Blog (November, 2023)

Residential mobility and anchorage in Mexico City’s colonias populares, by Jean-François Valette

Jean-François Valette PhD (University Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne), is Assistant Professor in Geography at the University Paris 8 Vincennes-Saint-Denis (France), UFR eriTES, Geography Department, Laboratory LADYSS CNRS (UMR7533). His research is focused on residential mobility, housing policy, land regularization, and socio-spatial division processes in Mexico. 

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Over the past twenty years or so, Mexico City, like most Latin American metropolises, has undergone a dual process of increasing urban sprawl on the one hand, and densification of the city center and inner ring older suburbs (innerburbs) on the other, and has entered a “settlement stage” in which intra-urban residential trajectories are more numerous and more complex. In so doing, as multiple authors have shown, these are signs of urban change and ways of inhabiting the city. This Blog seeks to explore these complex mobilities and experiences. Analysis of intra-urban mobility, as worked on by members of the Latin American Housing Network comparative studies (Di Virgilio, 2023; Ward, 2023) and others, helps to refine our understanding of the churn (“change” and “turn”) of consolidated working-class peripheries. Such churn raises issues of residential stability, densification, the rewriting of socio-spatial division, the ageing of an already fragile housing stock, property valuation, and potential returns to irregularity within a context of renewed precariousness of access to housing. It also reveals mechanisms for anchoring populations and maturing residential contexts which I will discuss below.

The concept of maturation encompasses the diversification of the composition of the resident population, the consolidation of the urban environment and the development of urban resources in the residential context. These changes contribute to anchoring processes, supported by a strong link to housing thanks to the existence of a social and family network, neighborhood practices, social relations and a set of positive representations (Cosacov et al., 2018). It’s a point of view that goes beyond the classic angle of analysis linking mobility and modernity, and it considers all the scales of the subtle inscription of social inequalities in residential space. So how do we measure such anchoring? Let’s try a macro and a comprehensive approach.

1. Intra-urban residential mobility: a filtering process that fuels socio-spatial division on the periphery

Between 2015 and 2020, around 983,000 intermunicipal changes of residence within the Mexico Valley Metropolitan Area (MVMA) were recorded, equivalent to almost 5% of the metropolis’s current population, revealing an initial geography of residential turnover (INEGI, 2020) (figure 1). In addition to the areas where social housing developments have been built since the 2000s, which are clearly identifiable (e.g. Zumpango to the North), the majority (54%) of residential mobility originates and ends in the older suburbs or innerburbs,  and the municipalities of the dense, consolidated working-class suburbs such as Iztapalapa, Neza, Ecatepec, Chalco or Ixtapaluca to the East of the City boundary (see Figure 1).

Spatially and socially, towards the outskirts migrants with low incomes and/or low levels of education are over-represented (available space, lower property values, policies that support social housing). Towards the central city, migrants with higher incomes and levels of education are over-represented. Between these contrasting configurations, there is a relative continuum. Between the center and the periphery, and regardless of the direction of flow, there is a residential “filtering” process within consolidated housing stocks (Valette, 2019, 2022).

Figures 1a and 1b.  Mapping Residential Mobility by Municipality, 2015-2020

Viewed in sociodemographic terms, we can see a distinction between those who leave or arrive (movers), and those who stay.  The maturation trajectories of working-class neighborhoods thus refer to concentrations of poverty and socio-spatial mosaics and go beyond the impoverishment or enrichment (gentrification) of residential contexts. But what about sub-municipal (i.e. more local) mobility, which is not reflected in the census? And what about social mobility and the meaning of trajectory?

2. From filtering to anchoring: spatial and social (im)mobility

Identifying these filtering processes is a prerequisite for analyzing possible chains of housing vacancy, even if residential stability among home owners is stronger in colonias populares. In an urban context characterized by poverty and informality – but also by significant physical and density changes associated with dwelling consolidation – anchoring articulates places of residence and diverse practices, forged by choices and strategies, determinants and resources (Dansereau & Navez-Bouchanine, 2002).

Inertias and ruptures in residential strategies

Through an exploratory empirical survey of households living in colonias populares that were built over the past thirty years or so, I, like many other authors, have found that biographical methods provide a better understanding of some of these residential strategies.  The fragile balance between improvements or a worsening in one’s housing conditions or socio-economic status (which may sometimes include a return to the family home), are closely linked to mobility, and need to be nuanced according to the entire residential trajectory (past, present and future), at individual, household and family level.

Today in Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America, the number of residential stages and movements highlights the more complex trajectories for young people, beyond the classic “stage of the life cycle” analysis. It appears that for all age groups, proximity is essential: no less than43% of moves take place within the same municipality as the current residence, and three fifths of those moves are within the same neighborhood. As Bonvalet & Gotman argue (1993) housing is still a “family affair”, and “there’s always someone in the neighborhood”. And while involvement in family and friendship networks is often tied to housing (whether owned or not), access to work and occupational status is also important. Family (close or extended) decisions about housing are varied: they can lend, sell, donate, bequeath, act as intermediaries for transactions for houses and/or plots of land etc., often outside the traditional banking system.  My point is that it is these decisions and strategies that are important in shaping these complex mobilities.  The case of Mauricio (Figure 2) highlights the intersection between intra-city residential housing strategies on the one hand, and temporary interregional migration for work.  When his parents moved into a colonia popular he also bought a lot and started to build, but was unable to keep up payments to the landlord so he sold out to his paternal grandmother and moved back into his parents’ home.  After several periods working elsewhere in the country, he again returned to live with his parents, and most recently brought his partner to live with him in his parents’ house.

