway, Huatulco is a beautiful place, where we can find a much better balance between tourism and local life than the one existing in other Mexican beaches, such as Cancun, whose development model is destroying the Caribbean coast of Mexico. In Huatulco you can walk from one area to another, and there seems to be an equilibrium between the most expensive hotels and the town center La Crucecita that makes this town really special.


So that was it. I have had a really great time in Oaxaca. There has been enough time to work for my MISTI internship and to enjoy Oaxaca during the freetime. Everytime I visit this place, I feel that something new has grown inside me. There will be much to think about in the following months, and although I will stop writing on this blog for now, I expect to reopen it soon, perhaps the next time I visit Oaxaca... I hope you had a good time reading my comments and watching the pictures. Goodbye!

La Entrega Beach

FAHHO (January 21, 2018)

Centro Cultural San Pablo, FAHHO's headquarters

Oaxaca is lucky for hosting a very special tycoon: Alfredo Harp Helú, who amassed a fortune when Citigroup bought the Mexican bank Banamex in 2001, from which he was a shareholder. Once Banamex was sold, Harp Helú could concentrate on his altruistic side. He grouped his philanthropic activity in three different foundations--namely Fundación Alfredo Harp Helú, Fundación Alfredo Harp Helú Deporte, and Fundación Alfredo Harp Helú Oaxaca--with a focus on education, culture, and sports. Of these foundations, FAHHO is seated in Oaxaca and operates exclusively in this region.


A recent report of FAHHO describes the foundation in the following way: The Foundation has drawn up a plan of concrete actions towards the development of Oaxaca with the firm conviction that through education, art, culture, health, heritage conservation, the care of the environment, and sports, a better country for future generations can be achieved. To fulfill these goals, FAHHO acquired and restored several buildings in the city of Oaxaca, as well as across the rest of the state, that became the headquarters of different cultural and educational centers. Among these buildings, some of the most important ones are the Centro Cultural San Pablo, the Textile Museum, the Philatelic Museum, and the Baseball Academy Alfredo Harp Helú.


Additionally, FAHHO collaborates with the city government of Oaxaca in three important projects: the Children’s Museum of Oaxaca in the old railway station, the public library Andrés Henestrosa, and Casa de la Ciudad. Once again, in the own foundation's words, the Foundation has done a great job in creating a cultural infrastructure that not only involves the architecture or the recovering of a building, but something much more important: the development of new management models of museums, libraries, archives and cultural centers.


In particular, Casa de la Ciudad is a center--actually, a unique case in Latin America--that focuses its activities around urban issues in order to foster a healthier urban environment for Oaxaca. This center is, actually, a unique example in Latin America. It was precisely in Casa de la Ciudad where I had the opportunity to give a conference on January 20 about the importance of considering culture as an urban infrastructure. We discussed about the importance of enhancing public art to develop the social resilience in Oaxaca, and the feedback of the public was really enriching!

An image of my conference "culture as an urban infrastructure"

MUSIC! (January 16, 2018)

Concert & conversation at the music school

Last Sunday I had the pleasure to share some music with the teachers and students of the Escuela de Musica Santa Cecilia, at the Vicente Guerrero "colony" (see my post "The other side"). As I explained before, this neighborhood, which has about 20,000 inhabitants, does not have paved streets nor access to clean water in most houses.


This music school started in 2011 thanks to the support of several persons and agencies who wanted to allow access to music and culture to the children of this colony. Now there are almost 100 students: the orchestra is growing and they are starting to travel around the country to share their talent with others. It's a really inspiring project!

Location of the Santa Cecilia Music Band

MARKETS (January 9, 2018)

Food vendors at the Ocotlán Market

These three weeks at the Instituto Oaxaqueno del Emprendedor y la Competitividad, I'm going to work on a strategy to remodel several municipal markets in the state of Oaxaca, as part of the political commitments of the regional government. The municipal markets in Oaxaca are the nerve center of the daily life: every day, from the opening time to the evening, thousands of people go there to get some groceries and other products.


You can find almost everything you can think of in a municipal market in Oaxaca, from vegetables to clothes, to traditional handcrafts, which in Oaxaca are specially important. Visiting one of the crowded markets can become a really intense experience.


Not all the markets in Oaxaca work as good (that's the reason why the government wants to update some of them) nor offer the same quality of products. In general, the vendors at the markets in the capital city are more open to bring new ideas to their businesses, whereas in smaller towns, sellers are usually resistant to make changes in their own businesses, and even impede that their neighbors improve their stands as well.


