In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Mexico City

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Urban Growth and Spatial Organization
  • Urban Planning and Architecture
  • The State, Urban Politics, and Clientelism
  • Poverty, Marginality, and Inequality
  • Street Informality
  • Informal Urbanization
  • Housing
  • Urban Protest and Social Movements
  • Urban Renewal and Gentrification
  • Violence, Crime, and Policing
  • Environmental and Water Studies
  • Urban Mobility and Transportation
  • Gender Studies
  • Race and Ethnicity
  • Cultural, Visual, and Literary Studies

Urban Studies Mexico City
Alejandra María Leal Martínez
  • LAST REVIEWED: 15 October 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 October 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780190922481-0010


Numerous urban scholars have been studying Mexico City—the capital of Mexico—since at least the 1970s, drawn to its remarkable growth during the second half of the 20th century and to its specific patterns of urbanization. The city is located at more than 7,000 feet above sea level in the southern section of a large, enclosed basin known as the Valley of Mexico. Its name officially designates what until recently was the Federal District, an area of 550 square miles divided into sixteen administrative jurisdictions and which, until 1997, lacked a democratically elected government. A 2016 reform transformed Mexico City into the country’s thirty-second state. In common usage, the name Mexico City also refers to the greater Mexico City Metropolitan Area, which as of 2010 also included fifty-nine adjacent municipalities in the State of Mexico and one in the State of Hidalgo, with a total extent of nearly 3,100 square miles. According to the 2010 census, Mexico City’s population is around nine million, while the greater Metropolitan Area has more than twenty million inhabitants. The city was founded in 1521 on the ruins of the Aztec capital on a small island in Lake Texcoco and gradually expanded onto the increasingly desiccated lakebed, which has created a particular set of environmental problems, such as constant flooding. Like other major Latin American cities, Mexico City—and later the Metropolitan Area—grew exponentially after the 1940s, as industrialization attracted massive migration. Its population jumped from three million in 1930 to around fifteen million in 1985. Mexico’s most important city, as well as its political, cultural, and economic center, Mexico City is a study in contrasts. It displays wealth and poverty extremes, world-class architecture next to marginal shantytowns, and a vibrant, cosmopolitan cultural life alongside high criminal rates and seemingly intractable environmental problems, which continue to attract the interest of a wide variety of urban scholars. This bibliography is selective rather than exhaustive. It privileges recent English- and Spanish-language scholarship, but also includes key texts that continue to inform the field, as well as recent urban historiography. It is divided into the main topics covered by urban scholars of Mexico City since the 1970s. These range from urban planning, urban politics, informality, poverty, and marginality, which were dominant themes until the 1980s, to urban protest and social movements, gentrification, and environmental, gender, and cultural studies, which have expanded the field more recently. The author wishes to thank Carlos Humberto Arroyo Batista for his research assistance in elaborating this bibliography.

General Overviews

Mexico City is one of the few Latin American cities that predates European colonization, as it was founded upon the ruins of the conquered Aztec capital. For a general history of Tenochtitlan and early colonial Mexico City, Mundy 2018 provides an innovative approach that also reviews earlier historiography of the pre-Hispanic and colonial city. Among the vast historiography of late-19th- and early-20th-century Mexico City, Tenorio-Trillo 2012 offers a series of incisive essays covering the city’s social and cultural history. From the perspective of environmental history, Vitz 2018 discusses the city’s rapid urbanization in the early 20th century, analyzing a series of decisions, projects, and processes—most importantly the desiccation of Lake Texcoco—whose effects continue to be felt in the early 21st century. For mid-20th-century urban politics, especially concerning urban planning and the consolidation of the post-revolutionary corporatist regime, Davis 1994 continues to be an empirically rich and widely cited text. Garza 1987 offers an excellent overview of scholarship produced by leading Mexico City–based urban scholars on topics ranging from the city’s history to its 20th-century growth, spatial organization, segregation patterns, and demographic trends. Ward 1990 offers a wide-ranging analysis of the city’s growth and development during the second half of the 20th century. Duhau and Giglia 2008 is a remarkable introductory text to both urban studies and Mexico City that skillfully explains its particular socio-spatial configuration.

  • Davis, Diane E. Urban Leviathan: Mexico City in the Twentieth Century. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1994.

    An influential historical sociology of Mexico City’s urban development politics throughout the 20th century (1910 to 1988) empirically grounded in conflicts over transport and mostly limited to the central city. It provides a rich discussion of corporatism and analyzes the relations, tensions, and conflicts between the local (urban) level and the national domain. Well suited for undergraduates.

  • Duhau, Emilio, and Angela Giglia. Las reglas del desorden: Habitar la metrópoli. Mexico City: Siglo XXI, 2008.

    An indispensable text for urban scholars of Mexico City, at once historically minded, theoretically insightful, and empirically rich. Against the grain of commonsensical narratives of Mexico City as a chaotic, ungovernable metropolis, the authors investigate how a multiplicity of coexisting and conflicting “urban orders” are produced and reproduced. In Spanish.

  • Garza, Gustavo, ed. Atlas de la Ciudad de México. Mexico City: DDF; El Colegio de México, 1987.

    A comprehensive overview of Mexico City by leading urban studies specialists. Covers topics as varied as the city’s history from the 16th century to the 19th, its demographic growth, geographic expansion, socio-spatial organization, infrastructures, and services. A chapter is devoted to the 1985 earthquake. In Spanish. See also: Garza, Gustavo, ed. La Ciudad de México en el fin del segundo milenio (Mexico City: El Colegio de México, 2000).

  • Mundy, Barbara E. The Death of Aztec Tenochtitlan, the Life of Mexico City. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2018.

    The death of Tenochtitlan as an indigenous city is a myth, argues Mundy, as she explores its continuity within the spaces of Mexico City. Using innovative interpretations of available sources, she moves between discussing official planning—as represented in maps, plans, and other images—and everyday life. An excellent introduction to the pre-Hispanic and 16th-century city that ponders their material legacies in the present.

  • Tenorio-Trillo, Mauricio. I Speak of the City: Mexico City at the Turn of the Twentieth Century. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012.

    A fascinating cultural history of Mexico City during the first half of the 20th century by one of its leading historians. Working through a vast collection of art, architecture, photography, journalism, and popular music, Tenorio renders Mexico City as a cosmopolitan space inscribed in world history while acutely observing its singularities.

  • Vitz, Matthew. A City on a Lake: Urban Political Ecology and the Growth of Mexico City. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2018.

    A groundbreaking study of Mexico City’s environmental, political, and social transformation from a small, provincial capital at the beginning of the 19th century to a major metropolis by the mid-20th. Analyzes the interaction between people and their changing environment in order to explain Mexico City’s rapid urbanization. Good for undergraduate environmental and urban studies courses.

  • Ward, Peter M. Mexico City: The Production and Reproduction of an Urban Environment. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1990.

    Still the most comprehensive book about the growth and development of Mexico City in the second half of the 20th century by one of its leading urban scholars. Discusses its rapid population growth since the 1940s; spatial expansion and housing markets; political structures, planning cultures, architecture, and infrastructures; and explains how the city’s spatial structures sustain and reproduce inequality.

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