Welcome to the Startup Tijuana
from THE ATLANTIC CITYLAB | CHRIS BENTLEY
While many Americans still associate Tijuana with drug cartels and debauched excursions into Mexico, the border town‘s artists and entrepreneurs are orchestrating a rebirth that defies longstanding stereotypes.
The Street Opera Festival drew close to 10,000 people in July. A commercial strip once known for cheesy tchotchkes hosted a popular art walk. Tech companies like Uber are adapting the startup culture of neighboring San Diego, mounting a small-business revolution based out of a derelict bus station.
Just five years ago, such vibrancy was unimaginable. The city was gripped with violence in the waning years of the Arellano Félix drug cartel—civilian killings and kidnappings were rampant as criminals resisted a quasi-military campaign dubbed Operation Tijuana.
“In 2010 that stopped, and it left this kind of peace in the city, and a post-traumatic kind of feel,” says Tijuanan Miguel Buenrostro.
Buenrostro returned home in 2010 after graduating from film school, invigorated by documentary projects he’d led in Mexico City and Guadalajara. The next year he started Reactivando Espacios, a series of short documentaries exploring urban planning through lyrical footage of forgotten buildings and public spaces.
“We decided to do a memoir of the abandoned spaces of the city,” says Buenrostro, 30. “We were creating stories, narratives out of those spaces.”
Over time, he started picking up those narratives where his videos left off, expanding Reactivando Espacios beyond the camera lens.