Global Politics

Slideshow: Mexico's Year-Round Urban Beach

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'Urban Beach' in Mexico (Photo: Grant Fuller)

The Geo Quiz is like a day at the beach this time. There's a popular beach in the city we're looking for. It's nowhere near the French Riviera or Rio's famous coast. In fact, it's not even close to the water.

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This mega-city's beach is about 200 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean, so it's a little curious to find a beach there.

Especially as it's located in the Valley of Mexico and surrounded by mountains and volcanos.

Got the answer yet?

Well, we're talking about Mexico City.

The city's populist mayor is doing his part to make sure summer never ends for some of the city's poorest residents.

Mexico celebrates Independence Day this weekend and thousands of city dwellers will head to an artificial urban beach in Iztapalapa on the outskirts of the city. Grant Fuller has the story.

Four-year-old Jocelyn Villatoro splashes her uncle in the face as she plays in the water and sand.

"I like to throw water on the sand so it turns to mud," she said.

To Villatoro, it is a fun day at the beach. There is sand, sun, palm trees and plenty of water. But the nearest real ocean is five hours away at Acapulco. This "urban beach" is really just an overgrown swimming pool with tons of sand trucked in. It is sandwiched between a collection of hillside concrete homes and a buzzing highway in Iztapalapa, on the outskirts of the Mexico City. This area is the crown jewel of Mayor Marcelo Ebrard's urban beaches project.

Ebrard inaugurated the artificial beach here earlier this summer. He said that he promised Iztapalapa residents that he would make them a permanent beach, "because you're on the outskirts and you told me that everyone abandons you. They forget about you."

Every spring and summer for the past five years, Ebrard has opened ten of these free beaches at existing community pools and recreation centers across the city. This is the first one to be open year-round.

Raul Ortega, the man in charge of Iztapalapa's artificial beach, said this used to be an abandoned trash-filled property.

"The mayor stepped up to build this facility, because his government understands that people with fewer resources still have the right to have fun," Ortega said.

This is not the first of Mayor Ebrard's crowd-pleasing projects. He has also provided a holiday ice skating rink on the main plaza, a record-breaking Christmas tree, and a massive quinceañera party for underprivileged girls.

According to opposition leader Obdulio Avila Mayo, the mayor needs to get his priorities straight.

"I'm not against people having fun. That's great. But I think the government's agenda must go beyond all these frivolous things," Avila Mayo said. He suggested Ebrard should do more to improve the city's infrastructure.

Pointing out that the mayor has his eye on the Mexican presidency in 2012, Avila Mayo said, "The government invests in things that are visible because they generate votes. They ignore the water system because it's invisible and that means it doesn't bring electoral dividends."

The water system is urban development issue number one here. Although Mexico City sits right on top of a huge ancient lake, the government can't pump water from nearby reservoirs fast enough. Just this week, a water main broke, causing a new round of shortages. Avila Mayo said the areas where Mayor Ebrard likes to build beaches are often the same neighborhoods that suffer most from the water crisis.

Back at the beach, Elvia Hernandez watches her kids do cannonballs and practice their swim strokes. She said she is happy to have a mayor who cares about people like her.

"He's really concerned about the people, you know? He is doing a good job and, we hope he doesn't stop," Hernandez said.

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