A century ago, the broad, tree-lined Paseo de la Reforma in downtown Mexico City was the coveted address for diplomats and socialites. But as the wealthy elite fled downtown for posh suburbs, Reforma lost its real estate cachet. After the devastating 1985 earthquake, developers lined the stately avenue with generic office buildings. More recently, it has become the principal protest route in a wobbly democracy. In 2006, supporters of the city’s former mayor shut down the seven-mile Reforma for 48 days following his contested bid for president. These days, however, it’s returning to its roots, undergoing an unlikely transformation into Mexico City’s new luxury residential corridor.
Recently constructed towers with a geometric, glass-and-steel aesthetic are starting to dominate the avenue’s skyline. Among them is a high-end mixed-use complex by the Mexican architect Teodoro González de León; about 80 percent of its 313 apartments have been sold. A few blocks away, the St. Regis Hotel and its associated residences (unfortunately dubbed the Freedom Tower), by Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects, are slated for a January ribbon-cutting. Next up are the Ritz-Carlton and the Park Hyatt, both hotel-and-condos projects, and a smattering of other glossy developments.
The cylindrical St. Regis sits alongside the avenue’s ornate Diana the Huntress fountain, which the architect, Fred Clarke, says was one of the main factors guiding its design. “The building had to be a complement to the fountain,” Clarke says. “It had to be iconic, with a distinct image from its surroundings.” The 31-story structure qualifies as a skyscraper in Mexico City (the nearby Torre Mayor is, at 55 stories, Latin America’s tallest building), but its shiny glass facade looks at home among the mirrored office buildings elsewhere on the block.
Even so, the St. Regis and its kin reflect a profound shift. They push a vertical, centralized urban model in a horizontal city where residents cling to cars and gardens and economic classes are rigidly separated. Reforma is prime real estate—it boasts easy access to the city’s thoroughfares and is at the nexus of three main work-and-play boroughs—but it also cuts through established middle-class neighborhoods. And then there are the regular protests: each year, hundreds of farmers assemble—in the nude—to rail against a corrupt politician.
The corridor’s newfound popularity among wealthy urban professionals reflects, in part, the direness of Mexico City’s traffic problem. Residents are sick of battling their way through some of the world’s worst gridlock to get to the gated communities on the city’s periphery. They’re now paying top dollar for centrality, rather than isolation. “The people buying these apartments are buying convenience,” says Arturo Ortiz Struck, director of Taller Territorial de México, an urban-research firm. “They want to walk to work. They want urban amenities that can’t be compared with a community pool and security gate.”
And yet they’re getting the pool and the gate too—not to mention spas, 24-hour concierges, and fine dining an elevator ride away. Whether they can recapture the avenue’s early heyday, though, is uncertain. Luxury living may have returned to Reforma, but those naked farmers aren’t going anywhere.