Participatory theory and media advocacy in Mexico City

In Mexico, there is a need for more citizen participation when it comes to public consultations.

Every year, billions of pesos are funded into public construction projects. In Mexico City, the famous “second floor” of Periferico (in which, they built a highway over an existing highway) was built in 2006 around a lot of controversy. The highly polemic construction was criticized for not including the citizen’s in the decision making process. There was no public consultation and the residents had to deal with that construction for over five years.

Now, in 2015, there’s a glimpse of that happening. Recently, there was a new multi-million-construction plan proposed for Mexico City, called Corredor Cultural de Chapultepec.

The project leaders say it will bring new life to the Chapultepec neighborhood, brining private commerce and public spaces together. The opponents argue that it will be just another shopping mall, with little space for culture-related projects. Plus, the project requires a second floor to the Chapultepec neighborhood (think something like the High Line Park in New York City), making it very invasive for the residents around the area.

This past Sunday, the Mexico City’s Electoral Institute held a public vote on the project. There were over 22 thousand votes, with the majority voting “no” to the construction of the project, putting it on hold.

The Electoral Institute referred to the vote as a success. However, only 4.8% of those eligible voted.

It would seem these types of citizen initiative campaigns need more of the participatory and media advocacy focus that Silivio Waisbord talks about.

Waisbord explains that participatory theorists argue that development communication requires sensitivity to cultural diversity, and lack of such sensitivity leads to the failure of many project. That certainly seems to be the case for the Corredor Cultural de Chapultepec (CCC). Since the start, the commercial aspect for the project was featured too much. The word “cultural” is in the project’s title, yet not one cultural initiative was proposed in the CCC’s presentation. A large majority of Mexico City’s population is lower-middle class, the project seemed to be targeting upper and upper-middle classes.

Which brings us to the second point. The media advocacy was nowhere to be seen. The project needs to change its messages to the media. Stop selling it like a shopping mall. Use the media to really disseminate the social changes the project will bring to the community. It’s about changing the key words being used by the project’s spokespeople.

The Corredor Cultural de Chapultepec still has a chance of being built, but its creators need to seriously rework the branding and key messages of the project if they want to get the citizens on board with it.

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