People, jobs, and transit infrastructure in Mexico City: Assessing the effects of the spatial and transportation mismatches on inequality


David López García
Student Research Award


Social Justice

key words

Spatial Mismatches
Mexico City

degree program + School

Public and Urban Policy - PhD, SPE

faculty mentor

Michael Cohen

research summary

This award is intended to fund a five-month length field research trip to Mexico City for my dissertation at the Public and Urban Policy doctoral program. The project aims at evaluating the effects of spatial and transportation mismatches on inequality, and its implications for transport infrastructure policy.


research question

There is a scholarly tradition researching the spatial mismatch phenomenon within cities that is the geographic separation of workers and jobs and its negative consequences for low-income households and disadvantaged minorities. In doing so, researchers have come up with three policy recommendations to address this problem: bringing jobs to people, bringing people to jobs, and connecting people with jobs. However, scholars usually fail to acknowledge two key issues relevant to this discussion. First, that the spatial relationship between jobs and people in liberal free-market economies is not fixed over time, but a shifting and ever-evolving one. Firms are free to decide where to locate within cities and the production of the housing stock is governed by the laws of the market, therefore constantly changing the geography of jobs and where populations reside. Second, the scholarship of the spatial mismatch aims at reuniting jobs and people in the same urban space. However, empirical research has shown that the high-income population usually resides in neighborhoods with a low density of jobs and that they actually commute long distances on a daily basis. Therefore, transportation infrastructure can be thought of as an intervening variable allowing positive outcomes for the population with access to transit infrastructure and negative outcomes for those that with limited or no access. Within this context, through my doctoral dissertation, I will argue that to better understand the phenomenon of the spatial mismatch the field should take into account the interaction between jobs, people, and transit infrastructure and that this interaction has implications for inequality within cities. By using the case of Mexico City, in my research proposal I am raising the following research questions: 1) What are the effects of access to jobs and transportation infrastructure on the levels of inequality? 2) What are the underlying mechanisms through which those effects actually manifest themselves across populations? And 3) what is the role of the state and its transit infrastructure policy regarding these trends?



This research project is divided into three stages. The first is taking place during the spring of 2018 and consists of refining the research design and preparing for the fieldwork. The second will take place during the fall of 2018 and consists of doing fieldwork in Mexico City. The third will take place in the spring of 2019 and consist of returning to The New School to finish writing the dissertation and defending it. The funds from the Student Research Award will be used to fund the research trip to Mexico City, which provides a useful research setting because the period from 1990 to 2010 was characterized by a shift in economic activity from industry to the service economy, by a strong development of the housing stock in the outskirts of the city, and by an important investment in transit infrastructure. The research trip will allow me to collect the data needed to answer the three research questions that guide my study. Question number one will be addressed through a quantitative methodology, whereas questions two and three will be tackled qualitatively. To address question one – what are the effects of access to jobs and transportation infrastructure on the levels of inequality? – I am designing an econometric model that will allow me to assess the effects I intend to measure. The scholarship on spatial mismatch has developed a methodology called Job Accessibility Index. Building on this methodology, in addition to job accessibility I will include the interaction with transit infrastructure availability within neighborhoods. By doing so, I will be able to calculate what I will call the Access to Jobs and Transportation Index (AJTI). The Mexican National Statistics Institute (INEGI) has a Micro-Data Lab in Mexico City, where graduate students can be assigned a desk and work for several weeks in collecting the data they need for their research. Using data from the Mexican Population Census and the Economic Census for the years 1990 and 2010, I will run a generalized spatial two-stage least square (GS2SLS) model with fixed-effects to assess the change in the effect of the AJTI over inequality during the 20 years period. To address question 2 – what are the underlying mechanisms through which those effects manifest themselves across populations? – I will conduct in-depth semi-structured interviews with a snowball sample of the population of two selected neighborhoods. Once the AJTI is calculated and the GS2SLS model is ran, I will be able to identify neighborhoods with counterintuitive results and therefore interesting research cases. I am expecting to find neighborhoods that despite being disconnected from jobs and transit infrastructures are actually doing well in terms of inequality. I’m also expecting to find neighborhoods that seem connected to jobs and transit infrastructure, but are actually experiencing high levels of inequality. The in-depth interviews will allow me to research the lived-experience of those populations and learn from it. Addressing question 3 – what is the role of transit infrastructure policy in these trends? – will need qualitative research of the transit infrastructure policy. To do so, I will conduct in-depth semi-structured interviews with a stratified snowball sample of experts and relevant stakeholders of the policy. Among the different actors that ought to be interviewed, there are academic experts, civil society members working on transit infrastructure issues, chambers of infrastructure developers, the representatives from infrastructure development companies, and public officials designing, implementing, and evaluating transit infrastructure policy in the city. This research project will be mentored by professor Michael Cohen from the Schools of Public Engagement. In addition to this, while in Mexico City I will be working under the supervision of Dr. Gian Carlo Delgado Ramos and will be based as a research fellow at the Sciences and Humanities Interdisciplinary Research Center (CEIICH) of the Mexican National Autonomous University (UNAM).


expected results

The output of the project will be my doctoral dissertation. I am aiming that the outcome of the dissertation will achieve to influence the conversation among scholars, students, and practitioners on the ways in which we understand the relationship between the urban economy, access to jobs, and the patterns of inequality. To do so, I plan to publish three chapters of the dissertation in peer review journals: one chapter with the econometric model to assess the effect of access to jobs and transit infrastructure over inequality; another chapter about the ways in which populations experience transit infrastructure and affects their prospects to participate in the urban economy; finally, a chapter with the analysis of the policy process behind the decisions and implementation of transit infrastructure policy in Mexico City. I will also present the drafts of those chapters in both the annual congresses of the Latin American Studies Association (LASA) and the Urban Affairs Association (UAA), where I am an active member. In addition, I will use the results of my field research and dissertation to inform the design of a course syllabus on the political economy of infrastructure and inequality, hoping to teach that course at The New School in the spring of 2019.

The significance of my dissertation will be twofold. First, it will contribute new and useful knowledge to the field of infrastructure policy. By broadening our understanding of the effects of access to jobs and transit infrastructure on inequality, and by better knowing the ways in which populations across cities experience these effects, my dissertation will contribute insight that will help policy-makers to develop more equitable and just transit infrastructures. By making visible the processes of social exclusion from jobs and infrastructure and its underlying mechanisms, my research will help in finding ways to make transit infrastructure more inclusive. Second, by looking at the interaction between the geography of jobs, the production of housing stock, and the development of transit infrastructure in Mexico City over a 20-year period, my research will contribute empirical evidence to support the claim that these fields of urban policy can no longer be addressed in separately. Addressing this interaction calls for a new urban practice, in which policy-makers are aware that what happens in one arena will have an effect on the others. My dissertation can potentially contribute to the field of urban policy by developing a policy interaction framework, useful for analyzing the different urban phenomenon likely to be highly intertwined and dependent on each other.