The Mexico City metropolitan area (Zona Metropolitana del Valle de México) continues to grow, although it has slowed somewhat compared to the previous decade. The metropolitan area is the functional or economic city.
The 2020 census in Mexico indicates that the metropolitan area had a population of 21.8 million. This growth was enough for Mexico City to remain the largest metropolitan area in North America, above New York City’s 2020 census population of 21.4 million. However, the metropolitan area has fewer residents than 23.6 million in the New York Combined Statistical Area (a broader metropolitan definition).
The metropolitan population grew by 8.4% compared to the 2010 census, but this represents a decline of 9.3% from 2000 to 2010, not to mention the growth of 18.2% between 1990 and 2000 (Figure 1) .
Mexico City is also not always a growth leader in the country. Over the past decade, the annual growth rate of 0.81% was 30% lower than the rate of 1.16% for the country as a whole. The slow growth marks a stark contrast to the United Nations (UN) 1980 projection that Mexico City would become the world’s largest urban agglomeration by 2000, amassing a 5.2 million lead over Sao Paulo and 7, 6 million in Tokyo (third). Figure 2). However, what the UN could not predict was the devastating earthquake in Mexico City in 1985, after which population growth fell dramatically.
The Mexico City Metropolitan Area is located in three state-level jurisdictions, Ciudad de Mexico (CDMX or Mexico City) and the states of Mexico and Hidalgo. CDMX replaced the old Distrito Federal in 2016, but, as the national capital, could not become a state under the Constitution of Mexico.
Suburban growth dominates
Over the past decade, 93% of the growth of the Zona Metropolitana has occurred in the suburbs and 7% in the urban core (Figure 3).
Mexico City (Mexico City, CDMX): The Ciudad de Mexico includes the historic urban core and the area outside, or the inner suburbs (below).
Urban core (CDMX): The urban core, made up of the delegations (districts) of Benito Juárez, Cuauhtémoc, Miguel Hidalgo and Venustiano Carranza added nearly 120,000 inhabitants, or 7% of the growth. The annual growth rate was 0.66%, almost 45% less than the national rate.
Typical of many metropolitan areas around the world, urban core populations have declined. These delegations brought together for a population of 2.2 million inhabitants in 1950, peaked at 2.9 million in 1970 and today have more than a third fewer inhabitants (1.8 million). Population loss has bottomed out in recent decades, reaching a low of 1.7 million in 1990, about 40% less than the 1970 peak (Figure 4). Population density peaked in 1970 at 20,500 per square kilometer (53,900 per square mile) and fell to 13,200 per square kilometer (34,100 per square mile) in 2020. Zocolo, the historic heart of Mexico City is located Cuauhtemoc. The new commercial hub, Reforma, is located in Miguel Hidalgo.
Small Suburb (CDMX): Suburbs outside the urban core but inside CDMX added nearly 250,000 residents, or 14% of the growth. The annual population growth rate of 0.33% was more than 70% lower than the national rate. The strongest growth in the inner suburbs concerns the municipios (municipalities) on the urban fringe, where the CDMX is receding into mountainous terrain. Cuajimalpa de Morelos (2020 population 218,000, increased 16.8%, while Milpa Alta (153,000 increased 16.9%).
The newest suburban shopping center, Santa Fe, is located in Álvaro Obregón, along the highway leading to Toluca, the capital of the State of Mexico (about 50 kilometers/30 miles to the west). Attracting many foreign businesses, the neighborhood is more like the Century City of Los Angeles than you might expect in the capital of a developing country.
Suburbs outside of CDMX: The suburbs outside CDMX are divided in this analysis between the Middle Suburbs and the Outer Suburbs.
Middle Suburb: The middle suburbs, located in the State of Mexico and adjacent to CDMX, added approximately 200,000 inhabitants, or 11% of the growth. The middle suburbs accounted for the lowest percentage of population growth from 2010 to 2020. The annual population growth rate was 0.30%, nearly three-quarters lower than the national rate of 1.16%.
The three largest municipios (municipalities) experienced virtual population stability over the decade. The largest, Ecatepec de Morelos (1.65 million in 2020) lost 0.6% of its population. Nezahualcóyotl (1.08 million) lost 3.0%, while Naucalpan de Juárez (0.83 million) lost 0.1%.
Outer Suburb and Suburb: Between the two censuses, the suburbs and outer suburbs, located in the states of Mexico and Hidalgo, grew by 1.1 million and captured 68% of the population growth. Municipalities located on or near the urban periphery (edge of the continuously developing urban area) have increased the most. Tecámac (547,000 in 2000) increased by 50.2% and Zumpango (281,000 increased by 75.7%). Huehuetoca (163,000, up 63.2%) and Tizayuca (168,000, up 72.7%). State of Mexico.
The largest percentage increase in population over the decade occurred in the outer suburbs, with an annual growth rate of 2.06%. This is nearly 80% above the national rate and is the only area in the metro area that has grown faster than the country as a whole (Figure 4).
Adapt the international metropolitan growth model
As with nearly all metropolitan areas around the world, most growth in Mexico City has occurred in suburban and peri-urban areas in recent decades, as opposed to the urban core. The urban core has lost population since its peak, similar to other metropolitan areas like Paris, central London, Lisbon, Vienna and Boston. Like Paris in London, Vienna and Boston, some, but not all, of the recent population loss has been recovered.
Typical of the international experience, the inner and middle suburbs of Mexico City have tended to grow more slowly than the suburbs of the urban periphery (zone of continuous construction) and suburbs (beyond the zone of continuous construction). Although there has been a modest upturn in population growth in the urban core, as in other major international cities, the predominant growth has taken place in the urban periphery, where the cost of land is generally more affordable.
Expanding and productive urban form of Mexico City
The Changing Urban Form: Suburbanizing Mexico
The Changing Urban Form: The Valley of Mexico
Wendell Cox is director of Demography, an international public policy firm located in the St. Louis metropolitan area. He is a founding senior fellow at the Urban Reform Institute in Houston, a senior fellow at the Frontier Center for Public Policy in Winnipeg, and a member of the advisory board of the Center for Demographics and Policy at Chapman University in Orange, California. He was a visiting professor at the National Conservatory of Arts and Crafts in Paris. His main interests are economics, the fight against poverty, demography, urban policy and transport. He is co-author of the annual Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey and author of Demographia World Urban Areas.
Mayor Tom Bradley appointed him to three terms on the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission (1977-1985) and Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich appointed him to the Amtrak Reform Board, completing the term unexpired of New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman (1999-2002). He is the author of War on the Dream: How Anti-Sprawl Policy Threatens the Quality of Life and Toward More Prosperous Cities: A Framing Essay on Urban Areas, Transport, Planning and the Dimensions of Sustainability.
Photo: Santa Fe Business Center in the western suburbs, via Wikimedia under CC 4.0 license.