Monday, December 26, 2011


Every time I leave Mexico City for even a few weeks, I'm amazed at how much has changed when I return. A few months ago I came home from a trip and found a new Starbuck's, a gourmet food store, and a branch of my bank right down the block from where I live.

Last week I returned from six weeks of travel and immediately noticed changes within view of my apartment in Colonia Condesa. My neighbor is replastering and painting the facade of his house. The restaurant across the street that was closed for a year is being renovated as a tapas bar. Walking to work in Colonia Roma, just eight blocks away, I noticed even more changes.

So I decided to make an informal study of of my corner of Mexico City and count the businesses I'd not seen before my trip. Most of them have appeared within the past six weeks, although a few might be a bit older and just escaped my radar. I limited myself to a 3-block radius from my apartment and my studio, plus the streets connecting the two. Here's a list of what I found:

One pizzeria
A wedding dress store
A shop selling Beatles memorabilia
A 19-story apartment building (it was only 3 stories when I left)
'Cassava Roots', a store selling Asian 'bubble teas'
Banco Azteca branch
ATM of BanCoppel
2 art galleries
A pawn Shop
'Beauty Life' health food and spa treatments
A frozen yogurt shop
A street stall selling quesadillas and tlacoyos
A bar offering artesanal beers
A fuente de Sodas
A sushi joint
2 tapas bars
2 convenience stores
A pharmacy
A store selling hookahs and accessories
Oficinas virtuales offered in a renovated office building
3 gift shops
2 cafes
1 hair Salon
A laundromat
An ironing shop (no laundry, just ironing!)
A religious article store
A children's clothing store ('Rock for your little monsters' their sign reads in English)
The Centro de escalada, rock climbing classes and equipment (
Mac & PC repair shop
Car rental agency
Bicycle store
A store selling uniforms for police and firemen
and one more Starbuck's (on Plaza Luis Cabrera in Roma)

Total: 39 (and I didn't complete 3-block radius in Roma--I gave up when I reached 39, figuring the point had been made).

Colonia Condesa has enjoyed steady improvement over the past ten years or more. The changes in Roma started more slowly about five years ago, but in the past six months there's been an unprecedented boom in development. What strikes me as much as the number of new businesses is the diversity. What's happening here is not just a yuppie explosion, but a response to the socio-economic mix that makes Mexico City neighborhoods so vibrant.

Business and investment is not my line, so I asked Tom Johnston (no relation), a public policy analyst who runs a company called Business Development Partners here in Mexico City, to comment. Aside from our shared last name, we cover the same territory in our work/home routines. I live in Condesa and work in Roma, Tom lives in Roma and works in Condesa.

"I'm also amazed at the evolution in our part of town. Some places in Mexico have been harder hit than others by the recession, but not the Condesa/Roma neighborhoods. They're both relatively prosperous, although not like the city’s “rich neighborhoods” Polanco, Lomas de Chapultepec or Santa Fe."

"I think the “Latin America’s growing middle class” meme is overhyped, but the success of Condesa/Roma might serve as a model for other Mexican cities. Colonia Americana in Guadalajara, for example, is a similar case of urban development."

"Mexico City's government has carried out admirable urban revitalization projects such as the Historic Center pedestrian corridors, but the
development in Condesa-Roma seems to be almost entirely driven by private initiative and capital. The marketplace will determine who survives the stampede of micro-breweries and frozen yogurt joints, but there seems to be a hefty supply of investors. And if the hookah shop on Coahuila survives I think we’re really seeing a new dawn of prosperity."--TJ

The rapidity of change, especially in Roma, makes my post about it back in September almost seem nostalgic. If you're interested in exploring this vital part of Mexico City check it out:

More blog posts about Condesa/Roma:

It's an exciting time to be in Mexico City. Come see for yourself in 2012. Happy New Year!

Monday, December 5, 2011


Diego Rivera's famous murals at the Palacio Nacional are on every 'Top Ten' list of what to do in Mexico City. Their epic sweep of Mexican history is grand and awe inspiring.

But when I need a fix of Rivera, I prefer his 'other' murals in the Centro Histórico, just two blocks away from the Zócalo, at the offices of the Secretaría de Educación Pública (SEP). This series of earlier murals--over 120 individual works--is on a more human, accessible scale. Painted between 1923 and 1928, they exhibit Rivera's skill in composition, color and his ability to characterize his subjects just as well as the larger, more spectacular murals do at the Palacio.

The SEP is housed in several adjoining colonial buildings which had previously been used as a church, a convent and a customs house. Enter the complex from Plaza Santo Domingo #31, checking out the stairwell murals by Siqueiros, and follow the passageway to the main building where the Rivera murals are.

There's a lot to see here, so I recommend starting on the top floor. A series of paintings depicting the glory of the revolution and the struggle of the working class are tied together with a ribbon, upon which are written the words of several revolutionary songs. There are some wonderfully sarcastic images of rich aristocrats, and one of Frida as a sword-toting mama.

The downstairs murals deal with arts and sciences, and Mexican traditions and fiestas. The color palette is muted in these earlier works, and they have been dulled by years of exposure to the elements. But they are full of the exuberance and teeming energy that is so characteristic of Rivera's work. He often used compositions that reflect the passion of Christ--arms flung wide in crucifixion--to make the cultural and political messages of his work easily understandable to his largely Catholic audience.

The building is open to the public on weekdays only.

Restoration and maintenance of the murals, which are in covered arcades open to the air,
goes on constantly.

Rivera made several grisaille paintings--no color--that show off his wonderful sense of line and volume.

The area around the SEP building, especially Plaza Santo Domingo, is well worth exploring.