Urban health

Multidisciplinary collaborations in Mexico City, Mexico

21 April 2021
4 min read

In Mexico City, we saw how bringing together experts from different sectors helped them to tackle urban health challenges.

This city profile is part of a series of ten, exploring how cities around the world are addressing health inequalities. Read the full report and sign up to receive more insights from us.

About Mexico City

Mexico City accommodates nearly 22 million people, representing close to 20% of Mexico’s national population. The city has a similar population size to London who lives at higher, though relatively low-rise, density (at 15,600 people per square kilometre).

The city is described as a ‘melting pot of all of Mexico’. A 2015 study undertaken by the National Institute of Statistics and Geography estimated that the population was 47% white, 30% unclassified/Mestizo, 21% indigenous and 1% Black. However, it is worth noting that Mexico does not collect official census data on ethnicity and shifting definitional categories produce highly variable estimates depending on the source.

Mexico City is a highly unequal city, both socially and spatially. A 2019 study found that residents in wealthier districts had 113 times better access to public hospital beds, 21 times better access to public transport and 1.5 times better access to food supply facilities, as compared to residents in poorer districts.

Currently, the Mexican health sector is implementing public policies that tackle the social determinants of health, mainly to reduce health inequities. However, only a few of these policies involve other sectors and barriers such as government effectiveness and leadership, as well as limited research and data for decision making, remain significant challenges.

In numbers


of the population represent indigenous communities


more than a third of residents live in poverty

113 x

wealthier areas had 113 times better access to hospital beds

Working in partnership to improve urban health

Mexico City is committed to taking a multidisciplinary approach to urban health. By bringing together experts from many different sectors with activists, academics, local communities, politicians and businesses, they together devised creative and sustainable solutions to the city’s health challenges.

While political will and leadership is important, bringing activists, communities and civil society into the design and development of solutions can help them survive political cycles. Dispersing leadership by bringing together a diverse ecosystem of people from across organisational boundaries, disciplines and sectors can help to embed change and build creative solutions that can be carried forward in the long term.

Initiative explored: Laboratorio para la Ciudad

Laboratorio para la Ciudad was an experimental and creative area of the government of Mexico City that ran from 2013 to 2018. It provided a space in which local people, civil society, academia, private initiatives and government met to tackle urban challenges. The Lab explored urban creativity with the aim of generating participation, collaboration and co-creation with people and communities. The Lab’s methodology was to design, disseminate and promote the adoption of creative solutions to urban challenges. It formed six teams, composed of non-governmental organisations, activists and universities. It then created a portfolio of experiments, each focused on an urban challenge, that a multidisciplinary community worked together to tackle. These experiments included:

  • Pedestrian City which dealt with issues around mobility
  • Open City which looked at democracy and governance
  • Playful City which asked how can you use play as a city making tool and bring in a children’s perspective?
  • Participatory City which focused on revamping participatory budgeting in Mexico City
  • Creative City which invited groups from the arts and humanities to share their creative perspective on how to build bonds in the urban landscape

How has this approach supported improvements in health?

This multidisciplinary approach gave sustainability and stability to initiatives. While the Lab did not survive a change in government, many of its projects were continued and scaled by activists, communities and partner organisations. One of the many health-related projects identified where public space was needed in the city. The Lab came up with a framework for how to work with communities to create public space out of nothing and that work continues to be carried forward. The road safety plan has had a huge impact on the number of road-related deaths in the city and is being scaled nationally by local activists in partnership with the Senate. Similarly, the constitution that the Lab helped to develop is still the most important document in the city.

A benefit of working with other organisations is that, even with a change of government, civil society is still there. So much of the unspoken bridge of policy from one government to another, is in having robust communities.

Gabriella Gomez-Mont Laboratorio Para la Ciudad, Mexico City
Mother and child at a street market

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