• new institutionalism;
  • corporatism;
  • public–private partnerships;
  • regeneration


  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. The relationship between macro-level processes and urban governance
  4. An institutional approach to understanding urban governance
  5. Institutions and the Mexican context
  6. The coexistence of old and new institutions in urban governance: a case study investigation
  7. Conclusions
  8. References


The analysis of urban governance in terms of networks, as developed in the UK by scholars including Rhodes and Stoker, can be applied to a context such as Mexico if due weight is given to macro-level processes. In this article, careful attention is paid to the institutional legacies of Mexico's past authoritarian regime and how they are challenged by a new discourse of neoliberalization, decentralization and democratization. Corporatism, social segmentation and organizational fragmentation in the past have resulted in the continuing importance of hierarchical modes of governance alongside networks. Case studies of the public–private partnerships involved in the regeneration of the historic centres of Querétaro and San Luis Potosí show that new forms of governance entail a mix of continuity and change. Regeneration partnerships were initiated and largely funded by the local state, with the state retaining considerable power. Most of the non-state participants were drawn from the old aristocracy and business and professional organizations, whilst the increasingly autonomous groups of street traders and ‘ordinary’ citizens concerned with the life in the city centre were excluded. Nevertheless, new discourses challenge the institutional legacies of the past, encouraging institutional change.


L'analyse de la gouvernance urbaine en termes de réseaux, telle que des chercheurs comme Rhodes et Stoker la présentent au Royaume-Uni, est applicable au contexte mexicain si on pondère correctement les macro-processus. Une attention particulière est accordée ici aux héritages institutionnels du régime autoritaire qu'a connu le Mexique, et à la façon dont ils sont remis en cause par un discours nouveau de néolibéralisation, décentralisation et démocratisation. Dans le passé, corporatisme, segmentation sociale et fragmentation des organisations ont donné une importance constante aux modes de gouvernance hiérarchisés en parallèle aux réseaux. D'après des études de cas de partenariats public-privé portant sur des projets de régénération des centres historiques de Querétaro et de San Luis Potosí, de nouvelles formes de gouvernance génèrent un mélange de continuité et de changement. Les partenariats liés à la régénération de quartiers ont été lancés et en grande partie financés par l'État local, l'État gardant une emprise considérable. Hormis l'État, les participants étaient issus, par la plupart, de la vieille aristocratie, ainsi que des milieux commerciaux et professionnels, alors qu'étaient exclus les groupes de plus en plus autonomes des marchands ambulants et des citoyens ‘ordinaires’ concernés par la vie dans le centre-ville. Néanmoins les nouveaux discours, qui remettent en question les héritages institutionnels du passé, encouragent à une évolution des institutions.

Theoretical elements of the idea of ‘governance as networks’ elaborated by British scholars (Rhodes, 1997; Stoker, 1998) can potentially be found in the Mexican context, when the processes of neoliberalization, decentralization and democratization are taken into account. Peck and Tickell (2007) argue that the degree to which neoliberal ideology penetrates particular countries depends on national specificities. In Latin America these specificities have been associated with the processes of democratization and decentralization taking place in the region (Martin and Perrault, 2005). But how can these three processes be associated with a network form of governance? Geddes (2005: 362) argues that, when the shift towards local governance is compared across countries, three tendencies seem to prevail: a declining role for the public sector and an increasing role for the private and voluntary sectors; a shift from redistribution to entrepreneurship and enterprise in policy objectives; and the rise of partnerships as forums in which local policy decisions are made. Although these three tendencies are subject to national and local specificities, he argues that there is a pattern that seems to be present across countries. This pattern is the close relationship between the shift from local government to local governance and neoliberalism, which, he recognizes, not only depends on but also shapes national specificities (ibid.: 368). Geddes does not specify what he means by national specificities. I associate them with institutional legacies from the past, although it has to be recognized that other specificities associated with cultural patterns could also come into question.

The discourse of neoliberalism, alongside those of democratization, decentralization and national institutional legacies, has led me to analyse in this article how governance as networks and governance as hierarchies can coexist in the same space and period of time. Because of space restrictions, careful attention is paid only to the institutional legacies of Mexico's past authoritarian regime and how they are challenged by new discourses. The article acknowledges that networks and hierarchical modes of governance do not explain change. Rhodes (2007), in his recent reflection on governance, argues that change in network governance can be explained using ‘decentred analysis’, which is based on individual beliefs, traditions and dilemmas. I, however, use ‘new institutionalism’, since it is an approach that analyses beliefs and rules at the same time that it allows macro-level structures, such as economic structural reforms and state reconfiguration (Jessop, 2002), to be taken into consideration. The analysis of both beliefs and rules and macro-level structures is important; without them the comparative study of governance in different global regions would not be possible.

The first section of the article briefly discusses each of the three processes and the concept of governance. The following section argues that in analysing the particularities of Mexican urban governance, an institutional approach provides useful insights. ‘New institutionalism’ is considered significant for understanding Mexican urban governance because it draws attention to the legacies of the authoritarian regime, identified here as ‘corporatism’, social segmentation and organizational fragmentation. The argument is developed further by discussing how these three authoritarian legacies are reflected in the partnerships formed to regenerate the historic centres of Querétaro and San Luis Potosí.

