Within the heart of Mexico City sits the bustling neighborhood of Tacubaya, population 5,000. Centuries ago, the area was considered rural, but in the mid-19th century, urban growth in Mexico City swallowed Tacubaya, and it became one of the poorer neighborhoods in a giant metropolis.

Tacubaya today is defined by intersecting transportation lines that transformed the once-sleepy neighborhood into a central transit hub for thousands of commuters who swarm the area at various times of the day and night. Crime, poverty, unemployment and informal housing are all painful evidence of a community that has suffered from neglect and a lack of investment. Freeway development and an absence of a cohesive community plan have led to a dearth of public amenities as well.

It’s a town that could use help — the kind of help that urban planners could provide.

Enter the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, specifically, 16 master’s students from the Department of Urban Planning, who worked on a capstone research project this academic year in cooperation with an international consulting company CTS EMBARQ, which was hired by the Mexico City government to help design a new development tool that aims to revitalize Tacubaya by providing incentives for developers. It’s an initiative that could lead to new affordable housing development and improved transportation while avoiding pitfalls such as congestion, gentrification and displacement.

After two visits to Mexico, countless meetings and hundreds of hours of research, the UCLA Luskin students produced an executive summary and a set of recommendations designed to inform and assist CTS EMBARQ and Mexico City officials with the task of improving life in Tacubaya. One challenge that the students had to overcome: Only four of the 16 could fluently speak and read Spanish.

But that didn't deter the students from doing extensive research into the context and history of the area. They very quickly realized that the project would offer important educational and life lessons.

“As students, we get to play this role of ‘This is our client,’” said Shafaq Choudry, who was one of the students participating in the project. “But we have this opportunity for [CTS EMBARQ] to hear a voice that they might not be able to incorporate as easily, given the relationship they have with the city.

“What we realized as a class was that we can push the bar further. And whether or not EMBARQ incorporates this into their final recommendations, at least we gave them some food for thought,” Choudry said.

Read the complete story posted on the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs website.