Colonia Santa María la Ribera was created in the late 19th century for the affluent who wanted homes outside the city. It reached its height between 1910 and 1930 but began to deteriorate in the 1950s. Today, the Colonia is a mix of old mansions and homes and includes small shops and businesses, tenements and abandoned buildings. It has one of the highest crime rates in the city.
The Colonia has one major park and two museums. This area was designated as a “Barrio Mágico” by the city in 2011. (“Barrios Mágicos” of Mexico City are twenty-one areas in the Federal District, which have been named “magical neighbourhoods” in order to attract tourism to them.) The Colonia’s borders are marked by the following streets: Avenue Ricardo Flores Magon to the north, Ribera de San Cosme to the south, Insurgentes Norte to the east and Circuito Interior to the west. It consists of 116 city blocks located just west of the historic centre of the city. While the neighbourhood was established as an upper-class country getaway over 100 years ago, today, it is fully absorbed into Mexico City’s centre. The neighbourhood has a mix of middle and lower-class residents, as well as squatters and homeless. The Colonia is considered to be a traditional neighbourhood, where family-owned businesses mix with old houses and monuments. There is a problem with abandoned properties including 25 that are registered as architectural landmarks. Older residents tend to have extremely low frozen rents, which inhibits the care of older buildings. In a number of cases, historically valuable buildings have simply been demolished to make way for new apartment buildings.
The abandonment and lowering of the socioeconomics has given the Colonia one of the highest crime rates in the city. Most crime consists of robbery, assault and drug trafficking. The crime problems in this Colonia had become so bad, especially drug dealing, that the city expropriated a number of properties.
The centre of the Colonia is the Alameda Park with its Morisco Kiosk, located at the intersection of Dr Atl and Salvador Miron Streets, near Metro Buenavista. The kiosk was designed and built in the late 19th century to be the Mexico Pavilion at the World’s Fair of 1886. The structure is completely made of wrought iron, which was in fashion at that time.
The structure consists of panels that can be disassembled, and a glass cupola. After the events, the structure was brought back to Mexico at the beginning of the 20th century and installed on the south side of the Alameda Central. While it was here, it became the site of the national lottery drawing. The kiosk and park host cultural activities, such as concerts of popular bands, chamber orchestras and dance classes. It was named an Artistic Monument of the Nation by the INAH (National Institute of Anthropology and History) in 1972.
From 1860 to 1930, the area was home to the wealthy, with either country homes or later, city homes, but all large with spacious gardens. At the time of the celebration of Mexico’s Centennial in 1910, wealthy residents competed to outdo each other in decoration and events. Some went as far as having exotic animals in their gardens.
The Mexican Revolution caused a backlash against the wealthy of the city, and in some cases, residents of this neighbourhood had to flee their properties, but the area still remained affluent. In the first half of the 20th century, several exclusive schools operated in the Colonia, such as the Frances de San Cosme. From 1910 to 1930, the Colonia was at its height. In the 1920s, the La Rosa trolley passed through here connecting the area with the Zócalo in the city centre. In the 1930s, however, the middle class consisting of small business owners, professionals and government employees began to move in, and development in the Colonia accelerated. These newer houses were still private family homes, with one or two stories, small central courtyards and eclectic decorative details on the windows and doors. By the 1950s, the city had grown extensively around the Colonia. It was bordered to the north by an industrial zone with the trains of the Buenavista station to the east and the new campus of the National Polytechnic Institute to the west. Wealthy residents began to move out and towards newer colonias to the west. Lower classes began to move in with apartment buildings and other co-housing either built from scratch or created by transforming older mansions. Theatres and cinemas became venues for popular shows and films, with the Rivoli and Majestic theatres eventually closing and finally demolished. The next wave of new residents was a result of the 1985 Mexico City earthquake. While the structures of the Colonia survived mostly unscathed, the area received a large influx of others from more affected areas. This increased the population, but it also increased pressure to build more affordable housing. Since that time a number of groups representing the poor have pushed for more affordable housing in the area. The influx of lower-income residents has caused much of the middle class to leave and many properties to be abandoned.