The relationship between macro-level processes and urban governance

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. The relationship between macro-level processes and urban governance
  4. An institutional approach to understanding urban governance
  5. Institutions and the Mexican context
  6. The coexistence of old and new institutions in urban governance: a case study investigation
  7. Conclusions
  8. References

The conditions for Mexican urban governance are formed by three macro-level processes. These processes have generated new discourses which challenge past authoritarian legacies:

  • 1
    Neoliberalization. This process is driven by a distinctive political-economic philosophy that has aimed to enforce market rule over a wide range of the social relations involved in the world economy (Brenner and Theodore, 2002: 361; Peck and Tickell, 2007: 28).1 In the 1980s, this philosophy was reflected in the policies of the World Bank and the IMF, which began to promote several phases of structural adjustment reforms throughout Latin America (Fourcade-Gourinchas and Babb, 2002). In particular, Mexico's initial reforms towards a limited interventionist state with regard to foreign trade, public finance and investment marked the emergence of new organizational forms between government and civil society, and government and the private sector. In these relationships collaboration between sectors, self-determination and active participation by civil groups and citizens have become part of the discourse.
  • 2
    Decentralization. The increased fiscal and political decentralization that Mexico has experienced since the 1980s has created a number of political and administrative changes at the local level. It has enhanced the agencification of governmental bodies; it has encouraged the transfer of responsibilities from the core executive to subnational levels of government; and it has provoked an increase in the use of new public management (NPM) strategies to overcome bureaucratic inefficiencies in the delivery of urban public services (Cabrero, 1998; Giugale and Webb, 2000).
  • 3
    Democratization. Mexico's transition to democracy began in the 1980s. Partly as the result of the activities of urban movements across the country, the authoritarian regime was slowly starting to disintegrate (Foweraker, 1995; Ramírez, 2003). Since the 1990s, the democratization process has focused both on reforming representative democratic institutions and on promoting direct participatory methods. With regard to the latter, the private and voluntary sectors, as well as individual citizens, have become increasingly active in, and responsive to, local policymaking processes. Also, the values of political equality, access to information, transparency and accountability have become increasingly prevalent in the discourses of democratization (Aziz-Nassif, 2003).

These three processes are distinguished here for heuristic purposes but, in real life, they tend to overlap, making it difficult to separate one from the other (Campbell, 2003; Chavez and Goldfrank, 2004; Roberts, 2005). For example, the emergence of a less interventionist state in Mexico has created space for other sectors of society to interact in policymaking. This intervention complements certain objectives of decentralization by helping to consolidate strategies enhancing democratic values such as access to information, transparency and public accountability within policymaking. Moreover, some implementation stages within these processes have relied on the premises of NPM to guarantee the efficiency and effectiveness of public services and programmes.

Drawing on theoretical developments in British political science (Rhodes, 1997; Stoker, 1998), a first approach to local (urban) governance is to understand it as operating through networks characterized by complex, interdependent and blurred boundaries between the public, private and voluntary sectors. Governance outcomes are increasingly achieved through multi-sectoral and self-organizing networks that are characterized by alliances in which trust and collaboration are needed in order to realize urban policies. Both formal and informal arrangements are important, with public–private partnerships (PPPs) being the most common way in which governance has been implemented in Britain and abroad (Batley, 1996; Hambleton et al., 2003).

Alongside the debates on governance as networks, political economists focusing on Europe argued that local government and social forms of organizations were starting to transform in response to broader structural changes such as the globalization of the economy (in particular the unrestricted movement of capital and governments' difficulty in regulating it —Touraine, 2001; Held, 2005), the shift away from the welfare state (associated with neoliberalism in Europe —Brenner and Theodore, 2002; Jessop, 2002), and the restructuring of the nation-state and its effects upon supranational and subnational scales (Bache and Flinders, 2004). It is at the subnational scale that an emphasis on the principle of subsidiarity and arguments in favour of decentralization and direct participation have been developed (Denters and Rose, 2005). Many of these structural changes identified in Europe coincide with those encountered by Latin American countries. Nevertheless, specific institutional legacies are important for understanding regional and local differences in the implementation of governance (Brenner and Theodore, 2002; Geddes, 2005; Melo and Baiocchi, 2006).

The importance of institutional legacies leads to a second approach to understanding (urban) governance. Lowndes and Skelcher (1998) argue that urban governance is an instituted process which conditions ordered rule and collective action. Hence, hierarchical and market-based institutions can coexist alongside the institutions of network governance highlighted by Rhodes and Stoker. The combination of different modes of governance (networks, hierarchy and market) can be observed throughout the developing stages of particular organizational forms, such as PPPs (ibid.); or more generally by treating government and governance as related entities in a form of continuum (Jordan et al., 2005). This article focuses upon the combination of hierarchy and network governance in two Mexican cities, where institutional legacies are related to hierarchical modes of governance identified as part of the authoritarian regime (existing from 1930 to 1994).

An institutional approach to understanding urban governance

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. The relationship between macro-level processes and urban governance
  4. An institutional approach to understanding urban governance
  5. Institutions and the Mexican context
  6. The coexistence of old and new institutions in urban governance: a case study investigation
  7. Conclusions
  8. References

If governance is to be understood as an instituted process, it is important to specify the main characteristics of an institutional approach to the study of Mexican urban politics. Here institutionalism refers to the ‘new institutionalist’ approach, shifting away from the formal and legalistic understandings of institutions that were prevalent in political science at the end of the 1950s (March and Olsen, 1984; Lowndes, 2001).

There are many ways of interpreting new institutionalism that differ in relation both to ontological position and to the substantive factors upon which a particular study focuses: For example, values, norms and beliefs versus rules affecting the structure of arenas of action (March and Olsen, 1989: Chapter 1; Ostrom, 1999). For the purposes of this article, new institutionalism is characterized by the following factors:

  • • 
    Institutions are not only related to political organizations but are also concerned with the sets of rules that guide and constrain individual behaviour.
  • • 
    Institutions are dynamic; they are constantly changing or transforming themselves (Pierson, 2004). This dynamism is characterized by old and new institutions coexisting within the same period of transition or change. However, path dependencies (embedded in old institutions) in many circumstances delimit the trajectory of change.
  • • 
    Political institutions are embedded within wider institutional frameworks that exist above, below and alongside them; so, for example, local institutions depend on higher tiers of government (national and supranational), on institutional templates that circulate in the wider society and economy (e.g. media and education), and on specific cultures, conventions and historical patterns (Lowndes, 2005: 294).
  • • 
    Institutions are conceived as both formal and informal. Formal organizations and arrangements are stated in written documents (‘rules-in-form’). In contrast, informal forms are not explicitly written down, but are commonly known by a group of actors or the general public. Informal forms are contained within ‘rules-in-use’ which may conflict with the rules-in-form; the former may have just the same direct effect on behaviour as the latter (Ostrom, 1999; Lowndes, 2005).
  • • 
    If institutions change over time, then the values, beliefs, symbols and meanings held by actors change as well. This change happens when cleavages across actor groups give rise to beliefs and interpretations that override the established rules (March and Olsen, 1984: Chapter 3).
  • • 
    Institutions include not only the systems of government, but also the arrangements for policymaking and the relationship between civil society and government. Consider, for example, public–private or public–community partnerships and the decisions taken within these partnerships symbolizing the qualities that are valued (e.g. information gathering, citizen consultation).

