With Cinco de Mayo coming up this weekend, we’re shining a spotlight on one social innovator from Mexico City mixing both brawn and brains to make change.
In sweat pants, a long black cape, and a traditional luchador (or Mexican wrestler) mask, 26-year-old Jorge Cañez easily stands out in the congested hubbub of downtown Mexico City. And that’s exactly what he wants.
Jorge, or “Peatónito”—the name of his masked alter ego, has taken it upon himself to bring pedestrian safety back to the streets of a city known internationally for it’s high pedestrian fatality rates. Stationed at high-traffic intersections across town, Jorge acts as an intrepid traffic cop, signaling cars to stop at crosswalks and valiantly guiding pedestrians to the sidewalk.
“People ignore the importance of pedestrian safety in this city, and it’s deadly,” says Jorge, who says that Mexico City sees at least one pedestrian death daily. “I’m trying to make a change by making it fun.”
Peatónito (a derivative of the Spanish word for pedestrian, peatón) has been an active character in the streets of Mexico City since last June. After winning over city transportation officials and community members alike, Jorge’s persona has trigged a transformation within the city’s inner workings.
“I think I’ve helped incorporate the speech of the pedestrian with the department of transportation,” he says, adding that while the city has recently show great interest in bicycle infrastructure, they’ve all but ignored the needs of pedestrians. “Now they actually have an real agenda and are creating public policies to improve pedestrian facilities.”
However, getting to this point took a heap of commitment and drive from Jorge’s end.
A political science graduate and past consultant for Mexico’s Institute of Transportation and Development, Jorge originally advocated for pedestrian rights with a group of local activists, stealthily painting impromptu crosswalks and placing cemented benches in pedestrian-heavy areas downtown. While these acts were essentially illegal, the police who caught Jorge and his team in the act would usually see the good in their intentions.
“Every time it’s the same: We explain to the police what we’re doing, and there’s never a problem,” says Jorge. “They know it’s helping.”
But Jorge still wasn’t convinced that this level of advocacy was enough to make a substantial shift in driver’s (and official’s) ways. So, he took a page from the book of one of his own heroes: Antanas Mockus, the past mayor of Bogotá, Colombia.
“Bogotá used to be one of the more dangerous cities in the world, especially for a pedestrian,” says Jorge. “But Mockus fired the corrupt transit police and hired 400 mimes to police traffic. He made it fun, and things began to change.”
Now, people are turning to Jorge to learn from his work and promote his actions, including local political parties. But the caped crusader remains committed to his original cause.
“Sometimes I get calls from [political] parties asking me to join them,” says Jorge. “But I don’t have a party. I don’t have any side alliance. I am simply an ally to all pedestrians.”
Interested in pedestrian activism or want to learn more about bringing a similar movement to where you live? Send Jorge an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or check out Peatónito on Facebook.