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'Carritos' and the Mobile Economy

One of the most recognizable features of Mexico City’s streetscape is the strong presence of mobile vendors that can be seen on the most circulated avenues of the city; they position themselves near a crossroad or a transportation hub, and even outside of venues, shops or supermarkets in order to take full advantage of the high pedestrian traffic. The so-called ‘carritos’ (little cars or wagons) exemplify the collective conscience of Mexico City’s design features. The success of this model relies on the capacity of vendors to devise different ways to sell their products and to continue selling traditional foods and services.

During the economic crisis of the 1980s, informal economy in Mexico experienced rapid growth. In the early 1990s, the Mexico City government recognized the expansion of the informal sector and began addressing informality through basic regulatory policies. Since then, this model has represented an alternative and accessible source of employment for some of the most disadvantaged groups in Mexico City.

The basic structure of the ‘carritos’ consists of a sensible metal frame with wheels and a container to store merchandise. When lined up along the sidewalks of Mexico City’s main avenues, the ‘carritos’ form an informal marketplace where cheap (and often second-hand) goods can be sold to pedestrians on their commute to work or home. Although these mobile carts are also used and manufactured in various other cities around the world, the idiosyncrasy of Mexico’s ‘carritos’ lies in their personalized designs, often resorting to handcrafted banners or murals to advertise their services. The very owners of the stalls use recycled pieces of wood or machinery to adapt and reinvent the ‘carritos’ and make it their own. Considering the typical socio-economic background of theses vendors, the Mexican mobile economy points to a creative resilience of the disadvantaged classes and demonstrates a capacity to learn and transmit informal design practices.

Este elemento urbano integra los dos lados de la creatividad: la estática y la técnica. Debido a que los creadores de estas unidades no tienen restricciones técnicas predeterminadas o principios para construirlos, excepto su buen funcionamiento, se permiten experimentar diferentes maneras de satisfacer necesidades específicas. Pero una vez que se logra la funcionalidad del carrito, también existe la necesidad de decorarlo. Las personas le añaden todo tipo de objetos: osos de peluche, cruces católicas, muñecas, santos, cartulinas brillantes y materiales impresos como estampas, carteles y etiquetas. Los llamados carritos son al mismo tiempo vitrinas móviles y un medio de transporte, una unidad que muestra una poderosa voluntad de auto-diseño, así como un profundo conocimiento urbano para la vida diaria.