Institutions and the Mexican context

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. The relationship between macro-level processes and urban governance
  4. An institutional approach to understanding urban governance
  5. Institutions and the Mexican context
  6. The coexistence of old and new institutions in urban governance: a case study investigation
  7. Conclusions
  8. References

The dynamism of political institutions in Mexico can be observed in the transformation that socio-political institutions have undergone through the implementation of structural adjustment polices. These changes are identified through the mix of highly bureaucratized and hierarchical institutions and the incorporation of private institutions within the Mexican governmental and political systems. These changes have had an effect upon new forms of administration and fiscal and political decentralizations (Rodríguez et al., 1999; Cabrero, 2003). Also, managerial changes have had an effect upon subnational levels of government, as they have slowly begun to adapt those changes within their local administrations and political systems.

The transition to a democratic regime, apart from transforming the structure of the electoral system across different tiers of government, has also changed the ways in which the relationships between the state and civil society have developed. This transition has involved a complex interrelationship between different levels of institutions, underlining the importance of institutional embeddedness. On the one hand, the roles of international organizations such as the World Bank, the United Nations and the OECD have been relevant in this interrelationship, as their recommendations have helped to enhance institutional changes associated with network modes of governance, managerial strategies and new forms of organization such as PPPs (World Bank, 2001: Chapter 33; OECD, 2006: Chapter 15). On the other hand, institutional legacies or path dependencies prevail, shaping the trajectory of institutional change. Their prevalence sometimes prevents change by producing long stretches of institutional stability, but at other times institutional legacies become opportunities for change (Pierson, 2004). The institutional legacies identified here are related to three characteristics of the authoritarian regime: corporatism, social segmentation and organizational fragmentation.2 These legacies have become both opportunities that prompt change and obstacles that hinder reforms from becoming part of the status quo. Change is understood as the subnational democratization process combined with the implementation, at the local level, of entrepreneurially oriented policies and the promotion of partnerships between the public and private sectors for promoting urban regeneration.


This legacy is associated with the ‘political structure that tend[ed] to eliminate competition for power and emphasize conciliation among different societal groups through their vertical or subordinated relationship with the state apparatus’ (Reyna, 1977: 156). Corporatism involved different groups from civil society (workers, peasants, popular groups), as well as political representatives from different tiers of government.

All these groups had communication with the authoritarian state, which was managed and administered by one ruling political party: the Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Institucional— PRI). Although all these groups had a relationship with the state, the state used separate and different channels to deal exclusively with each of them. Through these fragmented mechanisms, a structure of control was built.

The whole corporate structure was centralized in the figure of the president, hence the maximum institutional control emanated from federal government and its ministries. Subnational figures equivalent to the president were also found at other levels in local bosses, state governors and municipal presidents or mayors. Thus, it has been common to find, since authoritarian times, governors and mayors performing as if they owned their posts without being accountable to the state congress, municipal council or to the general public (Ramírez, 1998; Cornelius et al., 1999).

Corporatism shaped agents' behaviour through ‘clientelism’, defined as a system of loyalties of the people to a leader (Meyer, 1977). The leader in the authoritarian period was personified, at a national level, in the president during his administration. Clientelistic relationships have also been observed at other levels of political power and across the public, private and, since the 1980s, voluntary sectors (Ramírez, 2003; Santín, 2004). The dependence that citizens have had on a particular leader has enhanced paternalistic and protectionist relationships inherited from colonial times. This paternalism has been associated with the formulation and implementation of policies, programmes and projects adopting a top-down approach: from national to other subnational levels of government and from governors to citizens.

Clientelism has also been associated with cooptation strategies, represented by loyalty to a leader or the political party the leader represents. It has taken the form of exchanges of favours benefiting the interests of the supporters (or loyalists). Since authoritarianism, enhanced personal loyalties have existed between the president and the leaders of social groups representing workers, politicians, industrialists, street traders, government employees, educated professionals and peasants.

Many of these personal arrangements have been characterized by informality (they are not documented) and have been unaccountable to the public. These arrangements were so widespread that they became part of the political culture in Mexico and still prevail across different localities in the country (Ramírez, 1998). These personal and informal arrangements exemplify how the rules-in-use do not follow the rules-in-form (e.g. the legal framework).

In authoritarian times, the system of loyalty to the leader prompted rivalries between factions or cliques. The corporatist structure, however, glued these factions together through the cooptation and discipline that the PRI used to overcome political instability (Meyer, 1977). Repression was the main mechanism for the achievement of discipline. Thus, political control was exercised through the use of force (military or police) against dissident groups that threatened the regime or through intolerant disciplinary policies that prevented their demands from being formulated (Reyna, 1977; Ramírez, 1998).

Politicians who supported authoritarianism were aware that a regime based on force was weak, so in trying to legitimize the regime's actions a populist discourse was deployed in combination with authoritarian control (Meyer, 1977; Reyna, 1977). The ideas underpinning the creation of the PRI were those of national sovereignty and social justice (income redistribution) that popular groups fought for during the revolution. But, in practice, the main goals of the regime favoured the interests of national elite industrialists and promoted policies that neutralized or discouraged the mobilization of mass popular groups (Reyna, 1977: 156).

