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Mexico City has good reason to be optimistic these days. Crime rates have tapered and the city has managed to distance itself from an ongoing drug war that has claimed more than 35,000 lives since 2006.

With the bulk of the violence occurring in the northern border region, edgy Mexico City has never seemed safer and the once-fearsome capital is leaving its bad boy image behind as it undergoes a big-time makeover.

Downtown revival
The driving force behind the city's recent turnaround is a multi-million dollar renovation program, which comes packaged with serious security improvements. Several side streets in the Centro Histórico that were once rife with drug dealing and petty crime have been transformed into convivial pedestrian thoroughfares lined with sidewalk restaurants and boisterous bars. Al Andar, a tiny mescal joint, takes centre stage on the Regina corridor, while one block south on San Jerónimo, the tapas bar Hostería La Bota is all the rage.

Even Plaza Garibaldi (Eje Central Lázaro Cárdenas), the Centro's notoriously seedy mariachi square, has a much different feel now with its spruced-up surroundings, new tequila and mescal museum and a notably stronger police presence. Though the scenery has changed, it is business as usual on the raucous plaza, where crowds gather around mariachi ensembles belting out heartfelt ballads. Hat dancing and tequila shots are optional.

Long live the revolution!
Another public square that recently received a major facelift is the Plaza de la República, home to the imposing Monumento a la Revolución. The long-neglected Art Deco monument benefited from a thorough restoration and has a new star attraction: a glass elevator that ascends 60 meters to a lookout point with a panoramic view of the city.

The on-site Museo Nacional de la Revolución also got some much-needed love with an ambitious remodelling job that brings it up to speed with the 21st Century. The revolutionary heroes, whose tombs are inside the wide pillars, can rest easier now that they're getting their due respect.

Going green
South of the monument, along the revamped Avenida Paseo de la Reforma, a bicyclists' movement is taking shape. The city recently designated bike lanes along the broad tree-lined avenue that connects downtown to Chapultepec Park. On Sundays, Reforma is closed to car traffic to make way for bicyclists, rollerbladers and joggers.

Though motorists here still have a lot to learn about respecting bicycles, the culture is growing fast thanks in large part to a new commuter bicycle system dubbed EcoBici. EcoBici, along with the Metrobús (a rapid transit bus system designed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions), form part of an environmental program to make the smog-choked capital less polluted and "more livable".

That is no easy feat in one of the most populated cities in the Western Hemisphere.

© 2011 Lonely Planet. All rights reserved. The article ‘Mexico City, a bad boy no more’ was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.

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