Iñaki Echeverría
Architect and Urbanist
Iñaki Echeverría

PPP Innovation for Sustainable Cities

Wed, 11/01/2017 - 14:23

Innovation is often overlooked in the development of infrastructure in Mexico, especially in social infrastructure, according to Iñaki Echeverria, Architect and Urbanist. Developers of hospitals, schools, museums and other public infrastructure often feel they must limit innovation due to a lack of public budget, but the sector is beginning to adapt. “The great opportunity in social infrastructure is that 15 years ago, one had to convince developers and the government to try these new strategies,” he says. “But now, some governments are actually demanding them.”

According to the 2017 Global Innovation Index, Mexico rose from 61 to 58 out of 127 countries in terms of innovation from the previous year. And Echeverria has seen that cities like Mexico City have adopted a more sophisticated mindset in that officials now demand innovative solutions to push the boundaries even further. “In the next 20 years, the industry will see big changes to a more positive scenario that integrates planning, innovation and design. And along with it will be the increase in the demand for consultants and architects like the ones in our firm,” he says.

One of Iñaki Echeverria’s most innovative projects was the design of Monterrey’s Children’s Museum. Instead of having it stand out in the skyline, the firm decided to bury the building underground. “Children’s museums should be fun and the idea of going underground and exploring something new was an interesting twist to the traditional models,” he says. Aside from changing paradigms, this design also came with a series of bioclimatic advantages, especially for an area like Monterrey, known for its hot weather. Creating an underground museum would drastically reduce energy consumption through air conditioning, making the building much more sustainable.

For Mexico’s social infrastructure to fully develop, the firm believes that this kind of socialization or “hacking” of infrastructure as Echeverria calls it, is one of the greatest areas for growth. The country is demanding multifunctional infrastructure and when comparing the amount of federal resources that are allocated to social infrastructure to the amounts allocated to water or transport, the gap is significant. “Social infrastructure needs to be more dynamic, multifunctional and integrated seamlessly into society without decreasing its impact,” he says.

The participation of the private sector in the development of social infrastructure through PPPs is fairly new. This year IMSS and ISSSTE created various PPPs for the construction of public hospitals throughout the country, with great success. The federal budget cuts have pushed the government to shift more responsibility to the private sector, and the private sector is biting.

Chicago is an excellent example of what happens when cities hire private companies to do what they do best. It had a vision over 100 years ago to give both operative and budget independence to its public parks system. This meant that whatever money the park could make from events such as concerts was its own to reinvest. “This is why the city has one of the best systems in terms of urban infrastructure in the world,” says Echeverria. “In Mexico, if there is an art exposition in a museum, all the money goes to the central government. This does not provide any incentive to improve social infrastructure.”

But with Mexico’s current centralized system, upcoming presidential elections threaten to disrupt infrastructure development. “In general, infrastructure industries in all countries are subject to political changes,” he says. “But the stronger the country is, the stronger its institutions; in that sense, the executive power should have little influence on the everyday agenda of its states and municipalities.” Ideally, he says executive powers should have some influence on territorial development but the responsibility should not lie solely with them.