Social segmentation

The corporatist system was organized on the basis of four pillars, each comprising a social group distinguished from the others by socioeconomic background and differences in power, social position and life chances in general. The activities of the groups constituting the four pillars, and decisions relating to their interests, ran in parallel without interacting — hence the segmentation. Nevertheless, all four tended towards the same nucleus, the executive power of the corporatist regime. The pillars represented workers, peasants, popular groups and elite groups. The relationships between the state and these pillars were characterized by their personal and informal nature, thereby emphasizing the presence of rules-in-use.

Since the early twentieth century, the elite groups have been classified into five categories: politicians, capitalists (entrepreneurs), military, clergy and intellectuals (Camp, 2002). Even though the elite groups move in separate circles, there are links that join them together. This has been the case, for example, with politicians who, since revolutionary times, have joined the ranks of entrepreneurs when their official term of duty has concluded (especially after being president —Meyer, 1977; Smith, 1979). While the political elite has historically been concentrated in Mexico City, the development of the democratization and decentralization processes has served to increase the influence of provincial elites on national decision-making (Camp, 2002). Moreover, it has been argued that political and entrepreneurial elites have played an important role in shaping the urban policy of different Mexican cities (Miranda, 2000; Davis, 2002; Cabrero, 2005).

With regard to repression, it seems that its prevalence may vary according to socioeconomic status and position. Although there is no formal and direct correlation showing that the higher the class group, the lower the probability of experiencing state repression, there are examples that would appear to contribute to this argument. The repression of marginalized groups has been common since the nineteenth century, and has particularly affected indigenous and urban popular groups, including students, teachers and intellectuals (Meyer, 1977; Reyna, 1977; Davis, 2002). All of the cases in which force has been used reveal a tendency of the state to transgress legal mechanisms in order to keep mass groups in line. By contrast, the state has typically not gone as far as the law would allow in controlling groups that support capitalist interests (Puente et al., 1993; Shirk, 1999; Levy et al., 2001: 144).

The democratization process has created new institutions, including forms of organization that enable the participation of different social groups. Nevertheless, it has been observed that, during the process of gaining stability and legitimacy, privileged groups, such as elite business groups, have been the most favoured in participatory and influential terms (e.g. when pursuing the 1990s free trade agreement —Dresser, 1996; Kleinberg, 1999). Throughout the development of the three macro processes — neoliberal structural reforms, the consolidation of a competitive electoral system and the development of political and administrative decentralization — it has been observed that the outcomes relating to political rights have undermined (and in some cases excluded) the participation of marginalized groups suffering poverty and low education or representing ethnic minorities (Zermeño, 1997; Ramírez, 2003; Navarro, 2006). Moreover, some municipal participatory systems have tended to organize the participation of social groups in segmented ways. The inclusion (or exclusion) of social groups within national political policies and local participatory policies reflects the legacies of the social pillars that sustained the authoritarian regime.

Organizational fragmentation

Fragmentation among organizations can be caused by a low capacity for coordination, independent of any particular type of regime. But organizational fragmentation can also be considered as an authoritarian legacy; in many cases, what seemed to be a low capacity for coordination among organizations representing different sectors or tiers of government, in fact worked as a strategy of control intended to guarantee the concentration of the power to direct a specific policy or programme in the hands of central government (Cornelius et al., 1999). ‘Deliberative’ segmentation shows how this legacy can involve rules designed to maintain a low level of coordination among stakeholders.

The authoritarian concentration of power has commonly been observed in the relationships between national and subnational levels of government, where all the important decisions were made in consultation with the president and federal ministers. Governors were appointed and nominated by the PRI, with the president's approval. A similar situation occurred at state level where the governor appointed the politicians within local government, including the municipality. When local politicians were able to divert local policies from the main course that national policies were following, the political cost they incurred was high; one example of this was the removal of a politician from his post despite his successful achievement of outcomes beneficial to the public (Davis, 2002). Maintaining local control by the centre involved corruption. Organizational fragmentation tended to push politicians towards corruption (e.g. making great fortunes) for as long as unaccountable processes prevailed; the president would be fully informed about this behaviour, which contributed to the strengthening of the system of loyalties (Meyer, 1977).

In the 1980s, as the transition to democracy began, the relationships of control between the centre and the periphery also started to change. Decentralization policies and the achievements of other political parties in administering various municipalities across the country sparked new tensions that aimed to weaken the centralized power of decision. These tensions brought about a change of attitude with regard to corrupt behaviour. For example, corruption was reduced through fiscal and budgetary reforms that helped to break the political dependency of subnational tiers of government on federal decisions (Bezdek, 1996; Turner, 2002). Corruption has also been reduced through the creation of institutions beyond systems of government, such as public–private relationships and participation systems intended to promote local development in participatory and accountable ways (OECD, 2006). Nevertheless, it is within these institutional reforms that the legacy of fragmented organizations is still observed.

The coexistence of old and new institutions in urban governance: a case study investigation

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. The relationship between macro-level processes and urban governance
  4. An institutional approach to understanding urban governance
  5. Institutions and the Mexican context
  6. The coexistence of old and new institutions in urban governance: a case study investigation
  7. Conclusions
  8. References

In Mexico, as in the rest of Latin America, public service provision has become a key element encompassed by the discourse of democratization. In the 1980s, urban popular movements became the means for claiming socio-economic rights from the state and innovators in developing their own ways of providing urban services to their communities. Urban movements contributed to the discourse of democratization through the engagement and empowerment of grassroots groups in the participation of service provision. Twenty-five years later, these self-determined forms of organization were adopted by local governments, first by political parties of the left when in office and later on by centre-right and conservative parties, as in the case of participatory budgeting. Chavez and Goldfrank (2004) argue that the Latin American municipal governments that have promoted innovative forms of citizen participation have been able to improve the quality of services. Other scholars (Arzaluz, 2002; Avritzer, 2006) highlight that sometimes managerial practices need to be developed in order to guarantee the robustness and efficiency of new participatory forms. The encounter of these two perspectives causes an overlap of values such as participation, self-government and co-responsibility — all of them deriving from both grassroots and neoliberal discourses of democracy. In several Mexican cities, the blend of values has indeed challenged the old belief in the state as a sole provider of services, but has not guaranteed the empowerment of traditionally excluded groups because their ‘grassroots mobilizing capacity’ (Dagnino, 2007) has tended to be undermined by the mix of values and rules.

