I returned home for a visit earlier this month and, without fail, upon telling people that I have recently moved to Mexico City, they asked:
1) How bad is the air?
2) How many people live there?
It doesn't bug me at all that these are inevitably the first questions out of everyone's mouth, because up until recently, I couldn't have come up with a heck of a lot more.
But I felt bad that I didn't have excellent, rock solid answers for these two questions. True, a bit part of the reason for this is that I simply didn't want to know. But that day of reckoning has come. We must face the truth.
Starting with the population because it doesn't directly affect my future lifespan.
The most recent estimates of Mexico City's population put it at 17.4 million for the Distrito Federal proper (which is kind of like Washington, D.C.). However, if you were just driving out of the Federal District, you wouldn't know you'd left it when you hit the border because many former towns of the surrounding State of Mexico have been gobbled up. The estimate for the metropolitan area is more like a mere 22.65 million, as of 2005, making it the second most populous metropolitan area in the world. Go Mexico! I'd say, "Tokyo, you are so going down," but they are seriously kicking ass.
1. Tokyo, Japan - 34,100,000
2. Mexico City, Mexico - 22,650,000
3. Seoul, South Korea - 22,250,000
4. New York, United States - 21,850,000
5. Sao Paulo, Brazil - 20,200,000
6. Mumbai, India - 19,700,000
7. Dehli, India - 19,500,000
8. Los Angeles, United States - 17,950,000
By more strenuous standards taking note of actual boundaries, Mexico City gets knocked down to 5th place, but seriously, I really doubt anyone's counting past 15 million.
1. Tokyo-Yokohama, Japan - 33,200,000
2. New York, United States - 17,800,000
3. Sao Paulo, Brazil - 17,700,000
4. Seoul-Incheon, South Korea - 17,500,000
5. Mexico City, Mexico - 17,400,000
6. Osaka-Kobe-Kyoto, Japan - 16,425,000
7. Manila, Philippines - 14,750,000
Since lists are so much fun, we'll start there. However measuring pollution isn't really all that easy so take this worth a gram of particulate matter...
The BBC posted info from 2002 measuring pollution by amount of particle matter, by which the top contenders were:
4. Tianjin, China
Mexico City was all the way behind at 41st.
The Blacksmith Institute did another study in 2006, looking at the health danger of these pollutants and came up with this list:
The 10 worst-polluted places in the world are (in alphabetical order):
Chernobyl (Ukraine) | Dzerzinsk (Russia) | Haina (Dominican Republic) | Kabwe (Zambia) | La Oroya (Peru) | Linfen (China) | Mailuu-Suu (Kyrgyzstan) | Norilsk (Russia) | Ranipet (India) | Rudnaya Pristan (Russia)
Most have serious heavy metal or nuclear pollution which is making a lot of people sick.
So what's the deal with Mexico City?
Pollution isn't just about what factories and cars are spitting out. There are some unnegotiable geographic factors at play here:
- Mexico City is an average of 2,240 m (7,349 ft) above sea level
- It is located in a valley surrounded by mountains on all four sides with only one tiny opening at the north.
- "The region receives anti-cyclonic systems, whose weak winds that do not allow for the dispersion outside the basin of the air pollutants which are produced by the 50,000 industries and 4 million vehicles operated in the metropolitan area"
I haven't found the ultimate source that explains just where everything stands right now. To pull an Oprah - "What I know for sure" -
- It looks smoggy a lot and sometimes my lungs hurt.
- Traffic is something else and 1.5 hours is about the average commute within the city regardless of distance.
- The situation is bad enough that the government has imposed policies like certain cars can only drive certain days of the week and a month ago, the air hit such a point that they were stopping cars at the entrance to the city and not letting anyone in without Distrito Federal plates.
This was the article I found most interesting about combatting pollution, so I'll just end it there for the moment. And don't let the air deter you guys from visiting me.
"If these measures are not fully implemented, the chaos in the city could reach crisis level and we will all be sorry," Oscar Terrazas, professor of urban planning at the Autonomous Metropolitan University (UAM), told IPS. "What lies ahead is true chaos."
Enlightened prophet or alarmist? We'll see in 10 years.