Preservation as a Tool for Development

Lisa Glancy, March 22, 2012

Investments are often synonymous with growth. In Mexico, however, investments are taking place through preservation first and growth second. This phenomenon is due to the implementation of two programs; the United Nations Economic Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Sites and the Mexican Secretariat of Tourism (SECTUR) Pueblos Magicos (Magical Villages). Each of these programs grants municipalities with funding and support to uphold environmental, historic and/or cultural preservation. There are currently 31 cultural and four environmental UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Mexico. SECTUR has granted Pueblo Magico status to 47 municipalities in 28 states.

While sharing common objectives, World Heritage Sites and Pueblos Magicos are fundamentally different in their methods of investing in local economies. World Heritage Sites must be appointed by UNESCO. UNESCO then rewards the communities in the vicinity of these sites by investing in cultural or educational events, promotion as a destination for tourism and in improving the sites themselves. All of these investments are within the direct control of UNESCO.

SECTUR takes on a more collaborative approach. Qualifying municipalities desiring the support of SECTUR must petition to become a Pueblo Magico, participating in a lengthy application process. This undertaking is well worth the trouble. If a municipality receives Pueblo Magico status, they receive funding from the federal government directly to municipal coffers for use in infrastructure and other social spending, in addition to active promotion as a destination for tourism. In theory, this status and the funding can be taken away if a municipality fails to meet the standards outlined by the program. UNESCO, on the contrary, does not practice revocations of their label of World Heritage Sites. The benefits of both programs for any community in the vicinity of these sites are numerous

In their short lifespans, the World Heritage Sites and Pueblos Magicos models have already proven successful in improving the livelihood of local beneficiaries. The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) – Mexico creates a study every five years that is in-line with the annual global ratings of the Human Development Index (HDI). The five-year study in Mexico presents data about a wide breadth of socio-economic issues for the more than 2,400 municipalities in the country. A visual geographic comparison of the 2000 and 2005 HDI Mexico Reports, in consideration of the municipalities hosting preservation programs, shows overall growth in equity and quality of life. The following maps offer a comparison of variations between each report in the areas of education, income, population, infrastructure and health.

In keeping with the HDI – Mexico studies, the maps only include those sites implemented through 2004, the final year in which relevant data was collected. Throughout the maps, World Heritage Sites will always be indicated in blue, while Pueblos Magicos are displayed in green; in consideration of their respective sponsors’ flag colors.

The 2000 Map displays all those World Heritage Sites that had been implemented previously as new locations, as this is the base year for data analysis. In 2001, the colors are muted and no Pueblos Magicos are implemented, as this SECTUR program began then. In 2002, the first Pueblos Magicos appear.


The HDI Report calculates education as a percentage of the population that attends secondary and tertiary education. In 2000, most municipalities show less than 60% attendance in education. In 2005, there is a significant increase, with most municipalities improving their attendance level by two categories or more for over 60% attendance. A specific example is the Barranca del Cobre, inland along the north western coast of the Gulf of Mexico. It is interesting to see here the contrast between the region immediately east in lacking access to education while the three municipalities with Pueblo Magico status there do improve. In the central valley of Mexico, a large number of pocket municipalities darken over the five year period, while neighboring towns don’t improve as distinctly. In just five years, the investments are already prevalent in terms of education. This may be also due to an improved economic base, which allows resources to be redirected towards education within families.


For the purpose of this analysis, income is measured in 2005 USD on a scale graduating at intervals of $3,000 in per capita annual income. As in the case of education, income improves overall in the Mexico in the lapsed time. This is particularly true, again in the north western preservation sites, where income categories jump ahead on the scale. Near the northern border, some of the income seems to travel away over the five-years, however it remains high immediately around the preservation site of Casas Grandes, near Ciudad Juarez.

Income and Gender      

Income distribution provides a beneficial indicator of gender inequality. As symbolized in the chart, women are unequally active in the labor force. The darker lines symbolize the percentage of economically active women out of the total population, while the lighter gray indicates the percentage of men reporting economic activity.  To add to the inequality, those women that are active can expect to receive a lower compensation in Mexico. Overall, in 2000 women made $2,031 USD in contrast to men who made $7,521 USD per year. This trend is likely changing slowly.

