This article was first published in El Diario de Juárez on 11 October 2011. It has been translated without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP). There is no web accessible version of this article.
Translator’s Note: The translation of this article is dedicated to the memory of Regina Martínez Pérez, fearless Proceso reporter based in Xalapa, Veracruz, and documenter of public malfeasance, murdered on 28 April 2012. Her murder continues unpunished and is an ongoing source of embarrassment for authorities in the State of Veracruz, Mexico. PT
Ciudad Juárez’s Perverse Development: Knowledge City — Between Scholarly Pursuits and Private Interests
By Sandra Rodríguez Nieto (EL DIARIO DE JUÁREZ)
Even though his classes begin at 0800, David Valles, 19, and a resident of Colonia Monumental, has to get up before 0600 so that he can take the Indiobús at 0640 from the Zona Centro. From there it takes him more than an hour to arrive at the Autonomous University of Ciudad Juárez’s (UACJ) new southeast campus, 16kms from the southern limits of the border city.
Cristina Durón, 18, lives in Colonia Toribio Ortega, in the city’s southwest, and she also has to wake up around 0500 so that she can take a bus to the Centro Histórico. From there, she takes a bus that takes her to Avenida Tecnólogico and from there she jumps on another bus that takes an hour to get to the new buildings, located in what’s also known as “the City of Knowledge.”
According to UACJ administrators, the distance these students have to travel to the Ciudad Universitaria is a cost. But it’s also the only way the institution has to increase participation, minimize its educational shortfall, and increase enrolment rates from 28 to 55 percent of applicants.
For urban development experts, however, the UACJ’s location in that zone, bordering on private lands, is more a product of obeying the expansionist whims of politicians and realtors bent on Ciudad Juárez’s urban growth.
“The logic of expansionism and growth towards that zone explain its location in that zone. Its construction fails to consider costs related to infrastructure, equipment, commuting and security. The city cannot satisfy those needs,” said Pedro Cital, architect, private consultant in urban development and former deputy director of the city’s research and planning institution (IMIP).
According to Cital, one example of Knowledge City’s real-estate value is the stretch of highway to the new campus. Instead of building a 5km link to the existing Panamerican Highway, they built a new highway to the southeast, right beside land owned by private real estate developers.
“To build in this area, yes I think other interests were taken into consideration. The closest freeway connection for the University would be the Panamerican Highway, and the most logical route would be to open a street from there to the UACJ’s land. But that’s not what they did. Instead, they built a road from the southeast towards the university. So, it was built to power growth, bringing services and infrastructure that would make that area more viable for development,” Cital explains. For years he has questioned the expansionist model epitomized by Juárez’s development.
The new campus houses 2,500 UACJ students and 550 students from the Technological Institute of Ciudad Juárez (ITCJ).
According to José Antonio Lozoya, general coordinator of the UACJ’s new campus, the students must commute a total of sixteen kilometers to reach the campus.
Desert dominates that region’s landscape, where the opening of the Electrolux plant in 2005 accelerated urbanization. It’s interspersed by industrial parks, separated by deserted lots that, in the majority, remain empty and vandalized.
Around Fundadores Boulevard, almost total desolation exists, save for a few almost entirely vacant housing complexes.
The UACJ and the ITCJ provide free transport to students from various parts of the city. But Abigail García, IMIP’s planning coordinator, said that commuting times must be avoided, and should have been taken into consideration in the urban planning process.
“The students are the ones paying the price – because of the distance. We are trying to generate less commuting, so the people don’t spend so much time traveling. Look, they are young people, so they have to bear it. But it’s a high price to pay, and they have to be there all the day, in a place where there’s only the university,” García said.
Manuel Loera de la Rosa, director of Planning and Institutional Development at the UACJ said that the three hundred hectares owned by the University is just the first phase of the Ciudad Universitaria (CU) and that it was the only option to house an ambitious project to boost the enrollment numbers that Juárez requires.
He added that no other place turned out to be as cheap as that area, donated to the UACJ in 2001 by Chihuahua’s state government.
“Universities always have costs to bear. At the CU the great benefit is being able to offer education spaces in a timely fashion, opportunities that would not have emerged any other way,” Loera insisted in an interview.
‘Pressure, Juárez’s History’
UACJ’s location — as well as that of the ITCJ and other educational institutions in Knowledge City – is part of the San Isidro-Zaragoza development plan, totaling about 4,367 hectares. Promoted by the state government, the plan was approved by the Ciudad Juárez Council in 2007, during the first period in office of Mayor Héctor Murguía.
That year, 2007, also saw approval of the Eastern Development Plan (PPO XXI-II), broadening the city’s population distribution. The PPO XXI-II permitted urbanization and construction of residential areas seventeen kilometers from what were then the city’s limits.
These two development plans added to another three plans that had been approved since 2004: El Barreal and San Jerónimo in Juárez’s northwest, bordering New Mexico; and, the first stage of East XXI, in the southeast.
In total, and in just two years, the five plans added more than 14,600 hectares for possible urbanization, 66 percent more than the 22,123 hectares available in 2003. In every case the local government argued the need to provide housing for an estimated population rise of 100,000 people per year destined to work in the maquiladoras.
With the passing of the years, however, and just as the town planner’s had prophesied, a 2001 recession in the maquiladora lowered the population. The IMIP warned at the time of no evidence for so many homes, many of which now stand vacant.
