Quake Threatens to Cause Flight From Mexico City’s Hip Neighborhoods Top News

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Quake Threatens to Cause Flight From Mexico City’s Hip Neighborhoods Top News

Some of the biggest fans of Roma and Condesa worry that the Tuesday earthquake, which killed at least 286 people in Mexico, could slow if not reverse the ascendant popularity of the neighborhoods.

“Now and the next couple of years, it’s going to be a factor,” said Eduardo Aizenman, co-owner of El Péndulo bookstore and cafe, which became an engine of Condesa’s post-1985 renaissance. “I am sure many people will be putting their properties in the market.”

Roma and Condesa were largely developed in the early 20th century for the city’s elite, who luxuriated in grand villas built along tree-lined boulevards. By midcentury, the area’s popularity among the wealthy had begun to wane, with many residents moving to increasingly fashionable areas, like Polanco and Las Lomas, or to newly developed suburbs, like Ciudad Satélite.

The 1985 earthquake accelerated this flight. Businesses closed, property values plunged, crime jumped.

Mr. Aizenman, 52, moved to Condesa in 1991, drawn to the cheap rents and atmosphere of possibility, even if it was an entertainment wasteland. “There was nothing here,” he recalled.

He opened El Péndulo two years later. Restaurants, bars, art galleries and boutiques followed. Notable properties were restored. Real estate values leapt. Condesa was back on top.

Roma was slower, rebounding within the past decade. Both neighborhoods had entered the firmament of the world’s hippest urban precincts: “Mexico City’s reigning axis of cool,” declared GQ Magazine last July.

Then came Tuesday’s 7.1 magnitude earthquake, which seriously damaged or destroyed a significant cluster of buildings in Roma and Condesa.

Photo

Leobardo Lopez hugging a rescuer after his mother’s body was recovered in the Condesa neighborhood of Mexico City on Friday. His mother, Maria Ortiz, survived the earthquake itself but died before rescuers could get to her.

Credit
Pedro Pardo/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

While Mexico City’s older central districts are particularly vulnerable to earthquakes because they sit on the soft ground of a residual lake bed, Roma and Condesa are no more at risk than other central neighborhoods, said Gerardo Suárez, a senior researcher in the Seismology Department at the National Autonomous University of Mexico.

And, indeed, other areas in the city were also badly hit.

Still, the memories of 1985 combined with this week’s trauma have shaken the once-unbridled love of the two neighborhoods.

“Many residents feel a big distrust because it’s evident that it’s not a safe place to live,” said Mr. Bustos, a philosophy professor at Anáhuac University, whose apartment building was damaged enough to force the evacuation of all the residents.

This feeling is not new to Javier Carmona, 71. He was born and raised in Roma and lived there until the 1985 earthquake, when, horrified by the destruction around him, he fled the neighborhood.

He moved back in 2004 to be closer to relatives. But Tuesday’s earthquake reawakened old emotions.

“It scared me a lot, it was terrible,” he said. “The house suffered only minor damage, but we definitely want to get out of here. I no longer want to live here anymore.”

Even Mr. Aizenman, who still lives in Condesa and has his offices there, is weighing the relative merits of different neighborhoods in light of the earthquake. The tremors on Tuesday caused such damage to the building that houses his offices that he evacuated his staff and is now looking for new office space.

“It’s real,” he said of the earthquake. “When you’re here to experience the earth’s shaking,” he continued, pausing as he recalled the experience, “I don’t know.”

But he also wondered aloud whether the neighborhood had too much momentum for the earthquake to reverse its popularity.

“I don’t think there’s any turning around,” he said. “There’s too much to give up: the walkability, the sharing of creativity, the creative industries, people who are doing things. Foreigners love living here.”

“You’re in awe of the opportunities,” he said, “and that kind of puts aside the risks.”

Many other residents and business owners have made a similar calculation and redoubled their commitment to the neighborhoods.

“The people are weighing fear against defending their assets,” said Marco Rascón, 64, a local activist who has spent many years in Roma. Following the 1985 earthquake, he created an alter ego called “Superbarrio” – “Super Neighborhood” — and would dress up in a superhero costume to agitate for residents’ rights during the reconstruction.

“I’m from here, I’m staying here, I’m dying here,” he declared.

The threat of earthquakes was part of making a home in such an ideal location, said Lorena del Rayo, an astrologer who has lived in Roma Norte since she was a teenager and has no intention of leaving.

On Thursday, she was visiting her mother, who still lives in the house she bought when property values plunged after the 1985 earthquake. The roof of the century-old house partly collapsed during Tuesday’s earthquake, and rubble and broken furniture were heaped on the sidewalk.

“It’s the duality,” Ms. del Rayo, 40, explained.

She held out cupped hands, as if weighing two objects.

“We live close to everything, the economy is good,” she said, gesturing with her right palm. Then she nodded to her left palm and lowered her voice: “But the earthquakes.”

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Quake Threatens to Cause Flight From Mexico City’s Hip Neighborhoods Top News

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Quake Threatens to Cause Flight From Mexico City’s Hip Neighborhoods Top News

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