Alongside democratization, Mexican urban policy has begun to change, from being directed by federal government to being administered by subnational governments guided by the federal tier (Garza, 1999). Devolution in urban policy is interpreted as the need for the localities to create territories that can be economically productive and competitive with the global urban system (OECD, 1998; Cabrero et al., 2003; SEDESOL, 2001).

Supported by international recommendations from the World Bank, OECD and UN, the federal government has emphasized that national and local economic development should favour a multi-actor responsibility by promoting citizen participation and partnership with different sectors of society (in the 2000–06 Development Programme, available at Consequently, urban development programmes have included, as part of their strategies, the coordination and collaboration of the public and private sectors and the participation of citizens to promote development. In particular, the creation of regeneration partnerships in the 2000s responded to the federal government and UNESCO's influence in promoting world heritage sites for conservation within a broader urban environment of development (PCH_1, 2001; CCCH, 2004; SEDESOL, 2002–6).

In Mexico, the creation of PPPs for regeneration has been a slow process, partly because there are no legal frameworks to specify how these organizations should work, and partly because of unsuccessful experiences with the privatization of certain public services (García, 2003). The lack of formal (written) regulation has facilitated the retention of informal arrangements (or rules-in-use), especially when these partnerships are formed of members who have some linkage with the local elites. There is nothing new in the collaboration between Mexican politicians and business groups in the promotion of urban infrastructure; this sort of collaboration has occurred since postcolonial times and later in the twentieth century through trusts (fideicomisos) and pacts (e.g. water, sewerage, road networks —Monroy and Calvillo, 1997; Miranda, 2000; Davis, 2002).

Nevertheless, the PPPs referred to in this article are understood as a new form of organization that tends to formalize, in the eyes of the public, a loose collaboration between governmental agencies and the private sector and becomes the main body responsible for urban regeneration within initiatives managed by subnational levels of government (state and municipal), but embedded within national and international guidelines. Promoting partnerships encourages acceptance of this type of organization. The adoption of PPPs in local regeneration programmes (which do not include regulation) is a way of legitimizing organizational structures compatible with a city's traditions, competitiveness and democratic environment.

By focusing on the historic-centre regeneration partnerships of Querétaro and San Luis Potosí (SLP), it is possible to examine the challenges involved in overcoming the three institutional legacies (corporatism, social segmentation and organizational fragmentation). The analysis is based on fieldwork carried out from November 2003 to November 2004. This involved the study of the social relationships within the historic-centre regeneration partnerships in the two cities and their relationship with other forms of political organization in the historic centres. The data were collected through semi-structured interviews, a documentary review of official and private reports and regulations, and observation of meetings carried out by the partnerships and other participatory groups involved in historic-centre projects.

SLP and Querétaro are middle-sized cities located in central Mexico. Both municipalities are characterized by the colonial architecture of their historic centres. The importance of the centres' preservation and development has partly led to the creation of these partnerships, each pursuing different aims and projects. The purpose of the following section is not to highlight the similarities and differences between the two partnerships, but rather to illustrate the ways in which the three legacies of authoritarianism are reflected in them. Table 1 lists the key characteristics of these cities and their partnerships.

Table 1.  Key characteristics of Querétaro and San Luis Potosí
CharacteristicsQuerétaroSan Luis Potosí
  • *

    Municipality only

Geographical location220 km from Mexico City. Situated along the free trade corridor with the US and Canada.420 km from Mexico City, similar distance from Guadalajara and Monterrey. Situated along the free trade corridor with the US and Canada.
Economic activitiesFood processing, automotive and heavy machinery, chemical/pharmaceutical industries; an increasingly tertiary sector.Food processing, automotive and heavy machinery industries; an increasingly tertiary sector.
Population in 2000*641,386670,532
Area (km2)*759.91,450
Historic centreArea 4 km2Area 8.4 km2
National and world heritage siteNational heritage site
Enhances the city's potential as a trade/tourist gatewayEnhances the city's potential as a trade/tourist gateway
Political parties in office representing the executive state and municipal governments since 1997Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and the conservative National Action Party (PAN)PRI and PAN
Creation of PPPThrough a municipal government initiative in 2001Through a state government initiative in 1997
PPPs' main activitiesTo conserve the centre's layout and buildings; produce the historic-centre development plan, and initiate the inclusion of NBs and individual citizens.To achieve the world heritage nomination and prepare the historic-centre development plan.
PPPs' main partnersState Department of Monuments & Sites, INAH, PPP's chief executive and president, 2000–03 mayor, bishop. Other partners representing the chamber of industry and members of aristocratic families involved in prestigious local businesses and firms.State Tourism Office, INAH, SLP University, Municipal Department of Urban Planning, PPP's chief executive and president, governor 1997–2003, archbishop. Other partners representing the chambers of commerce and industry, deputies of state congress, and civil associations concerned with the conservation of the city centre.


An outcome that broke with the legacies of corporatism was observed when private sector representatives became involved in the policymaking of regeneration.3 The combination of representatives from the public and private sectors (as specified in Table 1) in the partnerships' membership was considered in both cases to be an innovation in organizational politics. In SLP, the partnership's clear and instrumental project served to stimulate the participation and collaboration of antagonistic groups divided by differences in political ideologies. In Querétaro, the partnership was founded as a civil association, meaning that the implementation of regeneration policies was, at least in theory, in the hands of a private organization rather than a governmental agency.

