The city of Nogales was once a buzzing U.S. border factory town in the maquiladora program of the North American Free Trade Agreement, located in Mexico’s Sonora state. But the city of some 200,000 has had a tough time maintaining an attractive image for its citizens, much less tourists, of late. About 200 people reportedly have been killed in Nogales this year; over 400 pounds of cocaine were seized from a single northbound car one day in November; and U.S. consular workers now are advised to conduct routine travel in armored vehicles.
However, new Mayor Jose Angel Hernandez has come up with a scheme to brighten up Nogales, including a program to paint more than a thousand houses, once cement grey, in the neighborhoods along the border crossing between the United States and Mexico, which hosts around 50,000 vehicles per day. Using paint donated by the State of Sonora, and funding from a variety of state and federal sources, the mayor is priming the city’s Urban Image department to literally transform the look of the city. The federal secretariat for social development, Sedesol, was one key federal supporter of the project.
International paint manufacturers often adopt historic sections of a city, painting buildings with significant architecture perhaps registered with organizations like the United Nations. Other paint makers have merged advertising and charity activities by painting soccer stadiums across Latin America. And some paint companies have moved into the poorest parts of town to add color to the lives of the local denizens.
But in the case of Nogales, the mayor intends to get over 1,400 houses painted by the end of 2010, as new funding materializes. The program, originally funded at close to $100,000 and led by Armando Gutierrez Jimenez, did not actually seek to paint the entire target houses, but merely the two sides facing the border roadway in neighborhoods like Los Encinos. Colors also have been limited to yellow, blue, green, orange and pink, ostensibly reflecting the five leading political parties in the area. And the volume of paint acquired for the program was originally set at about 1,000 five-gallon buckets.
Similarly, in Nogales’s central Plaza Pesqueira, the Urban Image department has painted vendors stalls in orange and green, to help liven up the area, and to give it a more planned and maintained look. Park benches are being repainted, and new palm trees are being planted to appeal to tourists and crime-wary citizens alike.
There may be a market opportunity for international paint companies to step up to the plate in some of their deeply-troubled market communities, like Nogales, and donate or subsidize paint to help turn the tide of urban decay into boot-strap gentrification. The risk, however, of being drawn by name into the war between the drug lords that terrorize such cities and the government officials whom hope to dislodge them, may seem too great a cost. Indeed, the continuation of the Urban Image project in Nogales may help to define a safe solution for companies now on the sidelines.