A man dressed as a superhero is fighting for pedestrian justice in Mexico City

Peatónito takes matters into his own hands. Image: Peatónito via Facebook.

In Mexico City, an unofficial public service exists to protect the city's pedestrians. His name is Peatónito, which translates as "Pedestrian Man", and he wears all black and what looks like a Halloween superhero mask – but is, we've been assured since originally publishing this story, a Mexican wrestling mask – as he goes about his good deeds. 

According to a recent Guardian profile, Peatónito lurks on the city's busy intersections – some of which are crossed by up to 9,000 people an hour to protect pedestrians' right of way. As the Guardian journalist watched, he noticed a grey Peugeot stopped on the crossing and pushed it back to create space for people to cross. 

Peatónito is actually Jorge Cáñez, a political scientist who dons his mask and has taken to the city's stsreets to solve crimes against pedestrians since 2012. The character even has his own Facebook page, where he is (faintly mysteriously) described as a "sportsperson".

His superhero mask features a green figure walking across a zebra crossing. Beyond car pushing, other activities involve creating new zebra crossings with the help of white spray paint.

These direct actions are a response to the dangers for pedestrians on Mexico City's streets, which (perhaps unsurprisingly, given its size) boasts the highest number of traffic accidents of any city in Mexico. 

So how do the city's millions of drivers react to Peatónito's interventions? According to the Guardian profile, the Peugeot driver responds positively: 

“My name is Peatónito, and I fight for the rights of pedestrians,” he says, introducing himself. The driver smiles and reverses willingly and eventually the pair shake hands. With the pedestrian crossing again flowing as it should, Peatónito heads back to the pavement where he will wait until he is needed again. The traffic light turns green.

Mexico City recently introduced new, lower speed limits on major routes to help make the streets less dangerous for pedestrians. It's not clear whether Peatónito influenced their decision, but we suspect he may have had something to do with it.


What is to be done? Some modest suggestions on solving the NIMBY problem

Lovely, lovely houses. Image: Getty.

The thing about NIMBYism, right, is that there’s no downside to it. If you already own a decent size house, then the fact a city isn’t building enough homes to go round is probably no skin off your nose. Quite the opposite, in fact: you’ll actively benefit from higher house prices.

So it’s little wonder that campaigning against property development is a popular leisure activity among those looking forward to a long retirement (don’t Google it, it’ll only depress you). It’s sociable, it’s profitable, it only takes a few hours a week, and, best of all, it makes you feel righteous, like you’re doing something good. In those circumstances, who wouldn’t be a NIMBY?

To fight the scourge of NIMBYism, then, what we need to do is to rebalance the risks and rewards that its participants face. By increasing the costs of opposing new housebuilding, we can make sure that people only do it when said development is genuinely a horror worth fighting – rather than, say, something less than perfect that pops up a Tuesday afternoon when they don’t have much else on.

Here are some reasonable and sensible ideas for policies to make that happen.

A NIMBY licence, priced at, say, £150 a month. Anyone found practicing NIMBYism without a licence faces a fine of £5,000. Excellent revenue raiser for the Treasury.

Prison sentences for NIMBYs. Not all of them, obviously – we’re not barbarians – but if the planning process concludes that a development will be good for the community, then those who tried to prevent it should be seen as anti-social elements and treated accordingly.

A NIMBY lottery. All homeowners wishing to oppose a new development must enter their details into an official government lottery scheme. If their number comes up, then their house gets CPOed and redeveloped as flats. Turns NIMBYism into a form of Russian roulette, but with compulsory purchase orders instead of bullets.

This one is actually a huge range of different policies depending on what you make the odds. At one end of the scale, losing your house is pretty unlikely: you’d think twice, but you’re probably fine. At the other, basically everyone who opposes a scheme will lose their entire worldly wealth the moment it gets planning approval, so you’d have to be very, very sure it was bad before you even thought about sticking your head above the parapet. So the question is: do you feel lucky?

NIMBY shaming. There are tribal cultures where, when a member does something terrible, they never see them again. Never talk to them, never look at them, never acknowledge them in any way. To the tribe, this person is dead.

I’m just saying, it’s an option.

A NIMBY-specific bedroom tax. Oppose new housing development to your heart’s content, but be prepared to pay for any space you don’t need. I can’t think of any jokes here, now I’ve written it down I think this one’s genuinely quite sensible.

Capital punishment for NIMBYs. This one’s a bit on the extreme side, so to keep things reasonable it would only apply to those NIMBYs who believe in capital punishment for other sorts of crime. Fair’s far.

Pushing snails through their letter boxes. This probably won’t stop them, but it’d make me feel better. The snails, not so much.

Reformed property taxes, which tax increases in house prices, so discourage homeowners from treating them as effectively free money.

Sorry, I’m just being silly now, aren’t I?

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason.

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