Recent Trends and Practice in Spatial Planning in Mexico The Municipal Planning and Research Institutes
The objective of this paper is to analyze recent trends and practice regarding spatial planning in Mexico. The idea for the paper emerged from a project undertaken by the author and other colleagues to help establish the municipal planning and research institute (hereafter IMIP by its Spanish acronym) in Nogales, Sonora. The emergence of IMIPs across Mexico has been a phenomenon that started in 1994 with the creation of the first such institute in the municipality of Leon, Guanajuato, to the latest formed in 2007 by the municipality of Nogales, Sonora.
As of today, there exist about 32 municipal planning and research institutes affiliated with the Mexican Association of Municipal Planning Institutes also known as amimp.1 A considerable number of institutes are located in northern Mexico (the states of Baja California, Sonora, Chihuahua, Nuevo Leon and Tamaulipas), central Mexico (the states of San Luis Potosi, Aguascalientes, Guanajuato, Michoacan and Hidalgo) and, to a lesser degree, in southern Mexico (the states of Guerrero, Veracruz, Tabasco, Campeche and Quintana Roo). The states of Baja California, Guanajuato, Sinaloa, Nuevo Leon and Tamaulipas are the states that account for a larger number of such institutes (see map 1).
Planning practice in Mexico has been transformed substantially in part due to two interrelated crises: 1) the fiscal crisis of the State that led to the adoption of neoliberal policies as a new development strategy and governance philosophy in the 1980s; and 2) the legitimacy crisis of the political system based upon a one-party system and the rise of democratic movements in Mexico. The two interrelated crises set in motion a series of political and institutional changes that transformed substantially the relationship (i.e. responsibilities and mandates) among all levels of government. Several municipalities demanded a new form of governance different from the centralized patronage relationships of a one party system that existed for more than a half century in Mexico. (2)
This article is exploratory and addresses two key questions: What are the causes that explain the emergence of IMIPs? What is the contribution of IMIPs to local planning practices in Mexico?
To be able to answer the above questions the article is divided into four sections. The first section is intended to offer a historical recount of the context that triggered the emergence of new planning practice at the local level, particularly the rise of the democratic movement and the election of opposition party candidates, such as those from the National Action Party or PAN (by its Spanish acronym), to several municipal governments. The second section focuses on a brief history of contemporary spatial planning in Mexico identifying different stages in the planning practices; globalization and the adoption of neoliberal philosophy is of particular interest. In the following section an analysis of key indicators of demographic, economic and governance effectiveness is undertaken. By comparing and contrasting those municipalities that adopted an IMIP model with the rest of the nation; this section focuses on planning outcomes in order to make an indirect assessment of the impact IMIPs have on local governments. The fourth section focuses specifically on understanding the institutional architecture of the IMIPs; what is their mandate, mission and vision, professional qualifications and recruitment of the staff, organization, products, etc., followed by a reflection to answer the questions posed previously regarding how IMIPs have contributed to reshape planning practice in Mexico. Finally, the paper contains some concluding remarks about how to improve spatial planning and practice in Mexico.
THE ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL CONTEXT
As stated previously, two interrelated crises combined to create an inflection point that produced deep structural changes in the way planning institutions and practices operated in Mexico: 1) the fiscal crisis that put the government on the brink of bankruptcy; and 2) a legitimacy crisis that triggered the movement for democracy and the beginning of the end of a one-party system. In the next paragraphs, I explain briefly these events so the reader will have in mind the context in which IMIPs emerged in Mexico as a novel idea to make municipal governments more efficient, effective and professional in the way urban development is being planned.
The fiscal crisis originated as an imbalance between government income and expenditures during the 1970s. This fiscal imbalance had its origin in the fact that at the same time it had windfall income from oil exports, Mexico also spent recklessly on infrastructure, social spending, and large subsidies to urban dwellers to lower costs of living in the city. Government fiscal deficits were financed through borrowing in foreign markets. Windfall gains from oil by exporter countries, mainly in the Middle East, kept interest rates low and therefore made foreign borrowing attractive to national governments. The foreign debt of sovereign nations such as Mexico and Brazil, to mention a couple, skyrocketed to 96.8 and 116.2 billion dollars respectively (Todaro, 1997, 511). As long as oil prices were high and interest rates abroad were kept low, as happened during the 1970s, Mexico could finance its fiscal deficits.
However, when oil prices went into a downward spiral and the U.S. Federal Reserve, headed by chairman Paul Volcker, decided to raise the discount rate to combat stagflation in the United States, this created the debacle of the Mexican public finance. Higher interest rates increased the burden of the debt service. According to Todaro (1997, 551) the ratio of debt to gross national product (GNP) for Mexico at its peak reached 42.1 per cent. In 1982 Mexico shocked the world with the news that it could no longer serve its debt and, if there was not rescheduling or refinancing, Mexico would default. This announcement was just the beginning of the foreign debt crisis worldwide that required the intervention by institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank to address an international structural problem of the finance system.
The fiscal crisis forced Mexico to accept the imf terms of adopting structural adjustment programs (sap) to overcome its financial crisis and put public finance in order. sap called for a reduction of government expenditures (which meant cutting social expenditures and subsidies) and an increase in tax revenue. Other components of sap in Mexico were reducing government intervention in the economy and fostering the PRIvate sector by selling state enterprises, PRIvatizing some government services, deregulating economic activities, and opening the economy to allow foreign direct investment and to engage and participate in the global economy. The imf policies work in tandem with the World Bank (1997) advice in how to reengineer government to make it more efficient and effective by adopting new managerial philosophies known as the new public administration (Denhart and Denhart, 2003).
Shifting the attention to the political dimension, the following events are important to emphasize that accounted in part for the demise of the old and the emergence of new governance forms: first, the response to the 1985 Mexico City earthquake sent a powerful message that civil society can organize and act independently from any party or patronage institution; second, the contested nature of elections in states such as Baja California, Sonora, Chihuahua, Yucatan and Guanajuato, where the National Action Party became an important contender and where eventually the PRI stopped being the ruling party; third, the lack of legitimacy of the 1988 presidential election that declared the PRI's
candidate, Carlos Salinas de Gortari (1988-1994), the winner over the leftist coalition (3) candidate Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, who was widely viewed by Mexican society as the legitimate winner; fourth, the accord between the PRI and PAN to recognize Salinas de Gortari as the president in exchange for reforms that would make the election system more open and citizen controlled to prevent future electoral frauds. Electoral wins by the opposition parties, and eventually the loss of a majority in congress by the PRI in 1997 not only restored a system of checks and balance among the three branches of government but also state and local governments lobbied for more control and powers being transferred to them. In the next paragraphs I offer an explanation of how the different events somehow were cumulative and transformed the political landscape in Mexico that frame planning practice.
Mexico City's earthquake in 1985 is considered by many scholars as an important historical reference that marked a "before" and "after" regarding the way government and society relate. This natural event made evident the incapacity of government to respond to an emergency situation and the capacity of society to organize and act independently from government and party structures. Civil society for the first time was capable of acting alone and independently from the traditional patronage system. Before the earthquake the PRI acted as broker or mediator between society and government developing a patronage system. After the earthquake civil society had more options to channel its demands and also political parties, such as the PAN or PRD, developed new mechanisms to relate to civil society and forms of governance.
The fiscal crisis of the state had a tremendous impact on the Mexican economy. The 1980s are known as the lost decade not only for Mexico but also for many other countries around the world. Not only Mexico's GNP fail to grow; it actually contracted. According to the National Institute of Geography and Statistics (INEGI), in 1980 the per capita...