At the same time, some corporatist legacies were also observed, which prevented the incipient forms of organization from being characterized as governance networks. There was significant governmental intervention in the decision-making of the regeneration programmes. First, the importance of government was observed in the creation of these partnerships. Without the direct intervention of the governor of SLP in 1997 and the city mayor of Querétaro in 2000, these partnerships would probably not have been created. The direct role of the state and municipal executives was recognized by the two partnerships as invaluable (interviews with partnership officers: 16 December 2003 and 5 October 2004); this was due in part to the power centralized in the person of the executive. The ability to designate the partnerships as the executive's personal projects allowed the regeneration programmes to be managed by staff from the offices of the governor or mayor, thereby avoiding, for example, the potential counterweight that the legislative bodies might have generated.

Secondly, governmental resources financing the regeneration partnerships maintained the governmental centralization of power. In SLP the state government financed the partnership's administration and management. The partnership's operations were partly financed by private initiatives like the state university, which paid for office utilities. Nevertheless, the main costs were covered by government resources. In the case of Querétaro, some private funds (or donations by local businesses) were used to pay certain managerial costs and also a small percentage of the regeneration costs. However, most of the costs resulting from the regeneration projects were covered by municipal or federal resources. This financial control gave government in both cities an important leverage in decision-making.

Thirdly, power was centralized in the hands of federal government. This was observed in the dominance of INAH (National Institute of Anthropology and History) over other partners during the decision-making process, due to the concentration of technical knowledge on conservation that the Institute had acquired since authoritarian times. The relationship between INAH and the partnership in SLP was one of great dependence, because of the Institute's role as main adviser in the development of the city's bid for the world heritage nomination (interviews with partnership officers: 15 October 2004). In Querétaro, the relationship was marked by a far greater degree of rivalry insofar as the partnership's executive body started to acquire more knowledge of conservation and of the development of historic sites. The Institute's views seem to have prevailed, but undoubtedly the partnership began to challenge the hegemonic power of INAH and its ally, the State Department of Monuments and Sites. The rivalry between INAH and the partnership in Querétaro was deepened when the latter, seeking to generate its own resources, decided to sell an electronic catalogue of the city's colonial assets. Upset about the fact that a private agency was going to sell information to INAH and the state department (both representing the ‘public interest’), the two government bodies decided to boycott the partnership's efforts by creating their own catalogue (interview with INAH officer: 22 June 2004).

The legacies of corporatism co-existing with network governance were identified through the participation of private sector representatives in a formal collaboration between the public and the private sectors. The creation of these partnerships exemplifies a tendency towards pluralism in decision-making that moves away from the sole control of government. But the historical concentration of knowledge, resources and power relations that government officials and politicians enjoyed, seemed to provide them with an advantage over the private partners, undermining the concept of governance as networks. Furthermore, whenever attempts were made to overcome the dominance of government in order to achieve more horizontal relationships, government agents were the first to react against shared policymaking.

Social segmentation

To understand how the legacy of social segmentation is reflected in the two regeneration partnerships, it is necessary first to consider the systems of participation in Querétaro and SLP. As a result of national fiscal and political decentralization policies in combination with local democratic discourses, the municipal governments of these two cities published similar regulations on how to implement citizen participation. Although these regulations (SLP, 1997; 1998; QRO, 1998) reveal complex systems of participation, specifically promoting pluralism in the policymaking of urban development and planning that was non-existent before the waves of decentralization and democratization, there have been weaknesses in the way they have been implemented, which are associated with institutional legacies.

The participation systems are here simplified into two tiers: citizen councils (CCs) or committees and neighbourhood boards (NBs). The CCs were generally composed of senior officials from executive and legislative bodies and citizens with technical knowledge of specific urban areas (transport, water distribution and treatment, investment, regeneration, land use, etc.).4 Thus, it was common for these citizens to be representatives of prestigious private organizations, such as local chambers of commerce and industry, the clergy, NGOs, professional associations and academic institutions. The councils aimed to give advice to government; in limited cases they were involved in the formulation and implementation of long-term urban policies aiming to promote the whole city's development. Some of these councils worked as decentralized agencies of municipal government (e.g. institutes of municipal planning). It is possible to group PPPs with these councils because of their social characteristics and ambiguous status under Mexican law. In SLP the regeneration partnership worked as a citizen advisory council, whereas in Querétaro it worked as a not-for-profit civil association.

By contrast, the NBs were composed of frontline officials and democratically elected citizens, who were residents of a specific area; thus, their aims were centred on improving quality of life at neighbourhood level. These improvements were carried out through public works such as asphalting, disposal of sewerage, waste collection, electricity supply and house painting. The citizens participating in these boards tended to be more ‘ordinary’, from any type of social background and with any level of education. The allocation of resources, formulation of public works and their implementation simulated the process of participatory budgeting in Porto Alegre. These projects had no impact on the holistic development of the cities; instead they tended to solve immediate local problems. Low-income citizens tended to participate more in these boards than middle-income citizens, who generally lived in residential areas with well-equipped and maintained urban services.

Although the participatory systems aimed in theory to be as inclusive as possible, none of them were designed to incorporate the participation of organic community or collective groups. If any of these groups wanted to become part of these systems, they had to act through individual citizens. An alternative for collective groups was to deal with the governor or mayor directly after a series of demonstrations or protests. But this practice was less common in these two cities because of the repressive strategies that political parties in office implemented (see Table 3).