Any project to remodel the municipal markets in Oaxaca should be extremely respectful with the tradition, or otherwise they would lose their essence. But there is also a chance that these markets become updated and adapted to the needs of the 21st century, both for vendors, who deserve better work conditions, and for clients, who expect the highest quality of the products they get in a market.

Main axis at the Ocotlán Market

THE OTHER SIDE (January 6, 2018)

A street at the Colonia Vicente Guerrero

Just a few kilometers away from the beautiful and colorful city center of Oaxaca, we can find one of its many surrounding "colonies": informal neighborhoods that have grown rapidly in the past decades. The Colonia Vicente Guerrero, one of the biggest, with over 10,000 inhabitants (although there is still no census available, because this one is considerably new) belongs actually to a diifferent municipality, Villa de Zaachila.


The contrast with the urbanism of the capital city is brutal: streets are not paved, access to water and electricity is not always guaranteed, and the aspect of the houses depends completely on the possibilities of each owner. This place illustrates perfectly an example of informal urbanism in a developing country like Mexico.


Despite all the obvious disadvantages of the residents here, daily life happens normally: children go to school, their parents go to work, and there is always something to eat (of course, in the same area there are some more extreme situations, which I might discuss in a later post). I would even say that this environment also promotes some values that sometimes are missing in wealthier contexts, like cooperation, humility, and sacrifice.


Anyway, these views put inequality on the spotlight. It is not just about ensuring everybody the necessary minimum for their daily lifes: it's about urban dignity. The urban environment contributes to dignifying the people, and as long as we can find such extreme contrasts across adjacent urban areas, we can not be satisfied.

Vicente Guerrero at dusk

PATIOS (January 4, 2018)

Santo Domingo

Every time I have been in Oaxaca, I have admired the beauty of its public spaces, not just physically, but also from the social point of view: the public life of this city is extremely vibrant. The city center of Oaxaca is, as many Latin American cities, a perfect grid with square blocks. But there is something that makes this urban distribution unique, that I have not found in other similar grid-based cities: the richness and variety of its patios (courtyards).


Everywhere, while you are walking, you can observe how the streets penetrate the facades. There is a visual connection with the core of many buildings, and consequently with the life happening inside them as well. This type of architecture with courtyards is certainly connected to the Arab architecture in the south of Spain (specially in Andalucia), where buildings where designed to protect their residents from the extremely hot temperatures.


Most of these patios in Oaxaca are private properties with public access, like cafes, restaurants, or traditional shops, and many others are public buildings that host art galleries, libraries, or small markets for local vendors. This singularity of the streets in Oaxaca makes the public space really dynamic: everytime you walk on the same street, you can discover a new hidden place that you had no noticed before.


Of course, the high quality of this urban fabric only occurs in the central blocks of the city of Oaxaca. Once you get out of the city center, the regularity of the streets and the maintenance of the architecture diminish radically, and one tend to think that the public administration only invests in keeping clean the most touristic parts of the city. But I really believe that the urban quality of the center of Oaxaca is trully genuine, not just a way to mask the conflictive aspects of the city. And also, because this is my first post, I wanted to keep a positive attitude before I start being more critical.

The Zocalo at dusk

WELCOME TO OAXACA! (January 2, 2018)

I just arrived to Oaxaca. I am going to spend here three weeks working at the Instituto Oaxaqueno del Emprendedor y la Competitividad., as part of my studies at MIT DUSP, with a fellowship of the MISTI Mexico program. After my first semester of the Master in City Planning, I took advantage of the opportunity of working directly for the government of Oaxaca, to better know how things work on ground, and to continue fostering professional networks that strengthen the links betwen Oaxaca and MIT.

I have been travelling to Oaxaca since 2010, when I was involved in the Mexiko Projekt 2010, while I was studying at the TU Berlin. I immediately fell in love with this place, its people and their customs, its fantastic public art, the beauty of the city, and the public life on its streets. Every time I have returned, I have discovered some new aspects of the Mexican culture in Oaxaca, including many social problems and negative patterns of the daily life that cause harm to the quality of life of the people. (Two years ago, I shared some personal reflections about Oaxaca on my professional blog, where I reflected on some social aspects of this region.)

With its strengths and weaknesses, after eight years visiting Oaxaca and working on several projects, I am convinced of the huge potential of this city, whose inhabitants have the power and the willingness to construct together a genuine and sustainable path to progress for Oaxaca. The positive aspects of Oaxaca certainly surpass its threats: the creativity of the people here, with a high commitment to their culture, is surely going to help construct a more resilient version of Oaxaca based on its uniqueness.

To finish this first post, I want to share with you a view of the beautiful temple of Santo Domingo from our apartment in the center of Oaxaca. This is really an inspiring place... So let's get started!

Views of Santo Domingo from our apartment