Project Description

Aims and Objectives

  • To develop a participatory process of improvement and recovery of public spaces in the Federal District.
  • To reverse the current socio-spatial segregation and improve urban living conditions in the city’s most marginal areas, especially those experiencing high levels of urban decay or inhabited by people living with high levels of marginalisation, as measured by the Marginalisation Index of the Federal District.


Mexico City is an acute example of uncontrolled urban expansion and environmental deterioration. Approximately one in every six Mexicans lives in Mexico City. There are 8.7 million people living in the Federal District, which is divided administratively into 16 districts, and the wider metropolitan area has a population of over 21 million. More than one third of the population lives in slums (barrios) without water, electricity or sewers. Air pollution from vehicles, factories and stoves is intensified because Mexico City lies in a basin and thermal inversions trap pollutants at ground level. Population density is extremely high in some areas of the city, with the resulting saturation of urban services and lack of cultural, recreational and sporting facilities.

With Mexico having the 14th largest economy in the world, the average income in Mexico City’s Federal District is comparatively high at US$25,000. However, half of the population lives on very low incomes, in conditions of poverty and marginalisation. The economic and social vulnerability of families is manifested in unemployment, loss of purchasing power and declining income, and has resulted in a range of social problems including family violence, child abandonment, school desertion, teenage pregnancy, high crime rates, homelessness, growing addictions and the breakdown of social and community bonds.

Key features

The Social Development Secretariat of the Mexico City Government (SDS) is responsible for the operation of the Community Programme for Neighbourhood Improvement (PCMB), which was established in 2007 by the chief of the Mexico City Government in response to urban social movements’ increasing demands for decent and safe neighbourhoods. It involves the upgrading of public spaces, urban infrastructure and community facilities in informal settlements through a participatory budgeting process and self-management of resources, carried out in partnership between the community and the city government.

The programme design was established by urban social movements and other civil society organisations working together with government officials. All these sectors continue to participate through the PCMB Advisory Council, which is made up of 26 representatives of civil society and nine representatives of different branches of the Mexico City government. This entity was established to act as an assistant/consultative body in the process and to liaise between the Mexico City Government and civil society.

The Social Development Secretariat (SDS) is the city government body responsible for programme operation. Proposals are sought from communities which are then considered by the SDS for funding. All interested parties are invited to present projects to the judging panel to improve their neighbourhood’s urban infrastructure, but only projects approved by neighbourhood assemblies can be submitted. Projects are designed by the communities; the PCMB does not design or propose any kind of initiative. Both the number of proposals received and projects funded have risen since the beginning of the programme. In 2007, 139 proposals applied for funding, of which 45 were approved. In 2008, the number of proposals received more than doubled to 262, and SDS supported 102 of them. In 2009, the government worked with 186 projects of the 543 received. Finally, in 2010, 192 proposals are being implemented out of 752 applications received. The programme has funded projects in each of the 16 boroughs of the Federal District of Mexico City.

The SDS issues a call in January of each year to ask residents, civic organisations, communities and academic institutions to promote/recommend projects for the improvement of their locality. Communities put forward their proposals in a neighbourhood assembly which, once approved, are then sent to the judging panel of the SDS. For the selected projects, the funds are distributed directly to the communities, who elect their own administration, supervision and community development committees and make all decisions as to how the funds should be allocated. These committees oversee the construction process and are responsible for receiving and accounting for the public funds; ensuring that the proposed works are executed properly. They are also responsible for the follow-up post implementation. Social and technical assistance for the projects is provided to the communities by the government, as well as by a range of academic institutions, NGOs and other organisations.

Projects developed through the programme include sanitation, public lighting, recovery and creation of parks, plazas and community centres, multiple use community halls, cultural and sporting forums, game halls, libraries, cycle tracks, walking paths and pavements, garden construction and the reforestation of green areas, community diners and milk stores, and in the case of steep areas, safety walls, stairs and handrails have been built.

Covering costs

The financing for the programme comes entirely from the Mexico City Government. The programme budget depends on the Federal District Legislative Assembly. However, the PCMB is also open to donations from private enterprises, international organisations and other local government funds within the Federal government. For example, two of the 16 city districts have signed a cooperation agreement with PCMB to contribute additional resources and assist with the building process and five of the 16 boroughs have given additional resources to specific projects.

The PCMB budget has increased from US$6 million in 2007 to US$7 million in 2011, peaking in 2009 at US$14.5 million. The budget was reduced from 2009 to 2010 due to both economical and political constraints (i.e. economic crisis and policy makers wanting local districts to have direct control over public funding rather than the communities). Each project approved by the judging panel can be assigned resources from US$40,000 up to US$400,000, according to the community’s needs and the type of project being implemented.


On the local communities: the number of participants involved in the neighbourhood assemblies for the selection of local committee members has increased from 5,960 in 2007 to 15,098 in 2009. By becoming active participants, citizens are empowered to have an active role in society and in the development and improvement of their own city. The collective management of the neighbourhood is valued as an opportunity to develop local initiatives and strengthen social networks. Teaching the younger generations to work for their neighbourhood can increase the long-term impact of the projects.

On the government officials The increased knowledge of the community’s problems by public servants has lead to more efficient conflict resolution. There is a new understanding of the organisational processes of communities and the methodology used by civil society organisations.

