In our walks, we have also seen—in well-worn, even abandoned buildings on one hand, and repurposed and restored ones on the other—how these once-imagined neighborhoods have experienced and now reflect the realities of a century of time, the impacts of economic ups and downs, with the resulting fluctuations in the income levels of their residents over the last century.
They share in common having a significant number of late 19th and early 20th century buildings in distinctive Euopean styles that give one the sense of being in some Continental city, but with tropical vegetation and plenty of sun. Thus, each colonia has the potential for, and manifests efforts to be restored, integrating its historic batiburrillo, hodgepodge, into a vital, architecturally rich, contemporary neighborhood. However, they evidence different degrees of success in this process of rebirth and integration.
Seeking Renewed Life and Identity
Santa Maria la Ribera, the most northerly of the group, appears to be struggling with the greatest difficulty to restore the faded beauties of its Porfirian beginnings while integrating them with post-World War II Functionalist buildings and adding the modern buildings of urban renewal.
|Partially rehabilitated Neoclassic building in Santa Maria la Ribera|
San Rafael, the next colonia to the south along Insurgentes Avenue, seems further along in its resurgence and integration of styles. While there are still abandoned French Empire and Neocolonial buildings, others are restored into upscale condominiums that sit next to well maintained Post War Functionalist apartment buildings or across the street from contemporary, glass cube office buildings.
|Modern Apartments Built Behind California Colonial in Cuauhtémoc|
In Benito Juárez there is a dynamic, rhythmic counterpoint between Zona Rosa nightlife and quiet streets named Londres and Praha, with their Neoclassic, French and California colonial houses.
|Restaurant Occupies Neocolonial mansion in Benito Juárez|
|Contemporay Glass Pavilion atop Neo-classic Base|
in Roma Norte
What Makes Revival Possible?
"Location, Location, Location"
"Location, Location, Location"
Two factors basic to all real estate value seem to contribute to the varying levels of revival and achievement of a sense of integration across these colonias that share a common ancestry and similar raw materials. First, as they say in the real estate business, "location, location, location".
In this case, closeness to the economic and cultural power of Paseo de la Reforma is critical.
|Paseo de la Reforma,|
Where 19th Century Tradition and
21st Century Globalism Meet
|New Skyscraper Going Up|
at Intersection of Insurgentes and Chapúltepec Aves,
where Colonias Benito Juárez and Roma Norte meet
Santa Maria la Ribera is far from Reforma and separated from its southern neighbors by Ribera San Cosme, a wide, heavily-trafficked commercial avenue catering to lower middle class and working class customers. San Rafael is south of San Cosme, closer to Reforma, and its southern end is now under "development".
Cuauhtémoc's and Benito Juárez's more up-scale development is inextricably tied to their eje central, central axis, Reforma. While Roma Norte is farther south of the grand boulevard, it isn't far away, across narrow Benito Juárez and, like its northern neighbors, it is close to Chapultepec Woods, so it can feed from their attractions to add to its own potential.
The second factor that drives Roma Norte's attractiveness for restoration and development lies within itself. In addition to its large number of historic homes, it has Avenida Álvaro Obregon, with its spacious, shaded camellón, promenade, and the north-south axis of tree-lined Calle Orizaba, with plazas near each end.
|Promenade on Álvaro Obregon|
|Plaza Río Janeiro near nothern end of Orizaba|
|Plaza Luis Cabrera near southern end of Orizaba|
These two streets, which invite people to walk, sit and relax, establish the colonia's core "X" or "skeleton". As real estate agents say of an older, somewhat neglected but still solid house: "it has good bones." Around these communal bones of streets and plazas—and the many homes with "good bones" on or near them—the body of a vital neighborhood has been reborn.
In comparison, Santa Maria la Ribera has the spacious, tranquil Alameda Park at its center, with its Romantic Moorish Revival pavillion. But while this attracts people and has drawn, in turn, a few small cafes and triggered the restoration of some buildings around it, it has not developed enough weight to drive sustained renewal. The architectually interesting Neoclassic Geology Institute on one side of the Alameda has potential, but it seems under-used and semi-forgotten. It is no Casa Lamm or Casa del Libro.
|Moorish Pavilion in the Alameda of Santa Maria la Ribera|
San Rafael lacks any park or boulevard to serve as a center of attraction for people traffic and provide a core around which to build a sense of coherent identity, but its proximity to Reforma seems to transmit to it both commercial and residential vitality.
The Colonia That Has It All
So Roma Norte seems to "have it all" for attracting the people and money that produce restoration and renewed vitality: a large number of handsome historic buildings with "good bones", proximity to major urban axes, Reforma and Insurgentes, and, an internal "skeleton" of inviting public spaces for gathering and enjoying what the neighborhood has to offer: a revitalized and reimagined "dream of the city".
|Modern Art "dreams"|
in the Courtyard of Casa Lamm
Other Posts on the Porfiriato Era
- The Porfiriato: French Culture Conquers Mexico City
- The Grandeza of Porfirio Díaz
- Inside Porfirio's Palace
- Centro Historico Porfiriato - Late Nineteenth Century Mexico City
- Colonia Santa María la Ribera: Early Twentieth Century Century Popurrí
- Colonia San Rafael: Decay, Renewal and Restoration
- Colonia Benito Juárez: Where History Lives in the Shadows
- Colonia Cuauhtémoc: The First Decades of the 20th Century Marry the First Decades of the 21st
- Colonia Roma Norte Part I: Houses—and a Culture—That Survived a Revolution
- Colonia Roma Norte - Part II: Dreams in Stone and Glass...and Paint
- Colonia Condesa and Its Sisters - From Past to Present, Part I - Transition to the 1920's