Figure 2. Residential Strategies and Family: The Case of Mauricio

New generations: between refuge and captivity

For the new generations, moving into colonias populares are a preferred option in terms of limited available resources.  However, an alternative is to be immobile by staying within the family home offers both a refuge (anchorage), but this makes them captive or “tied down” to the dwelling unit (Huamán & González, 2008), and to living in ongoing close proximity to their parents.  This family home embodies a refuge built by the family over many years, in which the adult children and grandchildren grew up, and for many it continues to have important use value – more so than its exchange (property sale) value.   In this way the family home can be a vector of relative captivity for subsequent generations who continue to live in ageing neighborhoods born in informality, but which are now consolidated, densified, verticalized, and have gained in value. Indeed, another element of captivity is that these properties are, or will be, inherited by the children, albeit often without formal title transfer which risks whole swathes of the consolidated homes falling back into informality and “clouded” titles, creating tensions among siblings over ownership the titles (Ward, 2008; Ward & Jimenez, 2011).  In part because of this refuge and captivity tied to ongoing cross- generational use and immobility it appears that the real estate markets for older homes in colonias populares is less dynamic than that of lot and housing sales in more recently formed colonias (Figure 3a-c. See also Ribardière & Valette, 2017).

Figure 3. Densification and property valorization.

Circulation between popular housing estates

Access to the formal (social housing) market remains an option although it is a complicated one for those wishing to leave the colonia family home. Common challenges arise due to the solvency requirements of this market, as well as social and economic disruptions resulting from their peri-urban locations and distance from family networks.  But there are often (largely) unseen links between colonias populares and social housing estates, and these do shed light on other strategies. Contrary to what we might think, movements between the two housing stocks are not unilateral (i.e. from colonias to formal housing estates). Since these mass social housing estates were created in the 1990s and 2000s, we see multiple trajectories in which the more open access to mortgages has shaped family residential search strategies that allow for residence, rental investment, multiple ownership, or even acquisition for other family members. 

Moreover, moves may be multidirectional or circular, as family members move from their formal housing back into a colonia popular. For example, when she married and had kids, Raquel (now in her mid-50s) moved from one social interest housing project to another, leveraging a government employee loan. Later she was able to acquire another social interest housing unit but, troubled by some of the often-found problems in mass social housing estates such as poor infrastructure, delinquency, abandonment, and distant location etc., she bought a lot in a colonia popular and began building.  At the same time one of her sons bought a lot in the same colonia, and her married daughter moved into an adjacent neighborhood. The family network and the social networks in this working-class neighborhood have led to the anchorage in this case. 

It should be noted that the Mexican context is different from programs like Chile’s, of “forced” gateways and trajectories between working-class housing stocks reported in recent two LAHN lectures (video: Rojas, Bogolasky), or even of policies including assisted rental in residential itineraries (video F. Link).

Residential Trajectories, Anchorage and Socio-spatial division

Several intra-city residential trajectories and anchorage profiles may be identified characterized by three dimensions.  The first is a revised version of the Turner (1968) model with the notion of a centrifugal character of settlement formation (with moves from the inner center to periphery and  renting to informal ownership).  The past two decades have seen an increase in the production and supply of rental housing opportunities (rooms, apartments, mini-tenements, etc.) in both the older inner consolidated colonias suburbs (innerburbs), as well as in consolidating neighborhoods on the city outskirts (Figure 4). This enables these areas to function as direct residential renting option: no longer is the inner city the primary source of low-cost renting as purported in the Turner trajectories and priorities model (Antequera, 2023; video: Jiménez, 2023).

Figure 4.  “Se rentan cuartos…”  The rise in renting (formal and informal) in Mexico’s colonias populares

Second is one of increased polarization within the local area. The change of residence takes place in an unchanged context of irregularity (Huamán & González, 2008). Residential anchorage does not automatically infer immobility, but it can intensify the likelihood of residential search behavior being focused almost exclusively upon the same neighborhood, being tied through family and native ties to a neighborhood (the concept of autochthony, see Renahy, 2010). In this case “natives” would be the colonia and barrio born and raised; while “adoptees” would be new generations who come to build strong ties to the neighborhood. The mobility system is largely monopolized by the nature and history of the neighborhood, by politics such as title regularization, and by strong affective ties.

A third type is more open-ended. Under multipolarization colonias populares becomes a pivotal space for movement between different parts of the city, or even between substantially different housing stocks (as we saw in the case of Raquel). In this mode there is less proximity in the mobility system (but not less anchorage), and there is a certain amount of to-ing and fro-ing between the space of origin and other more or less distant spaces.


