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!


Spanglish said...

You should see Queretaro!

Unknown said...

How FAB dahhhling that these two neighborhoods I remember are experiencing such growth. Polanco was always so chic & I understand Santa Fe (an old trash dump site) is now the definition of FAB, but to me La Condesa & La Roma were always unique for the diverstity & grand architecture.

Don Cuevas said...

We love Colonia Roma but Colonia Condesa is ever so mellow.

Don Cuevas

Nate @ House of Annie said...

What I'd be interested in knowing is how many parks and other green open spaces are sprouting up in DF.

Conexus said...

It's wonderful to hear that your neighborhood is booming! It would be fun to see what that list looks like this time next year.

Drew said...

I'm an American that just spent a couple years living in Mexico City, and I lived in the Condesa neighborhood.

I'd love to see you do a post on Santa Fe, just so your readers have an idea of how truly different that part of town is from Condesa, let alone its enormous difference from the Historic Center (Centro Historic).

For those that don't know, Santa Fe is several miles west of Condesa (traffic free (i.e., Sunday), you can get there in about 20 minutes). It's all been built in the last 20 years. It's essentially a large rectangular area, and you can encircle the neighborhood in car in about 15 minutes (?).

This part of town is eminently unwalkable. It is all large office buildings, high-rise condos, a large upscale mall (though not nearly as upscale as the Antara mall in Polanco), and an extremely upscale university (La Ibero). The area sorta looks like a mix between LA/Silicon Valley/Houston.

I think that it's pretty in vogue among many cultural critics to criticize Santa Fe. It does not have any of the historic charm of "traditional" Mexico City. Yet, it is becoming a very essential part of the modern Mexico. The reality is, many of the apartment buildings in the older parts of town don't have the luxuries of the newer high-rises, and many Mexicans (just like Americans) are simply choosing to live in "nicer" buildings, in an area of town free from much of the street chaos found in most of Mexico City.

At least for me personally (and this is almost certainly the result of growing up in a small, idyllic, Norman Rockwell-esque Midwestern American suburb), I simply found the chaos/dirtiness/pollution/noise/crowds of most of Mexico City to be not quite to my liking.

Hipness be damned; I was often most at peace in Mexico City in a quiet stroll around the air-conditioned mall, chain-bough frozen yogurt in hand.

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