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Satellite Cities: The Early Suburbs of Mexico City

This week, continuing in my investigation of the geography of growth in Mexico City’s metropolitan area, and following my most recent exploration of the wealthier, more U.S.-styled segments of sprawl in the city, I made a trip out to Ciudad Satélite, one of the oldest, and most famous suburban developments in the region. Thanks to the...

Maintenance on a home in Ciudad Satélite — Photograph by Michael Waldrep, click to enlarge

This week, continuing in my investigation of the geography of growth in Mexico City’s metropolitan area, and following my most recent exploration of the wealthier, more U.S.-styled segments of sprawl in the city, I made a trip out to Ciudad Satélite, one of the oldest, and most famous suburban developments in the region. Thanks to the extremely generous Manuel Solano, I got a tour of the neighborhood and a wealth of reminiscence from a life spent growing up there.

Los Torres de Satélite, designed by Luis Barragán and Mathias Goeritz
Los Torres de Satélite, designed by Luis Barragán and Mathias Goeritz — Photograph by Michael Waldrep, click to enlarge

Satélite was planned, in the mid 1950s, as a car-centric community, removed from congestion of the city’s center and near to the industrial jobs in Naucalpan—its famous symbols, the Torres de Satélite, were designed by some of Mexico’s foremost midcentury architects, and stand in the middle of a freeway to welcome home its commuting populace. Mario Pani, the principal architect of the massive housing complex at Tlatelolco, laid out the curving circuits of the development, and helped to set the tone for its stripped down, modern homes.

A home in Ciudad Satélite
A home in Ciudad Satélite — Photograph by Michael Waldrep, click to enlarge
A home in Ciudad Satélite
A home in Ciudad Satélite — Photograph by Michael Waldrep, click to enlarge

As in Cuautitlán, and other government-funded, middle-class developments in the sprawling edges of the city, the neighborhood has been remade over time. In the case of Satélite, homeowners with the means to build to their own specifications have, for the most part, left little trace of the neighborhood’s modernist roots. At the urban scale, the greenbelt of parks that were meant to encircle this “city outside the city” gave way to the crush of people moving to the suburbs. The streets have a air of quiet, suburban repose to them, even in a riot of architectural styles and flourishes, up to and including a stained-glass window with the Versace logo embedded within. The saving grace, in terms of unity of design, are the ubiquitous walled-off parking spaces in front of each home; barbed wire, electric fences, and armed guards on many blocks betraying either a reality of having money in an unequal city, or a collective nervousness.

The abandoned Acropolis shopping center in Naucalpan, Estado de México
The abandoned Acropolis shopping center in Lomas Verdes, Naucalpan, Estado de México — Photograph by Michael Waldrep, click to enlarge

In the place of that planned, and now-forgotten open space on the development’s edge are more homes, more neighborhoods: places like Fuentes de Satélite, Jardines de Satélite, and Lomas Verdes. The latter, which translates to “Green Hills” is more concrete than vegetation, but as these early suburbs are forgotten and passed over for the newer, the further out, I saw at least one example of a shopping center going to seed.

As always, you can find my project on instagram for more consistent photo updates, and follow along here on the blog as well. Any input in the comments is much appreciated!

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Meet the Author

Michael Waldrep
Los Angeles native Michael Waldrep is a documentary filmmaker, multimedia artist and researcher, currently in Mexico City to document the city, its neighborhoods and its 22 million inhabitants through writing, mapping, data visualization, photography and video. He is one of five inaugural Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellows.