Academics criticize economic and social inequality in the Centro Histórico

Prices are rising slightly on Mérida restaurant menus. Photo: Sipse
Parque Santa Lucia has been handed to tourists at the expense of locals, two academics said. Photo: File

Mérida, Yucatán — Parks such as Santa Lucia’s have ceased to be public spaces, yielding instead to tourists.

That’s one conclusion discussed this week at a seminar exploring the impact of foreigners on Mexico’s historic centers.

The transformation of Mérida’s Centro Histórico, in particular, has generated new social relations between the foreigners who live there and the locals who have businesses in that area. But specialists in urbanism assert that this dynamic also generates inequality and discrimination.

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During their participation in the International Seminar of Historic Centers at the Peninsular Center in Humanities and Social Sciences on Oct. 4 and 5, researchers Lucía Tello Peón and Blanca Paredes Guerrero agreed that the public spaces have become focused on tourism, where lodging and higher-priced restaurants are offered, pushing out ordinary Meridanos.

Paredes Guerrero bemoaned the fact that there are two “Méridas,” where a “new elite” occupy land in old neighborhoods.

The global real estate market, which offer homes at very high prices, has led to the elitization of this area and its services, she said.

On the other hand, Tello Peón pointed out that since its foundation, Mérida’s Historic Center polarized and established inequality because its neighborhoods were destined for different social strata, a situation that manifested itself in its buildings.

“Mérida was unequal from its origins, because the city was divided by the church and the conquistadors, who established specific zones based on ethnic differences, building majestic buildings for the Spanish clergy and families, while the peripheral areas were settled by the indigenous,” she said.

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She pointed out that at present, the social inequality that prevails in this sector has been minimized by implementing public policies that promote it as a housing area, “although it is a fact that poor families and elderly people still live in old neighborhoods, both foreigners and local.”

Santa Lucia has been transformed dramatically since the restaurant La Tratto opened there in 2013. Several other upscale restaurants and shops followed. Once a sleepy park, today it is teeming with diners patronizing trendy restaurants that occupy an L-shaped building and colonnade that was previously boarded up. Tables from La Recova, Apoala, Rosa Sur 32, 500 Noches, La Tratto, and even a Soberana, steak restaurant on the other side of Calle 60, spill into the park, a situation that has not gone unnoticed.

But some traditions survive. Thursday serenades still bring live, traditional dance music to the public, and artisans sell crafts on Sunday mornings.

The speakers did not directly address Mejorada, Santiago, La Ermita, Hidalgo or Maternidad parks, all of which have a varying balance between locals, expats and tourists.

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