Reflections on public space and infrastructure in Cancun

Written by Raili Lakanen

Night markets, public dances and open air patios. Internet troubles, traffic jams and no hot water. It all happens at COP 16. As an urban planning student, I’m interested in how space is managed – in Cancun, there are really fluid, welcoming public spaces contrasted with highly controlled, secure tourist areas. I’ve also been noticing the infrastructure in Cancun, especially as the wireless internet continues to flicker on and off as I write this.

Around the corner from our hostel, there is a public plaza with a stage and open area, tables, chairs and umbrellas, and some small restaurant booths. The day I arrived, we walked over there to grab some lunch. The sun, humidity and concrete combined to create a hot and steamy combination, so I wasn’t surprised that the square was fairly empty. I learned later that night that the area really heats up as the sun goes down and the temperature drops. It’s a vibrant, exciting night market and public meeting area – young families were out, parents chatting as their children played together. Teenagers also use the space as a meeting area, which is different than many public places in Canada, where loitering is often discouraged.

The welcoming atmosphere in the downtown plaza is in stark contrast to the heavily guarded tourist resorts we passed on the bus. The security guards and police presence out front make it clear that the general public is not welcome to enter. The resorts block public roads from the beach, making access to the common resource difficult. I often wonder what it might be like to live here and not be able to enjoy the beaches as the tourists do – it seems strange to me that the amenities are set up to cater to a non-permanent population.

We’ve also been having issues with our wireless internet at the hostel, which apparently have been affecting other areas of the city, including the conference facilities themselves. From what I gather, the wireless internet capacity just isn’t great enough to handle this much extra demand in the city. It’s been a challenge for a delegation so dependent on the internet for gathering information and receiving email updates from colleagues in the conference centre – especially since we just received our accreditation today, and have not been able to attend the negotiations the past few days. Our phones seem to be working well enough, though some texts haven’t been getting through and my attempted call to Canada couldn’t be completed. Still, I’ve been grateful for the phone and internet, when available, in a surprising way.

These events really made me reflect on my usage of telecommunications infrastructure. Though I pride myself on being relatively independent from telecommunications at home – especially compared to my friends who tweet and four-square their every move and action – I have to admit, I didn’t realize how panicky I’d feel when not able to get onto Skype or gmail. When I critically think about it though, I do check my email on a regular basis at school, and I always have access to the internet at home through my Blackberry.

One of my professors mentioned that we don’t always notice the built environment or infrastructure of a place unless it’s really impressive or stops working properly. In Cancun, there’s a bit of everything, and I’m glad to be here to see it all.

2 Responses to “Reflections on public space and infrastructure in Cancun”
  1. Hi Raili

    Thanks for going to Cancun and COP16. Keep blogging, networking and inspiring and soon Canada will redeem its place on the international stage.

    I am so happy for you and Sudbury, Ontario that you are in Cancun with the CYD.

    I know you will remember where you came from … Sudbury, Ontario the city with the single largest sulfur dioxide producer in the world and at the centre of the Acid Rain Treaty.

    We successfully transitioned from a low SO2 city and by our example we can help humanity transition to a low CO2 world.


    Cathy Orlando
    In 2004, Director of Dance, Anne of Green Gables the Musical and teacher at Lo Ellen Park SS Sudbury, Ontario Canada (Raili’s High School).

    Now, Science Outreach Coordinator to the Dean of Science and Engineering Laurentian University and CoChair of Greater Sudbury’s Climate Action Network.

  2. jodafoe says:

    Thanks so much for this post, Raili… I really appreciate reading your insights on the infrastructure here (and totally agree with you).

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