John Hoffmire: A tale of two cities in northern Mexico: One has a murderous history and one is fairly calm

Published: Monday, Dec. 16 2013 7:55 a.m. MST

What is more, the municipal administration increased the city’s density by encouraging the infill of empty lots. This strategy brought a reduction in the energy cost for public lighting per person and reduced transportation costs by making the system more efficient. It also had benefits for commerce, since a higher density brings a higher number of potential customers to an area. Finally, Chihuahua didn’t forget the periphery. It built schools, police stations and urban services in these zones. As well, they developed parks to create green zones which fostered citizen interaction and created pleasing environments.

Meanwhile, the municipal strategy in Juarez ignored the potential problems that unfettered and unregulated peripheral growth could cause. At some point, a perfect storm hit. Inefficient transportation, recession, inequality in education and jobs, illegal economic activities, youth delinquency and other factors led to almost complete breakdown. The city administration was unable to cope with all of these problems at the same time.

Although Chihuahua also had crime problems, it sorted them out. It had better planning and better execution, which in the end paid its rewards. On the other side, Ciudad Juarez has learned some lessons and started rebuilding itself, both in terms of planning and execution; it has remarkably improved its economic and safety situation although it still is far from reaching healthy conditions for its people.

Today, the city of Chihuahua has an unemployment rate of 5.9 percent, while Ciudad Juarez, which by the beginning of 2007 saw less than 1 percent of its people without jobs, now reports more than 7 percent. Moreover, according to the executive director of the city’s Association of Maquiladoras, Jorge Pedroza Lozano, the unemployment rate reached 20 percent at its worst, which meant that 97,647 people were out of jobs. The monetary value in terms of salaries lost during the recession was around $500 million per year. This amount of money is so big that it is equivalent to 2.5 times the yearly municipal budget.

The official number of homicides has fallen in Ciudad Juarez to 850 in 2012, while in Chihuahua there were 587 in the same year.

It is not that planning means everything. But, at times, good government with a well-defined strategy can really make a difference.

John Hoffmire teaches at SaÏd Business School at the University of Oxford. Mario Alejandro Mercado Mendoza is a Mexican citizen and a graduate student at Kaust, a Saudi Arabian University.

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