Mario Schjetnan
Director General
Grupo de Diseño Urbano (GDU)
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View from the Top

A Galaxy of Opportunities

Tue, 11/01/2016 - 10:35

Q: How do you integrate landscape architecture and environmental design into urban development in Mexico?

A: The timeline for an urban project is different to an architectural project. The same can be said about parks. Flexibility, patience and endurance are vital assets because of the length of time needed to develop a project. The first step is to study the conditions of the site or region from an environmental perspective. We look at the geography, biodiversity, hydrology and topography and these variables must be considered in urban design. The next step is how to establish these conditions as guides for the design. There are many aspects that are hidden away and that often can be overlooked when designing urban landscapes. In the city it is crucial to consider the social context and many social factors. The way people move around a city, for example, greatly influences the design of an urban site.

Q: What role do these concepts play in helping bridge the socioeconomic aspects in Mexico City?

A: Mexico City resembles a galaxy where some areas are extremely beautiful and others hideous. There is a continuous contrast of order and chaos and from this point of view Mexico City holds a special place as a global metropolitan area. The city harks back to the Pre-Hispanic era when Tenochtitlan was the epicenter surrounded by a myriad of towns and settlements. During the colonial period these settlements became towns with their own identity and characteristics. Mexico City is a collection of horrible and beautiful things woven together, a city full of surprises that brims with endless possibilities. It is not a megalopolis of anonymity but one that has a historical structure. Other areas such as Ecatepec have a character of anonymity because in the past it was a lake that was drained for urban settlements. The way to structure the city is to envelop its historical, social and physical factors into the design.

Q: What challenges did the Chapultepec Park restoration present?

A: The Chapultepec Park project is a wonderful example of a project led by the private sector and citizen participation. When we established the initiative to restore and rehabilitate the park, it was difficult to convince the public that the extraction and cutting of trees was needed and that the park had to be temporarily closed. To demonstrate the benefits of clearing out the dead trees from the forest, we enlisted the help of two universities to carry out a test run. We demonstrated that we would reuse all the cuttings to improve the quality of the soil. The large numbers of vendors, both legitimate and illicit, and the enormous flow of people were damaging the park so we reorganized the flow and areas of congregation to make it less dense. It is a complex social-engineering project that has to be executed carefully. The political involvement creates many variables that are not particularly technical but together make the project more intricate and require intense negotiation.

Q: What impact does LEED certification have?

A: The Green Building Council is establishing criteria to certify LEED projects at the urban level, in terms of residual water and other environmental issues, which is important in this project because it is located in a delicate lava rock environment in Mexico City’s Pedregal neighborhood. The region is crucial for the percolation of water that replenishes the aquifers of the city. The first condition was to establish where not to build and where to conserve. The area will include new strategies for rainwater collection, recycling of resources and water management. Most of the time, LEED is a marketing tool but for this project it was used to establish the conditions for developing the site. The biggest hurdle GDU encountered was the environmental legal requirements. Environmental laws can be confusing at times and the regulations should be well-established, transparent and less politicized.