‘‘It couldn’t be more hostile to public life or pedestrian life,’’ said Ken Greenberg, a Toronto-based architect and urban designer who recently visited Mexico. ‘‘The whole thing just has a kind of very harsh feeling of a highway right in the middle of the city.’’
Urban designers are now seeking to infuse the chaos with the glitzy excitement of Times Square or London’s Piccadilly Circus. Sixty-foot cylinders covered with circular screens streaming LED tickers have already been erected. The crabgrass-filled flower beds and low benches used as skateboard launches have been bulldozed for a sleek open-air look bathed in white, patterned concrete.
The makeover is meant to create a more appealing space for commuters using bikes and public transit in a city that won infamy as the world’s most painful for commuters in a 2011 IBM survey.
‘‘What Mexico City needs is to emphasize its identity through its public spaces,’’ Escotto said.
The government says the Insurgentes project will also debut a new model for restricting advertising to designated spots. In 2010, local government banned advertisements on all public and private buildings, threatening a $9,000 fine for those who refused to comply. Two years later, however, the city is still blanketed by billboards.
Future projects include a cleanup of 67 bridges around the city and more lighting for plazas and walkways throughout Chapultepec Park, Mexico City’s grand urban green space.
Some projects, including the Insurgentes roundabout, are being completed with the help of private funds. The roundabout renovation includes $4.5 million from 15 advertising companies that are erecting the giant LED screens. Critics worry the arrangement will benefit private companies more than city residents. Much of the beautification of the historic center was paid for by telecommunications billionaire Carlos Slim.
Some wonder whether Mancera, who is from Ebrard’s party, will continue the effort and whether the city has the money to maintain its improvements. The question for this teeming city is whether its attempt to clean up will hold or whether the sprawl will ultimately prove more powerful.
‘‘How is this work going to look in the next five months, or five years?’’ asked De Leo Gandara of the Iberoamerican University. ‘‘Will they preserve it? Will it still be clean? Are they keeping it together or is it forgotten again?’’
Adriana Gomez Licon is on Twitter http://twitter.com/agomezlicon