Ciudad Netzahualcóyotl (pronounced more-or-less “net-sa-wal-KOY-yote”), or sometimes shortened to simply Ciudad Neza, is a city adjacent to Mexico City. Though someone unfamiliar with the political geography of the Valley of Mexico would probably not realize it, Ciudad Netzahualcóyotl is a separate political entity from Mexico City and located in a different state. Mexico City is housed within the Distrito Federal while Ciudad Netzahualcóyotl is located in the neighboring state, the Estado de México. Much of what encompasses the urban metropolitan area of Mexico City spills into the Estado de México, and this urban sprawl is what allows the population of the city to reach approximately 22 million.
Ciudad Neza, to which I have not traveled and most likely won’t ever visit during my time here, didn’t exist before the 1930s. In fact, until around 1932, the land on which it now sits was submerged beneath the surface of Lake Texcoco. Beginning in the 19th century, the Federal Government began a massive project to drain the lake which was finally completed in the 1930s. Once drained, the land was declared property of the Federal Government and by 1933 construction of the Mexico City-Puebla highway was completed in the area.
The first informal settlements in Ciudad Neza began in the 1940s and in the following decades the population quickly ballooned. By the 1950s, citizen groups had begun organizing and protesting the government for basic services like electricity, running water, road construction, and proper drainage systems to prevent flooding. By 1960, the population of Ciudad Netzahualcóyotl had reached 90,000. Citizen organizing to demand basic services, and later, regularization of land tenure continued into the 1980s.
Much of the Valley of Mexico, which includes Mexico City and Ciudad Netzahualcóyotl, suffers from frequent flooding. This, of course, is due to the fact that until the massive drainage projects of the past several centuries, most of the valley was submerged under lakes. The Mexican government is engaged in a constant battle to prevent the valley from returning to its natural state: filled with water. In its early years, Ciudad Netzahualcóyotl experienced frequent flooding, and occasionally these floods were quite severe. In 1967, the city experienced a period of especially heavy rains which brought devastating floods to the area.
Citizen protest continued into the 1970s, at which point the government began a project to regularize land tenure in Ciudad Netzahualcóyotl (as well as many other irregular/illegal settlements throughout the region). Documents from the Dirreción Federal de Seguridad (Federal Directorate of Security) estimated the population of Ciudad Neza at just under 2 million in 1978.
Figures I found for the population of Ciudad Netzahualcóyotl from between 2000 and 2009 put the number somewhere between 1 and 1.5 million. Obviously, it is puzzling to think that the population of Ciudad Neza hasshrunk since the government estimates from the late 1970s. Possible explanations include: the 1978 estimates were exaggerated, the city has in fact shrunk, or the discrepancy comes from a difference in methodology, as the current numbers I found take in account only the population within the municipality of Netzahualcóyotl. Perhaps the 1978 government estimates looked also at the population spilling into nearby municipalities. I’ve only looked through about 10% of the DFS documents on Ciudad Netzahualcóyotl, so hopefully I will find some more answers in the following weeks. The 2000-2009 population figures mean that the city ranks somewhere between 4th and 8th place on the list of largest cities in Mexico. Pretty impressive for a city whose territory was beneath water before the 1930s.
Today, most residents in the Valley of Mexico describe Ciudad Netzahualcóyotl as a place to avoid. Poverty and a very high crime rate keep outsiders away, and most believe that the city is a failure. In my search for literature about Ciudad Netzahualcóyotl, I found that most academic studies focus on either the strong immigration patterns between New York City and Ciudad Neza (in Mexico, Netzahualcóyotl is known as Neza York), or the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in the city. After much searching, I found a smaller body of work that tries to understand and explain the formation and regularization of Ciudad Neza and the citizen-State relationship that drove this process.
Sarah Farr is PhD student in Sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
The views expressed in this blog and on this website are my own.