Mexico City elected its first female mayor in July. Claudia Sheinbaum Pardo is a scientist and was the former governor of Tlalpan, one of the 22 delegations/districts of Mexico City. Tlalpan is one of the poorest districts of the city, and was especially vulnerable to the 7.1 earthquake that struck the city last September. The mayor-elect received a lot of criticism for the destruction in Tlalpan that was caused by the earthquake, especially for the collapse of the Enrique Rébsamen school, which killed 300 people, including 19 children. Some are concerned that the lack of provision over building maintenance and infrastructure in Tlalpan will impact her ability to govern an entire city of 22 districts. Many families want justice for their dead children and loved ones, and justice brought to officials who approved the inferior construction permits.
Sheinbaum will not be able to ignore these demands as mayor if she is going to win favor over her skeptics. She will have to focus on crime, pollution, water shortages, and corruption, especially in terms of building and development processes. During her administration, and with the new Congress and Planning Institute, it is imperative that Mexico City establishes a formal planning process that is professionalized and legitimate. Developers will have to be held accountable, the permit process will have to be re-evaluated, and stronger monitoring and evaluation mechanisms must be enforced on building infrastructure.
Sheinbaum has her work cut out for her over the next 6 years as mayor, but what she was able to accomplish in Tlalpan should not go unnoticed, either, especially considering capacity for development is very low at the delegational level. For instance, as governor of Tlalpan, Sheinbaum supported local water management projects despite having no specific budget for water management. These projects, such as rainwater capture and filtration systems, developed and built by Isla Urbana, provide thousands of households access to running water that were disconnected from the main network. This is a small, household level project that, since Isla Urbana first began, has helped a very small portion of the city – some 8,000 households (approximately 250 thousand households are without running water in Mexico City), but it serves as a viable solution that avoided political red tape, got people what they needed – and quickly. Plus, this particular project avoids taking a scarce resource (water) from one interest group to give it to another, which was a win-win for all residents.
To me, this says the mayor-elect knows how to problem solve and fund innovative solutions that make progress, which is a skill-set that Mexico City probably needs most in its next mayor if it is going to combat long-standing issues. With good counsel by her side that has a similar affinity for progress, Sheinbaum may be able to get a lot done as mayor. Let’s see if she can upscale small projects that work, scrap the old ones that don’t, and test alternative approaches. There’s a lot more to unpack from that last statement, but I’ll just leave it there. For now.