Table 3.  The main background characteristics of street traders
 QuerétaroSan Luis Potosí
ClientelismMany street trader organizations were associated with political parties. The majority in the city centre were affiliated to the left-wing Democratic Revolutionary Party. Others claimed partisan autonomy.Many street trader organizations claimed partisan autonomy. However, a significant number of street traders in the city centre were part of urban mobilizations affiliated to the PRI.
Repression by the stateIn 1998, municipal and state governments promoted innovative forms of negotiation with street traders, aiming to relocate many of the vendors out of the city centre and to enhance fiscal and hygienic measures, including uniformed stalls. These negotiations followed repressive acts against urban mobilizations supporting street trading and indigenous rights.In 1993, repressive acts aimed to move street traders away from the city centre. The repression responded to local businesses' demonstrations against street traders' anti-social behaviour and tax evasion. In order to avoid further political unrest (as SLP was the centre of many anti-authoritarian protests in 1989–1992), municipal and state governments decided to use the police force to maintain social order.
Street traders and popular mobilizationsIn both cities, street trader organizations were affiliated to partisan and non-partisan popular mobilizations demanding better urban services and the implementation of human rights (including the social acceptance of informal housing and economic activities as alternative ways of living).

The legacies relating to the social pillars discussed above are identified when the structure of the systems of participation in Querétaro and SLP are combined with the organizations involved in the regeneration of both city centres. The formation of both partnerships required citizens with technical knowledge and a reputation for conserving historic sites. Historically, it has been the local aristocracy and the middle classes who have been the most interested in promoting the heritage of the cities. Unsurprisingly, then, the memberships of the partnerships were composed of family members of the old aristocracy (landlords before the revolution) and representatives of business and professional organizations (see Table 1).

The greater pluralism that characterized the partnerships' membership was undermined by the exclusion of other groups that played a relevant role in the life of the historic centres, such as neighbourhood boards and organic organizations such as those representing street traders. It can be argued that the exclusion of neighbourhood boards from the two cases was mainly due to the NBs' strong demands for urban services and their maintenance (e.g. solutions to flooding or water scarcity), whereas the partnerships' interests rested upon improving and conserving the image of the city centres. Table 2 underlines in more detail the extent to which the neighbourhood boards were excluded from the partnerships' policies and projects.

Table 2.  Neighbourhood boards and their exclusion from the partnerships' strategies
 QuerétaroSan Luis Potosí
Strategies of inclusionPublic consultations (open to any citizen using and living in the city centre) to define the partnership's agenda. Also the creation of a website containing the aims and projects carried out by the partnership.None.
Actions highlighting exclusive actsNo transparency to the public of financial sources sponsoring the regeneration projects.No transparency or clarity to the public of financial sources sponsoring regeneration projects.
No accountability to the general public: e.g. no written reports, a dated website, no written codes of conduct directing the partnership, and no clarity on how decisions were made.No accountable processes reporting to the public.

The higher residential rate of Querétaro's city centre compared with that of SLP explains to some extent why the partnership in Querétaro was under greater pressure to design citizen consultations for shaping its agenda and planning programme. Also, its better organizational capacity allowed it to design and implement various consultation exercises that had not even occurred to the partnership in SLP due to its absorption in the pursuit of a world heritage nomination for the city. Nevertheless, both cases showed limitations in reporting to the general public, accentuating the exclusion of other citizens and local civil groups interested in conservation (interviews with partnership officers: 15 June 2004 and 5 October 2004).

Although the partnerships and the NBs aimed to shape different levels of urban policy, there were issues that could have brought them together, especially when related to projects for regeneration and the provision of urban infrastructure affecting people's daily lives (e.g. a reduction of traffic and crime, street asphalting and house-façade painting). But when the objectives of the two tiers of participation coincided, little coordination between the partnerships and the NBs in the city centre was observed. This problem is discussed further in the next section.

Regarding the street traders, it is possible that their exclusion from the partnerships was based on two factors underlying the traditional view of them held by Mexican society: they are organized on the basis of a clientelistic system; and they support the informal economy as an alternative source of income. Politicians and civil groups have regarded both as causes of local political stress and economic instability (Cross, 1998; Ramírez, 2003: 139). Street vendors have been associated with disorder in Querétaro and SLP since the 1950s because of their participation in social demonstrations and mobilizations. They protested against urban projects that favoured industrial development and undermined labour relations, including limited housing and urban services (Silva, 1984; QRO, 1998a; Davis, 2002; SLP, 2003; Cabrero, 2005; Roberts, 2005).

Analysis of the street-trader characteristics listed in Table 3 lead one to suggest that clientelism and repression are what puts a distance between organic forms and systems of participation. In particular, the regeneration partnerships, in their aim to break with clientelistic structures, seemed to be reluctant to deal with organic forms of participation that sustained the old regime (interview with partnership president: 25 October 2004). This reluctance has overlooked, on the one hand, how some street trader organizations have been slowly democratizing themselves by becoming more autonomous and thus breaking with certain aspects of clientelism and corruption (interviews with street vendors: 24 June 2004 and 7 November 2004). On the other hand, it has left unquestioned the problems that the partnerships encountered in relation to the transparency and accountability of their own processes (see Table 2). The stigmatized perception of street traders, combined with a municipal system of participation that is on the brink of stratifying citizen participation in terms of knowledge and skills, brought to the forefront of this analysis legacies of social segmentation and repression which were difficult to ignore.

Organizational fragmentation

Although the creation of the two regeneration PPPs followed national and local policies of development and citizen participation, there were loose links that underlined the weakness of the coordination between different organizations and the partnerships. The partnership in Querétaro, for example, attempted to overcome the culture of paternalism by trying to act as the main coordinator between different levels of government and developers. Its aim was to improve the housing conditions in San Sebastian, a low-income neighbourhood in the city centre. However, its low credibility (as a newly created organization) and lack of authority (not being a governmental body in the full sense) undermined its capacity to gather together key federal and state housing agencies and private developers to discuss the matter (interviews with partnership officers: 15 June 2004 and 23 June 2007). Its low credibility was indeed aggravated when the 2003–6 municipal administration replaced the administration that had originally launched the partnership. As the secretary of the partnership declared about their relationship with the, at the time, relatively new municipal administration:

If right now we have to evaluate our relationship with [municipal] government, we can say that it has been polite and friendly . . . but there is no support or coordinated support between us (interview with partnership officer: 23 June 2004, author's translation).

