Exploring a culture led approach to urban regeneration

In April 2016, 6 students from the departments of Geography, Politics, Urban Studies and Planning visited Mexico to attend the Latin American Regional Preparatory meeting for Habitat III. The group worked with the UN Major Group for Children and Youth as participants in this summit. Prior to the summit in Toluca, the group spent some time in Mexico City undertaking field work and field visits which would inform the discussions they would have at the summit – looking at issues pertaining to urban regeneration and the role of youth in this process. The following blog post is a reflection and photo diary about one of these field visits.

By Ellie Leggett

The GLI team for the UN Habitat III Regional Preparatory Meeting have arrived in Mexico City! On Friday we visited the National Anthropology Museum and Zocálo Square, in order to get a insight into Mexican culture and history. As our focus is on urban development, we also visited FARO (Fábrica de Artes y Oficios Oriente) a culture orientated development initiative.

Photographs: Anthropology Museum, Anthropology Museum Window

FARO is a cultural initiative by the Mexico City government with the aim of decentralising cultural activities in Mexico City. Located in the Iztapalapa borough of the city, it offers creative workshops free of charge to local residents, some of whom are the most marginalised in the city. In serving an socioeconomically deprived population, it also aims to provide an alternative to gangs and drug addiction, which have been hugely problematic in this area of the city. Jóse Luis Galicia Esperón, the Subdirector of Faro, gave us a tour of the centre, where we observed several workshops taking place, and visited the library and outdoor event space. The building in which FARO is located used to be government offices, but innovation has transformed it into a colourful, creative space, decorated with murals and imaginative sculptures.

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Photographs: FARO Library, inside FARO, FARO sculptures 

Having just travelled to FARO from central Mexico City, and experiencing the physical distance from the centre to the marginalised hillside settlements, it was great to see that cultural marginalisation is not an automatic corollary of spatial marginalisation. I was personally really inspired by the atmosphere inside the cinema, where documentaries made by people from Iztapalapa with the help of FARO were being screened. The cinema was busy and people were clapping and cheering in appreciation at the end of each film. It showed the pride people have in their identities and the way in which people’s creative talents have been nurtured by this cultural space.

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Photograph: Hillside Settlements

One of the films focussed on punk culture in the area, from the perspective of a percussive musician who taught workshops to young people at FARO. From this we could see that FARO has given people the opportunity to express their own cultural identity, and provided a space in which these identities can be expressed. As many young people are unable to express their cultural identities in their cities, this experiencing of a successful project was really valuable to us, and we will take inspiration from it forward with us to the Habitat III Preparatory Meeting where we will be specifically focussing on issues for children and young people.

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Photograph: GLI Team pictured at FARO with Jóse Luis Galicia (fourth from Left)

About Ellie:

Ellie Leggett is a second year Geography students. Ellie applied to attend this conference as she has always had a particular interest in urban Geography and would like to study it beyond her undergraduate degree. Through attending the conference Ellie hopes to gain a better understanding of the ways in which urban policy is shaped and the consequences this has for individuals across the world.

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