Looking at income as a gauge of equality, we can see that while income improves overall for men and women between the studies, the women’s map more rapidly approaches the shading of the men’s map by 2005. In another five years we can expect to see the variation between these decreasing. Investments in small, otherwise overlooked, economies through the preservation programs offer significant opportunities for local populations. Hopefully in the next study, a larger income scale on the map legends will become necessary for both men and women.

Urban Areas

The small injections in the economy provided by the preservation programs are strategically designated for a greater return on investment.  The proximity of preservation sites to the most urban areas within each state leads to many observations. The juxtaposition between dense populations and quaint towns or remote attractions does not seem conducive to their preservation. However, this heightened challenge is all the more reason for taking on preventative efforts. The selected sites are at the greatest risk of decline should they be mismanaged or under supported.

Often government offices are pressured to create programs in a way that is visible to the wider public so that citizens understand how public funding is distributed and to build good rapport among their constituents. Joining the objective of preservation with tourism is highly tactical, and even more so in conjunction with the chosen locations. The programs are distributed so that they are visible and accessible to the greatest number of people. In turn, those who visit the sites also benefit the local economy, by investing their travel funds, and in doing so expand the impact of the seed funding.


Considering the proximity of the sites to urban areas, it is easy to assume that they will also follow roads. The initial road map shows all of the major arterial roads in the country. Roads, in this case, will serve as the indicator of access to improved services in infrastructure. This is true in most cases and is easiest to see with a modified map showing only highways. The second road map also includes a 10km buffer to explore how closely sites follow major physical infrastructure. As assumed, only a few sites deviate greatly from the roads. Those, however, are the four environmentally focused World Heritages Sites.  The benefit of being located near a major road is indisputable, especially for locations that are promoted as tourism destinations.


Following this roadmap, we can use the same distribution to analyze health equity. The HDI – Mexico calculates a health index out of 1, based on a comprehensive study of factors. In the base year, health has a moderate correlation with roads, especially in the northeast. Removing ancillary roads, the life veins provided by this infrastructure become more obvious. In 2005, health trails roads distribution, improving drastically in the Yucatan Peninsula and center valley regions. These two areas also directly shadow clusters of preservation sites, suggesting that the benefits of the programs have propagated again, this time through the health index.


Both of the UNESCO and SECTUR programs have expanded through 2012, and are widely recognized throughout Mexico. The 2010 HDI –Mexico report by municipality will be available this year for a more comprehensive analysis of the success of these programs over the last 10 years. In the meantime, the visual geographic analysis of socio-economic growth across the country offers insight into the success of both programs. This is especially promising for the Pueblos Magicos model, which began implementation only in 2001 and allows local governments autonomy over how their federal reward is utilized. This analysis of the HDI – Mexico data speaks to the achievements of both programs in instigating growth in areas meant for conservancy.  Rather than stifle growth, the investment in change prevention takes on its own form of responsible development.


In order to complete this project using international data, I created original tables that combined the latitude and longitude with descriptive information. In some cases the new tables were combined by Municipal ID codes. The challenge in this technique was that between each study, the number of municipalities varied as some were incorporated into others and some were recently granted independent status. This was also challenged by slightly differing municipal codes across different sources of information. Another skill that I learned was geocoding by assigning the latitude and longitude to the specific sites and creating points from polygons. In all cases I used models, such as the one below, in order to geocode and then create shape files from the original tables.  In order to create the chart of economic activity by gender for all municipalities, I calculated these indices as percentages from the tables provided by the UNDP – Mexico team.  I created a time-based analysis of the distribution of preservation sites per year; however I did not include this animated feature in the final product. The following are other skills that were implemented to complete this project: Aggregating Attribute Fields; Time-based Analysis; Geocoding;Charts; Original Data; Buffering; Attribute Sub-sets Selections; Measurement Analysis; Creating Indices; Custom Shapefile Creation; Modeling.


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C. Rep. Mexico City: PNUD, 2005. El Indice De Desarrollo Urbano Municipal. Oficina Nacional De Desarollo Urbano – Mexico. Web. 15 Feb. 2012.

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