The level of trust that private and governmental stakeholders had in the partnership's requests for coordination showed how the role of government was important not only for its resources and knowledge, but also because its intervention was part of civil individuals' beliefs about how to get things done. Paradoxically, in an era in which social and political discourses have tended to criticize the concentration of decision-making in the hands of government, the central participation of government in these regeneration projects acted as a mark of trust and reputation, serving to promote civil participation.

The partnerships' experience of managing their strategies and policies provides another example of the limited articulation in collaboration. In both cases, their main concern was to maintain their immediate raison d'être, obstructing improvements that might have developed with respect to planning and interacting with other existing forms of participation. In Querétaro the executive board was too worried about acquiring legitimacy and sufficient municipal resources to proceed with the development of its projects after the 2000–03 municipal administration lost power. In SLP, the executive board was more worried about completing UNESCO's application form to achieve world nomination as a means of obtaining more conversation resources.

In this situation of political uncertainty, state and municipal governments were to become relevant by helping the partnerships to consolidate their status as legitimate organizations. Their intervention would allow the partnerships to focus more on effective planning and productive outcomes, including improvements in coordination and collaboration with government officials, other citizen councils, NBs and perhaps street traders. Subnational tiers of government, however, did not focus on these issues. Instead an executive figure, the governor or mayor, attained major importance in the process of finding solutions to extending the partnerships' existence.

The executive figure took primary responsibility for managing, in a fragmented way, all the different structures of participation: partnerships, NBs and street vendors. This resembled the legacies of authoritarianism, in which fragmented organizational structures left the presidential figure at the centre of a corporatist decision-making structure.

In addition to this lack of coordination, Mexican ‘pragmatism’ in getting things done (Ramírez, 2003) was enhanced by undermining an inclusive and deliberative approach. This pragmatism was associated with ‘image boosting’ tendencies that were pursued by the subnational governments in both cities. Exclusive dialogue between the members of each partnership, and in particular the predominance of government stakeholders, was perceived as a fast way of achieving decisions and outcomes, several of which involved informal arrangements and did not follow accountable processes. These decisions tended to support broader local policies in search of private investment in both city centres.

In Querétaro, the regeneration projects carried out in 2000–03 supported the mayor's plan to promote the city as an important international trade centre. In SLP, the regeneration of the city centre during the early 2000s aimed to complement the works in urban infrastructure that the state and municipal governments launched in order to attract foreign direct investment. In both cases, the combination of a weak coordinating capacity between different organizations concerned with political participation and the social fragmentation that the systems of participation inherited, rendered the regeneration projects mere instruments for supporting the competitiveness of these cities, rather than holistic strategies which, among other things, aimed to integrate and strengthen civil and citizen participation.


  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. The relationship between macro-level processes and urban governance
  4. An institutional approach to understanding urban governance
  5. Institutions and the Mexican context
  6. The coexistence of old and new institutions in urban governance: a case study investigation
  7. Conclusions
  8. References

This article has argued that the study of urban governance as networks in Mexico needs to be related to the development of three macro-level processes: neoliberalization, decentralization and democratization. By emphasizing the importance of institutionalism, it has argued that the environment that created the basis for network governance coexisted with an institutional environment characterized by the hierarchal modes of governance extant during the authoritarian regime. This coexistence was understood through the dynamism of institutions that underline the importance of time and space, and thus of old and new institutions acting together to promote or halt change. The article has also showed the difficulty of separating legacies of corporatism, social segmentation and organizational fragmentation from new institutions in which the local state and civil society relate. Collaboration between government agencies and the private sector has not been considered an innovative form of organization since it has existed since authoritarian times. Instead, the new element in this collaboration was its transformation into a local regeneration partnership and its struggle to formalize itself as a new institution challenging the old state monopolization of decision-making.

The three macro-level processes mentioned above have affected national and local institutions characterizing other countries in Latin America and Europe. For example, similar patterns have been identified in urban regeneration PPPs where British analyses (Sullivan and Skelcher, 2002; Hambleton et al., 2003; Coleman, 2004; Swyngedouw, 2005) have highlighted the challenges of introducing democratic participatory methods in urban policymaking, management strategies, (de)centralization processes and agencification. These challenges provide a basis for further reflection and research in comparative urban governance beyond a Western and industrialized perspective — a discussion that this journal has encouraged in recent symposia (Melo and Baiocchi, 2006; Beaumont and Nicholls, 2008). This article has underlined the potential for the concept of network governance to develop in a context different from the British one, but also emphasized the ways in which the analysis of the concept is affected by the incorporation of Mexican authoritarianism. The institutional legacies discussed in the article are by no means exhaustive; rather, they are intended to stimulate reflection on the benefits of comparative study, and of defining similarities and differences within the evolution of macro-level trends.


  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. The relationship between macro-level processes and urban governance
  4. An institutional approach to understanding urban governance
  5. Institutions and the Mexican context
  6. The coexistence of old and new institutions in urban governance: a case study investigation
  7. Conclusions
  8. References
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  • 1

    This view of neoliberalism complements other approaches referring to it as a policy model for the development of capitalism, or as an economic agenda of the 1980s that, after being implemented over a period of more than 20 years, has affected social and political forms of organization and behaviour (Robinson, 2003: 57; Held, 2005). In following this view, this article does not suggest that neoliberalism determines all spheres of social life, but acknowledges its capacity for seizing the structures of opportunity promoted by national and local specificities. For example, neoliberal policies in Mexico complemented demands by democratic movements, insofar as reduced interventionism on the part of the state and an enhanced role for the private sector in economic policy decisions coincided with the weakening of a bureaucratic, interventionist authoritarian state and the strengthening of civil society.

  • 2

    Other legacies of authoritarianism, which are not addressed in this article, include corruption and the emergence of secular (anti-Catholic) ideals.

  • 3

    For the purposes of the fieldwork, the private sector involved local business and professional groups, the clergy and civil associations.

  • 4

    Citizen councils also existed in other policy areas, such as health and education.