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A zoo in a sea of cement

to The east of Mexico City there is a town that is a sea of cement. From the air, Nezahualcóyotl (also known as Neza) and their 63 square miles of avenues strai

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A zoo in a sea of cement

to The east of Mexico City there is a town that is a sea of cement. From the air, Nezahualcóyotl (also known as Neza) and their 63 square miles of avenues straight and the blocks rectangular form a sheet of grey, which just breaks a tiny green stain. It is the People's Park, a zoo, whose history is intimately linked to this city, one of the populations with higher demographic density of Mexico. There lives more one million people that has these eight hectares of lake, macaws and eucalyptus as the only green lung.

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It has gotten out. Vincent and Fatima, the two new lions, have already come to the zoo. "They brought a few lions precious", he says to his children, a lady dressed in fake leopard. It is Saturday and several families buy tickets at the box office of the Park of the Village. The entrance is presided over by a mural painting of the king-poet in pre-hispanic Nezahualcóyotl (1402-1472), which gives name to the town, and for a verse of theirs which says:

finally understands my heart:

I Listen to a song,

I Look at a flower:

I Wish not to wither on the vine!

But in Neza and in the zoo that a flower is wilting, it should not be surprising. The city lies on the basin of the former salty lake Texcoco, which has now disappeared, and its soil maintains high rates of salinity. “The whole green area here is an invention,” explains Uzziah Martinez, a cultural promoter and resident of the city. “And the People's Park is a feat”. A feat double, in addition. First, the extreme aridity of the soil forced them to bring fertile soil from other parts of the country, and planted trees such as eucalyptus tree or pirul, well adapted to dry climates. Also built a lake, fed in part by rain water, which still today covers the irrigation needs of the park. In the second place, were the same people, mostly very poor people, who in the 70s paid out of your own pocket for the construction of the zoo.

Before, the space occupied by the park had been a vacant lot full of trash and pools of water, hedionda, where Martinez and his friends were, from time to time, to take a dip. And to remove dust from above because Nezahualcóyotl also known, ironically, as Nezahualpolvo and, less frivolously, such as lost city, because of the harsh conditions in which they lived their first inhabitants, usually migrated from the countryside in search of a better life. Unpaved streets, lack of basic services and street lighting, and a long list of shortcomings marked the city in the first decades.

panoramic View of Nezahualcóyotl. Santiago Arau

as of the 90s, what began as a neighborhood that is extremely poor, gave signs of improvement. Public services, before non-existent, spread out over the city and the average income of their inhabitants rose. Today Neza is a city that acts as a commercial hub in the east of the capital, and that, although drag still problems of crime, goes well stop if it is compared with its neighboring Ecatepec, one of the most dangerous in the country.

But this development has not resulted in a significant increase of green spaces. The zoo remains virtually the only park in a city saturated, which officially live in 17,000 people per square kilometer, although the City cites internal studies that put the figure at more than 23,000 –Brussels, with a population similar to that of mexico city, has a density of little more than 7,000 inhabitants per square kilometer–. “It is the place of the area where the children can run and explore,” says Marisol, a neighbor who has taken his three children to the park to spend the sabbath. “No more”. Within this small oasis, Magda Garcia, who oversees the medical area, gives instructions to a vet: it's time to feed the lemurs. It takes 25 years working in the zoo and has seen how it has evolved. “It's part of my life,” he says.

Of the 10 exhibitors of animals at the start has now been moved to 50, that are home to mexican species threatened such as the ocelot or bobcat. Some were confiscated from private owners who had no license to have them. “Sometimes they get mistreated, malnourished”, explains García. But it is not just a zoo of lions; the People's Park also serves as the cultural hub of the neighborhood. On the weekends, for example, represent works of theatre – recently, it was La Llorona– in an auditorium that was inaugurated a couple of years ago, as part of a general rehabilitation.

The aviary, in need of restoration. G. S.

Even so, there remain outstanding issues. The nocturnario, a place of observation of bats, is closed for lack of heat and special lighting. The aviary, a building of pyramidal form, it would need a restoration to return to its original state, and recreate the micro-climate of warm parrots and other species of jungle. “It was an icon of the city; it was like entering a small jungle,” recalls Garcia with nostalgia. The park does not have a budget, but receives monthly contributions from the municipality, according to the requirements. The director of the zoo, Antonio Solano, estimated to spend around six million pesos per year (us $ 300,000) which it considers insufficient. For example, Magda Garcia, and another vet are the only staff entitled to treat with the 260 animals.

The mayor, Juan Hugo de la Rosa, pointing to the scarcity of resources of the city Council, while recognizing that the deficit of parks is “a great concern”. The city has landscaped the medians –the divisions that separate the two senses of an avenue– but these are often not enabled for recreational use. In 2009 was opened the complex of Garden City, built by billionaire mexican Carlos Slim on an old garbage dump. Its more than 100 hectares, which include a shopping centre, universities and multi-sports facilities, are a symbol, for many, the new stage of the city. But, despite its huge extension and a name that makes us think of vegetation, trees are scarce.

“In total, there will be approximately 33 acres of parks,” starts the mayor, but then adjusts the calculation. “Although, in retrospect, are probably least: 20 acres or equal to 15”. If you take the 33 hectares initial and are divided by 1,200,000 million inhabitants give a result of only 0,27 square metres per person. In this sense, the cancellation of the new airport of the City of Mexico opens up an opportunity to reverse the situation. Yours land, about 700 acres of federal property boundary with the municipality, could be reforested, according to the mayor. “We have no more space within the municipality,” he says.

At sunset, the zoo is filled with a light yellow and the lake, without a boat, retrieves the peace of mind. A white heron, one of the few species endemic to the area, sits on one of the boats, and does not change when the lion opposite, and launches a roar. The last visitors leave the park to return to the cement of your day-to-day. But at 10.00 in the morning on the miracle green Nezahualcóyotl re-open its doors.

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