The diversity of residential trajectories and anchorage in peripheral working-class neighborhoods reflects the heterogeneity of population renewal and testifies to the maturation of these areas, at the heart of change and turn (churn).  To analyze the settlement of colonias populares as a relatively simple socio-spatial process systematically embracing consolidation and urban integration is insufficient. Instead, we are observing what is a complex socio-spatial and political stratification in the form of a mosaic (often with its own intra-neighborhood mosaic), which is poorly captured by the notion of fragmentation.  Hopefully some of the perspectives and insights on the processes of anchorage and maturation identified in this blog will be applied more widely to a more nuanced discussion of working-class residential trajectories between and within different types of the housing stock.

References cited and links to LAHN Lectures and Blogs

Antequera, Felipe (2022). “Resurgimiento de la vivienda en arriendo en Latinoamérica”. LAHN Blog.

Bogolasky, Francisca (2023). “Percepciones y efectos de corto plazo de la movilidad residencial”. LAHN Lectures :

Bonvalet, Catherine and Gotman, Anne.  (1993), Le logement, une affaire de famille, Paris, L’Harmattan, 167 p.

Camargo Sierra, Angélica (2023). “Nuevos habitantes en antiguas periferias urbanas: movilidad residencial y cambios urbanos en la zona del Restrepo en Bogotá”. Territorios, 48 / Bogotá, pp. 1-28.

Cosacov, Natalia, Di Virglio, Mercedes, Najman, Mercedes (2018). Movilidad residencial de sectores medios y populares: la ciudad de Buenos Aires como punto de llegada. Cadernos Metrópole, vol. 20, núm. 41, pp. 99-121.

Dansereau, Francine and Navez-Bouchanine, Françoise (2002). Gestion du développement urbain et stratégies résidentielles des habitants, Paris : L’Harmattan, 356 p.

Di Virgilio, Mercedes (2010). La movilidad residencial: una preocupación sociológica. Territorios, núm. 25, pp. 173-190.

Di Virgilio, Mercedes (2023). “Trayectorias residenciales intraurbanas: Recorrido conceptual y aplicaciones al análisis de casos en ciudades de América Latina”. Lecture in LAHN Website, 21/09/2023.

Huamán, Elias & González Alva, Rocío (2008). Cambiándose de asentamiento irregular. El hábitat irregular y la movilidad residencial intraurbana en Chimalhuacán in Iracheta, C. A.X., Medina, C. S, Irregularidad y suelo urbano: ¿Cómo incidir en las prácticas sociales y hacia dónde dirigir las políticas públicas en México para enfrentar dicho fenómeno? Memorias del II Congreso Nacional del Suelo Urbano, El Colegio Mexiquense, pp. 211-237.

Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía (INEGI) (2020). Censo 2020, INEGI.

Jiménez Huerta, Edith (2023). The rental market in Guadalajara’s consolidated settlements: Housing and policy opportunities. LAHN Lectures :

Link, Felipe (2023). « Mercados del arriendo en Santiago de Chile. Desafíos para la política habitacional/Rental Markets in Santiago de Chle: Challengesfor Housing Policy ». LAHN Lectures :

Renahy, Nicolas (2010). Classes populaires et capital d’autochtonie. Genèse et usages d’une notion, Regards Sociologiques, n ° 40, pp. 9-26. Recuperado de

Ribardière, Antonine & Valette, Jean-François (2017). « Geography of real estate prices in Mexico City: Variability and heterogeneity of values recorded in online advertisements », Cybergeo: European Journal of Geography, document 814,

Rojas, Fernanda (2023). “Expulsados: Los Efectos de Largo Plazo de las Políticas de Erradicación de Campamentos en Niñas y Niños”. LAHN Lectures :

Turner, John (1968). “Housing priority settlement patterns and urban development in modernizing countries”, Journal of the American Institute of Planers, n°33, p. 354-381

Valette, Jean-François (2019). Mobilités et ancrages résidentiels dans les colonies populaires de Mexico : une dimension de la maturation des périphéries. Annales de Géographie. Armand Colin, pp. 64-99.

Valette, Jean-François (2022). Movilidad residencial y anclajes en la Zona Metropolitana del Valle de México: división socioespacial en las colonias populares periféricas. Estudios Demográficos Y Urbanos, 37(2), 371–425.

Ward, Peter (2008). “Hacia una segunda etapa de la regularización de los títulos de propiedad en México (o, visto de otra manera) ‘¿Ay Mama, por qué moriste sin dejar un testamento? ¡Ya hay que hacer la regularización de nuevo!’” in Iracheta C. A.X., Medina C. S., Irregularidad y suelo urbano : ¿Cómo incidir en las prácticas y hacia dirigir las políticas públicas en México para enfrentar dicho fenómeno?, El Colegio Mexiquense, pp. 123-139.

Ward, Peter M. & Jiménez, Edith (2011). « Self-help Housing Policies for Second Generation Inheritance and Succession of the House that Mum and Dad Built ». Habitat International. Vol. 35, 467-485.

Ward, Peter (2023). « Moving Around the City: Low-income Residential and Socio-Economic Mobility ». LAHN Blog.

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