Can a slum built on a World Heritage Site in Mexico City have rights?

 A farmer in Xochimilco uses polluted canal water for his chinampa garden. (National Geographic)
A farmer in Xochimilco uses polluted canal water for his chinampa garden. (National Geographic)

By Megan Carpentier and Marta Bausells / The Guardian

When Doña Chela first settled in Tlalpizatli more than 20 years ago, they didn’t have any roads, electricity, running water – or even a bridge over the canal to the main road. So the new residents built a wooden bridge by themselves, and removed rocks and roots by hand to create roads into the area.

“The history of the neighborhood has been one of suffering, tears and joy,” she said, even though she knows “we haven’t advanced much.” They’re still working to get electricity for street lights.

Tlalzipatli is one Mexico City’s estimated 835 slums; the national government estimates that there are 300 in the delegación of Xochimilco alone (though activists suggest the true number is closer to 500).

What makes these ones particularly remarkable is that the entirety of Xochimilco was designated a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1987. Its network of canals and artificial islands are a testament to the Aztec people’s determination to build a home in an unfavourable environment.

Its current residents face the same struggle – except that because a full 80 percent of the district is part of a federal ecological preserve, they could be moved out at any time.

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