On the regulatory frameworks: The Community Programme for Neighbourhood Improvement is born of the experiences and collective efforts of a group of urban social movements and civil organisations, which currently sit on the PCMB Advisory Council. By voicing their demands, the social movements and civil organisations effectively influenced public policies for land use development, resulting in the government creating a policy that recognises the significance of the participation of the community for neighbourhood improvements.

On the city as a whole: Improvements in the neighbourhoods’ public spaces and facilities result in healthier and safer living spaces, thus increasing people’s quality of life and impacting on the residents of the wider city who benefit from safer and improved urban spaces.

Why is it innovative?

  • Large-scale urban neighbourhood upgrading programme.
  • The city residents are not passive subjects as is traditionally the case with social programmes. Residents become active participants, who diagnose their own problems, set priorities, design plans, receive resources, carry out works, hire service providers and are held accountable to the community and SDS.
  • Funds are distributed directly to the community  (to a locally elected committee), which is responsible for allocating the funds and overseeing the implementation and follow-up work.
  • Strengthening of participatory democracy and creation of mechanisms through which communities can directly influence public policy.

What is the environmental impact?

  • All project proposals approved by PCMB must consider the reforestation of the areas where the projects are carried out.
  • Some communities decide to use locally available materials, thus reducing the energy needed for transporting materials.
  • Some of the proposals include environmentally-friendly urban spaces, helping to preserve the local biodiversity.
  • Although it is not a requirement for every project, some of the proposals include solar panels, rainwater capture devices, recycling of water, recycling containers, use of eco-concrete to facilitate the filtration of water to the city’s reservoirs, ensuring a more appropriate use of energy and water resources.

Is it financially sustainable?

It is difficult to guarantee that the PCMB resources will remain stable during the coming years, as it depends on the budget assigned each year by the Legislative Assembly of the Federal District. However, SDS has proposed legislation to the Assembly seeking to guarantee permanent resources by law to the project, although the decision in respect of this is still pending.

The programme focuses on neighbourhood improvements rather than on individual house improvements. However, by improving the neighbourhood, its reputation and the quality of life increase, leading to an increase in local property values, giving residents a greater incentive to invest in their own houses.

For the execution of an approved project each Administrative Committee (neighbourhood organisation) can choose one of the following options: Self-Administration (the community does the work and buys the materials); Enterprise (the community hires a business to do the approved work) and Mixed (the community does some of the work and a business does the rest). In all cases, projects are managed by the communities, who are allowed to hire their own residents as workers and buy at the local stores, thus generating income opportunities.

What is the social impact?

The focus of the programme is on promoting genuine citizen participation in the design, execution and evaluation of Mexico City’s urban development policy and the construction, recovery and adaptation of public spaces. Community members have organised themselves into committees, working together on the design and implementation of the projects. The works have sometimes been accompanied by social projects to improve the organisation and social cohesion of the community (e.g. activities such as film screening, dance, music bands, plays, senior citizens’ clubs and sporting activities).

A capacity-building workshops is held in every community where a project has been approved for improving management and administrative skills (any resident can participate in it, but it is compulsory for the elected representatives). Organisational, planning and practical skills are developed as a result of the programme.

A reduction in inequalities has been achieved through the redistribution of resources to poorer communities and the associated improvement in the physical and social environment.

An increased awareness of the right to the city for all residents of Mexico City is promoted through the programme. Public space is recovered as a key resource for the improvement of social integration and as a focus for further development and investment.


Lack of coordination with other branches of government and cooperation between the political parties that make up the city government: working groups have been set up comprising representatives from the different branches of the government and local boroughs to ensure a more integral cooperation. Two boroughs have signed cooperation agreements with the PCMB.

Lack of publicity for the PCMB prevents a greater number of communities from participating: this has not been overcome due to financial constraints.

Politicisation and community conflicts over projects that have been already approved: overcome by holding informative assemblies open to all community or interested parties. In the four years of operation only two projects could not be developed due to community problems.

Due to the focus on improving urban image, concerns have been raised as to whether public space or private property is being improved (e.g. reconstruction of fences, painting and gate installation of private owners).

Political continuity, since the next government (2012 elections) may or may not decide to continue the programme.

Only two projects have made incorrect use of the resources (corresponding to the 0.3 per cent of resources invested in all the years of operation) and are now involved in a lawsuit with the SDS.

Lessons Learned

Projects are catalysts for other community initiatives, as confidence returns that collective solutions can be found to neighbourhood problems.

Allowing the community members themselves to decide where public resources are invested in their community helps to strengthen local organisation and better targets the use of public resources.

Community organisation can lead to a more cost effective use of resources, as evidenced by the fact that 96 per cent of all projects have shorter construction times and lower costs compared to traditional government projects.


The programme is constantly being evaluated through an annual exercise that has maintained constant two-way communication between SDS and the collective of social organisations, civil organisations and technical advisers of the PCMB.


The programme was initiated in 2007 and is ongoing, with a call for proposals made in January each year. The number of proposals presented by the communities has increased each year, from 139 community proposals in 2007 to 780 in 2012, making a total of 3238 between 2007 and 2012. The number of participants in the neighbourhood assemblies for project approval is also increasing:  Between 2007 and 2012 182,525 people participated in meetings to provide support to projects, in a second stage 60,693 people participated in neighbourhood meetings to elect committees, integrating a total of 13,020 citizens in 2,604 management, monitoring and community development committees.

A communication network has been established nationally with many social organisations in order to pressure local governments to create this mechanism in their districts. For example, in Michoacán, forums were organised for a possible replication of the PCMB.


Local government, Local community