Stories of Young Urbanists: Meet Camila Herrero Rodríguez

03.02.2021, Nayla Saniour

Camila Herrero Rodríguez studied International Relations in her hometown of Mexico City, where she progressively dived into the world of cycling and mobility activism, growing her interest in urbanism. She then obtained a Master’s in Urban and Economic Geography at Utrecht, Netherlands, before returning to Mexico where she is working on several independent consultancy projects. # FROM INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS TO URBANISM I studied International Relations for my Bachelor’s degree, during which I grew an interest in the environment and issues surrounding the [Kyoto Protocol]( and later on the [Paris Agreement]( In my final year, I took an internship at the National Institute of Ecology and Climate Change, where I worked on the evaluation of transportation budgeting in Mexico. I was surprised to see that, within the budgets, up to 70% went for cars only, and the remaining 30% went for everything else including public transportation, pedestrian circulation, and cycling. It became clear to me then that cities were not neutral systems, instead, people could choose how to build and change them by imagining other forms of living and consequently re-directing where to spend the money. # CYCLING, A LIFE CHANGING DISCOVERY My awareness about urban mobility issues had started several years ago on two trips to North America, one to Illinois and another to Quebec, where friends lent me a bicycle to travel around their cities, giving me the freedom to go wherever I wanted. I had never experienced this before in Mexico City, where cycling was not popular. When I started my Bachelor’s, I bought myself a bike and started cycling to university. It was a privilege because I lived close, but it was also a political statement: riding a bike in a city that was made for cars could literally kill you. Cycling was my way of appropriating the urban space I inhabited. {{Pic1: Photo by Marianely Patlán}} # OPPORTUNITIES THROUGH NETWORKING As my interest in cycling grew, I started following the various actors in the mobility scene in Mexico City on social media, mainly on Twitter where the community was most active. I discovered [Bicitekas](, an NGO in Mexico that is part of the cycling movement which started in the 80s: they would be organizing community bike rides in the city when everyone thought it was impossible. During a conference, I had the chance to meet and exchange contact details with one of the founding members of Bicitekas who was giving a talk. A week later, he called and suggested I joined them for the organization of the Sixth World Bicycle Forum that would be taking place in Mexico City the following year. Since I was finishing my Bachelor’s degree and had time on my hands, I happily took the opportunity. # WORLD BICYCLE FORUM IN MEXICO The World Bicycle Forum is the world’s largest cycling event organized by the civil society, which deals with the topics of sustainable urban mobility and city planning through debates, workshops, and cultural activities open to citizens. The forum has been taking place yearly across Latin American cities after a tragic accident in Brazil in 2011 when a car driver deliberately hit and heavily injured around 20 cyclists who were part of a biking event. Throughout the year leading to the forum’s official event week in spring 2017, I was coordinating the Participation and Citizen Committee. I took charge of organizing 39 smaller forum-like events across Mexico and abroad, creating a network of civil society actors, and raising awareness about a variety of mobility issues and innovations. One of the highlights of the forum was establishing the [“Bicycle Mayor” Program]( for Mexico City, an unofficial position to lead initiatives and change in sustainable mobility within the city. {{Pic2: Photo from the internal archive of the Sixth World Bicycle Forum}} # A MASTER’S IN THE COUNTRY OF BICYCLES The forum connected me with a huge number of people within the mobility sector, many of whom I became close friends with, and with whom I shared a deep interest in urbanism. After this adventure, I decided to specialize in urbanism and mobility, and getting a Master’s degree seemed like the way to go. The choice of country was obvious to me: I wanted to go to the Netherlands, the country of bicycles, to gain a deeper understanding of their success in sustainable mobility and experience firsthand their way of living and biking. I wanted to learn from a city designed for people riding bicycles. I eventually chose the Master’s in Urban and Economic Geography at Utrecht University, Utrecht being a student city where people rely heavily on their bicycles. # HOW TO GET A SCHOLARSHIP When looking for a Master’s program, I applied and was lucky to be granted a prestigious scholarship by the National Council of Science and Technology ([CONACYT](, Mexico's official entity in charge of granting scholarships for postgraduate studies, among other educational matters. The university’s tuition fees were covered and I also received a generous monthly allowance -among other benefits- to pursue studies related to sustainability and energy. Unfortunately, these scholarships are not available anymore, but here is my advice regarding scholarship applications: you need to research well in advance to have all the documents well put together on time. It is also essential to be clear on what you want, to make your story convincing for whoever is evaluating it, and to use all the arguments that support it. In my application, I strived to demonstrate how my life’s academic, professional, and personal experiences revolved around sustainability, urban mobility and cycling, and why the Netherlands was the best place for me to learn about that. # CLIMATE ACTIVISM AND GIVING BACK TO ONE’S COUNTRY While I was in the Netherlands, the youth protests for climate were arising across Europe, which made me highly aware, more than ever before, of climate change and the global environmental crisis. I became more involved in activism and after my Master’s I felt the urgency to find a job that tackled both mobility and environmental issues. I also aspired to work for my own country: having learned from the Netherlands, I felt it was important to go back to Mexico and work there, applying my knowledge on a local level where people have to deal with so many urban and environmental issues. I had received a considerable scholarship from Mexico, so it was time for me to give back. {{Pic3: Photo by Derk Visser}} # THE DISILLUSION OF WORKING IN A LOCAL GOVERNMENT Back in Mexico City, I contacted people in my network to find a job. Eventually, I found one through a friend and started working as deputy director for environmental management in one of the municipalities of Mexico City. I was mainly in charge of a [tree census]( and of several orchards of the municipality. I also worked on issues related to green infrastructure and energy transition. I learned a lot, but I was also frustrated and disillusioned about the efficiency and impact of this kind of work: in Latin America, the most qualified and professional people work on the federal level, pushing for change in the urban and environmental agenda, but the local governments – where I was working at the time – are merely preoccupied with the bureaucratic issues without caring much about any change. I worked there for slightly less than a year, but I quickly realized it was not the place for me to be part of the change I was aspiring to. # BECOMING AN INDEPENDENT CONSULTANT After leaving the job at the municipality, I contacted my network once again to find a job. My friends were all mobilized to help me. I ultimately found a short three-month consultancy project for the [Institute for Transportation and Development Policy]( (ITDP Mexico) funded by the Interamerican Development Bank, the transportation app Waze, and a vanpool company, to write safety recommendations for the use of shared transport during the Covid-19 pandemic. Today, I aspire to become an independent consultant and work on a variety of projects. I think it’s part of being a millennial: I would love to manage my own time and choose the projects I enjoy doing, before settling down my professional career on a specific area of expertise. Of course, not having a stable position comes with a state of uncertainty and I need to be constantly looking for new projects. # THE IMPORTANCE OF NETWORKING I found most of my jobs through personal networking, but I believe that being part of a network of active professionals goes beyond simply finding opportunities when you are jobless. To me, it was always about discovering what’s out there and how I could be part of the change. A well-curated network exposes you to new ideas and projects, things that you could be interested in but never thought about before. Setting up your network means finding out which people and organizations are involved in which specific projects and being able to determine exactly who to call or message for a particular topic.