Urban Density: the Key to Sustainability and EfficiencyWed, 11/01/2017 - 14:15
Long hours of daily commutes and pollution have become the norm in Mexico City, one of the largest cities in the world with over 21 million inhabitants in the greater metropolitan area. For the second year in a row, the TomTom Traffic Index ranked it as the city with the most traffic congestion problems in the world. This issue causes drivers to take up to 66 percent more time to get to their final destination in comparison to how long it would take under normal conditions. In all, drivers in the city add up to 227 hours per year in extra travel time, according to the report.
Developers can use the chaos of the capital as a learning opportunity to fix past mistakes through strategic urban design, says Rafael Monjaraz, Partner at Serrano Monjaraz Arquitectos. He says Mexico City needs to be completely restructured. “Everything that does not work should be taken out,” he says. “Soon, we will have new technology like self-driving cars completely changing our concept of roads and streets. We need to adapt our concept of infrastructure to this reality.”
The process will take time and collaboration between the public and private sectors but for now, the architecture firm strives to lead the transformation through awardwinning designs of innovative and sustainable spaces in the corporate, commercial, residential and tourism spheres.
Serrano Monjaraz is developing blueprints for a wide range of projects in the Riviera Maya, Queretaro, Ciudad Juarez and Guanajuato for all types of industries. It has broken paradigms in innovative use of space with the development of projects like Puerta Alameda, which has 650 apartments, each 60m2. “It seemed almost impossible to ensure a high quality of life in such a small space,” says Monjaraz. “But people that work all day and live alone do not need massive spaces. We were even able to include terraces and a park in the residential building.”
The creation of these mixed-use, all-in-one spaces is one of the best ways to improve the quality of life of citizens in highly densified populations, according to Juan Pablo Serrano, Partner at Serrano Monjaraz. “Dense spaces are proven to be more sustainable,” he says. “A study compared Houston, a city with 15 people per hectare (pph), Madrid with 30pph, and Manhattan with 150pph. It found that New York is the most efficient because its density reduces its consumption of energy, carbon emissions and travel distances.” Urban density also has the benefit of requiring smaller infrastructure investments when it comes to transportation and other social services.
Unfortunately, instead of using density to create better planned cities and minimize urban sprawl, secondary cities seem to be copying errors made in Mexico City. “If expansion is not properly controlled, it will be almost impossible to control elements such as transportation in cities like Merida and Tijuana,” says Monjaraz.
This is where he sees Serrano Monjaraz’s expertise coming in. The architecture firm creates an impact in the industry by creating structures that efficiently consume water and electricity. “We want to set an example for the entire industry,” he continues. “Being sustainable and fully integrated is no longer a choice, especially considering how far behind Mexico is in this matter.” The firm is composed of an interdisciplinary team that knows how to communicate with project managers, construction companies, developers and investors to help structures adapt to the demands of the industry, society and the incoming generations.
The innovative firm believes there is still hope for Mexico City since the entire structure of the metropolitan area can be changed step by step. Serrano says the city should work toward reducing its periphery and incentivizing internal urban density as a way to create livable and walkable spaces. “An example is the property that is being left behind by the current international airport in Mexico City,” he says. “Ecological groups are suggesting it become a massive park but it makes more sense to allocate a few blocks throughout the city instead so that housing developments can be surrounded by green areas, rather than having one large park on the outskirts.” Dynamic spaces create more unified neighborhoods and a higher living standard for residents.