San Luis Potosi: Paving the way for Carfree Conversions in Mexico

San Luis Potosi (SLP) is the capital city of the homonymous state located in the central-northern part of Mexico. The city, founded in 1592, was originally composed of seven districts (barrios in Spanish) each with their own churches and gardens. In the past the city was known as the “Gardens City” because of its many green and beautiful areas.

Nowadays, SLP is an industrial and commercial city. Since 1994 the city and state administration have focused on supporting the car industry, and perceiving the car as the primary means of transportation. There is an industrial zone with a large car-manufacturing cluster, which includes a General Motors factory. The downtown area is mainly comprised of modern, sprawling residential and industrial developments, all encircled with very large and wide highways, which are generally congested with cars. However, among the sprawl of modern development, there are two bicycle factories that produce more than 50% of bicycles in Mexico.

Carfree Core

Despite a strong industrial and commercial presence, especially of the car industry, the city is not as car-infested as appears at first glance. Walking is the main way to get around in the historical centre of the city. The well-preserved historic downtown of the city is characterised by a maze of narrow cobblestone streets connecting large plazas, bordered by large churches, trees and fountains.

There have been a number of recent carfree conversions in the city, most of which were done in the historic centre in order to help it gain the UNESCO World Heritage status. Many areas in the city centre have been designed for people and social interaction – offering an exceptionally friendly place where teenagers congregate, couples stroll and street performers attract large crowds.

Today the Pedestrian Mall, located in the heart of the historic centre, is regarded as one of the most important carfree developments in the city and indeed the country. The Pedestrian Mall is a walk-only zone and popular social and shopping area – a place where you can see, smell and buy food, and enjoy the colourful array of clothes – that is both desirable and important for people, the environment, as well as the economy. The Mall has gained a reputation as an enjoyable area to meet people, as well as to discover religious buildings and admired architecture such as the del porfiriato houses built just before the Mexican revolution in the 20th century.

It is approximately 4.7 km in length: 1.7km of which was originally carfree, and 3.0 km of streets were made carfree after 1973. The basic design of the Pedestrian Mall is a north-south axis, which joins two previously existing pedestrian areas: the Avenue Juarez and the Garden Hidalgo. The Garden Hidalgo is in the heart of the city and was redesigned to be carfree in 1990. This conversion was achieved after the mayor and engineer Guillermo Pizzuto Zamanillo fought against the huge amount of pollution generated by cars every day.

Setting the Standard

SLP has undergone a rapid pedestrianisation, especially in the downtown area; achieved by successful developments including the Pedestrian Mall, which have re-energised the city and also helped to reactivate the local economy. Many new shops, cafés, restaurants and hotels opened, profiting from these carfree surroundings.

SLP is now considered as a pioneer city for carfree conversions in Mexico. Now there are hopes that other cities will follow SLP’s example and continue to develop carfree areas, infrastructure for cyclists and pedestrians, and to improve public transportation in order to keep building a better life for their citizens.

World Carfree Days in SLP

State Congressman Javier Algara Cossio organised the first World Car Free Day in 2001. Year after year the carfree celebrations have grown and new organisations join in. Bicycle advocacy groups, schools and local authorities join forces to organise successful events every September 22nd.

There are now several carfree days, demonstrations, Ciclovias, as well as other carfree events happening throughout the year and organised by different groups: from youth organisations to anarchists. All follow the same aim: to promote alternatives such as walking, biking, and public transport – and all promote an end to car dependency.

San Luis Potosi in Numbers

Population: 670,532 inhabitants

Size of SLP: 385 square km

Total km of pedestrian streets in the centre of SLP: 4.7km

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Photo by Agustin G. Villegas Villarreal

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One Trackback

  1. By The Daily Globe | Portland, OR » Blog Archive » The Monday Roundup on 27 March, 2010 at 07:38

    […] The city of San Luis Potosi could become to Mexico what Portland is to the US. The city core is being pedestrianized, and […]

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