The politics of Juárez’s expansion has been questioned by officials since 2003, when the Urban Development Master Plan established the need for greater density. The Master Plan says that the spread of the city has made it expensive and unsafe, and based on unsustainable resources for its infrastructure and equipment. This has generated problems for its identity and decayed its social structure.
“The logic behind investment behaviour in our region sees urban space as disposable. When investment moves to new, more prosperous, lucrative business districts, urban areas are left totally abandoned. In this context, the capital that’s left is underutilized or just abandoned. And with its desertion, the city’s image loses vitality and deteriorates,” the Master Plan says.
In terms of security, the same document states, “the accelerated growth of the city impacts the capacity to prevent crime.”
From the period between 2005 and 2007 when the majority of the development plans were approved, various sectors of the population warned that such expansion obeyed the interests of landowners with property ripe for, or close to, urbanization projects. As in San Jerónimo’s case, where the state and municipal governments have granted millions for investment in services, overwhelmingly in road construction.
Since 2007, an El Diario investigation has documented that along with land from state government and from the UACJ, there are more than 1,000 hectares owned by families of two former mayors: Manuel Quevedo and Jaime Bermúdez. In 1977 Quevedo was mayor and Bermúdez the city’s treasurer and they acquired thousands of hectares in the city’s southeast. In the last thirty years, Juárez’s urbanization has been directed towards that region.
According to César Mario Fuentes, a PhD in regional development and director of the Colegio de la Frontera (COLEF), the model used by the government to pay for public services like water, drainage, light and roads on far removed roads that result in “big business” for those types of landowners.
“I am unaware if there’s that intention, but unfortunately it has always been this way. It’s obvious that it has been a strategy traditionally employed by Ciudad Juárez’s large landowners who take advantage of public authority,” Fuentes said in 2007. The COLEF director is also the author of numerous academic studies about the region’s land market.
According to Loera, the first stage of the new UACJ campus required an inversion of 498 million pesos for the “basic infranstructure work” – drainage, light, water, roads – in addition to the construction and equipping of three buildings.
The director of the city’s land registry, Antonio Artalejo, estimated this week that the investment would spark a real estate “boom” and the construction of housing, services, and industries.
“If the 2008 economic crash had not happened, housing construction would be at its apogee about now,” Artalejo said.
In spite of the economic downturn, about five residential communities have been constructed in the area – all completely distant from each other – and in the public property registry land transfers have already occurred.
That is what entry 15 of book 5363 registers. In July 2011, the families of Quevedo and Bermúdez sold 37 hectares, located in the environs of Knowledge City – to a real estate company called HOH.
“Opening different areas of the city has definitely had much to do with pressure from landowners,” Cital said.
“It’s an obvious fact about the history of the city’s growth: one can identify the pressures that lead to growth,” the expert added.
Yesterday, the former mayors mentioned in this article could not be reached for comment.
The Ciudad Universitaria coordinator said that 70 percent of the students come from southeastern neighborhoods, and that only 750 students come from father afield, like the west of the city.
But the distance is of such importance, Lozoya said, that upon it depends almost all the planning decisions, like class timetables and possible extra-curricular activities.
To support the students, the UACJ has contracted three transport companies that will carry 90 percent of the students in 27 old vehicles from nine points around the city. The most distant point is the one located by the Juárez Monument.
The ITCJ, on its behalf, will transfer the majority of students in four vehicles (of a more recent vintage). This service will only leave from Campus Uno, located on Avenida Tecnológico.
Even though they are free services, the UACJ students who live in the west of the city must occasionally wait for more than an hour because the only bus that goes to the city center quickly fills. If they have to leave campus early they have to wait for hours because the buses from the CU leave at two times: at 1400 and 2000.
The jokes arising from the distance have motivated a campaign by the CU coordinators who have taken phrases they can print on posters as a way of “fostering identity.”
So, students write: “When my mother told me I would go far, I didn’t know that she was referring to the CU.” Or, among other witticisms, “Typical: you are new in CU and when they ask you where you are from, you say: from Ciudad Juárez.” But the time spent in commuting, Abigail García says, is a human problem that, rather than being funny, diminishes the quality of personal and collective life.
“Principally, it undermines rest, the time you need to recuperate and that as far as we know, it damages health. The other thing that gets shunted aside is family life. Commuting takes up much of the day… We complain to ourselves that there’s a need for social cohesion, that there’s no neighborly integration, and that certain factors rupture this spirit of living together, and commuting is one part of that subject,” García said.
The need to find a place in Juárez at an institution of higher education is so great that not one of the students, even the most critical, expressed a desire to withdraw because of the distance.
Daniel Valles, for example, said that he hopes to change campus since his degree program is offered in the Institute of Social Sciences and Administration, about ten minutes from his home.
Cristina Durón added that one day she hopes to own a car. But Armando Salas, 19, also a Psychology student and a resident from the Avenida Las Torres neighborhood – near to CU – warned against owning a car: “I spend fifty pesos a day on gas, and because of the economic crisis that sucks.”
Prize-winning Journalist Sandra Rodríguez Nieto is currently a Neiman Fellow at Harvard. Her first book, La fábrica del crímen, relates the story of impunity in Ciudad Juárez during the height of the city’s recent violence. This article was first published under the title, “Ciudad del Conocimiento: Entre el interés escolar y el privado.”
Translator Patrick Timmons is a human rights investigator and journalist. He edits the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP), a quality selection of Spanish-language journalism about Latin America rendered into English. Follow him on Twitter @patricktimmons.