Happy New Year everyone.
I finally managed to get some pictures to upload to facebook, although, for some reason, flickr still refuses to cooperate.
Thinking about my project here, one of the most challenging things has been trying to some up for a framework for what "sustainable" really means in the context of Mexico City. I got this following chart from a book called Environmental Problems in Third World Cities by Jorge Hardoy, Diana Mitlin and David Satterthwaite (and in true GSD form, made it prettier... the little icons, by the way, are based on the Mexico City Metro icons).
As I'm sure anyone who knows me much could tell you, my personal interests lean towards the upper left and the lower right.
During my final review for studio last semester, I got called to task, essentially, for not having presented on what my project was really about. Without having thought much about it, I made a lot of decisions in my plan that had a lot to do with reducing car traffic and creating a good public realm. To be honest, those things come so naturally to me that I didn't even realize that I'd done them until it was pointed out in the review. It was a reminder to me to develop my own interests instead of thinking that my projects need to be about something else. You have to dance with who you came to the dance with.*
The first few days of my current project, I found myself getting frustrated. The sites weren't great and I was having a hard time figuring out what, exactly I was here for. My task had been cast pretty wide. It was basically do whatever you need to to move this project forward. Yet, during all that time, I was having a really hard time reconciling the project that I'm working on and the life of the city (which I was really enjoying). On about day four, after having participated in Ciclovia, hung out in beautiful parks and watched pedestrianized streets fill up with thousands of people, just happy to be out for a walk without worrying about traffic, I realized what the project is about...
And it made sense. In a lot of ways, Mexico City already has many of the habits of a "green" city, at least as it's defined by LEED standards. People live in dense situations in smallish apartments. They use significantly less water then a city like New York or London. Buildings are made mostly from local materials, and, even more importantly, those materials work well in the climate, reducing the need for heating and cooling. I've even seen double flush toilets.
So the question became: what parts of that sustainable development chart are most lacking? My personal opinion (but one that I feel is based on the evidence that I've seen) is that the worst part (socially, economically and ecologically) of Mexico City is the traffic and along with that, the amount of otherwise usable human space that is taken up by it.
What I'm planning on proposing now is that the "Green Street" should actually be a bike and pedestrian path that links a few other "green" districts on the east and west sides of the city. To that end, I've been working on designing a few small, inexpensive, design interventions that can convert car streets to bike streets.
In terms of research, I've really started to pay a lot of attention to the bike infrastructure in the city... existing bike lines, bike sharing programs, ect. Today, I went down to UNAM (the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México) and took a look at the amazing bike infrastructure (everything from cages to bridges over major roads) that they've invested in. And, unsurprisingly, it's one of the few places in the city where I've seen lots of people actually using bikes, despite the fact that the campus was pretty empty because of the holiday.
bike cage at UNAM (you notice I got the Arquitectura one!). As I understand it, you can park your own bike here, or, if you want, you can borrow one of the university's bikes and drop it off at any other cage within a half an hour
this is a bike and pedestrian bridge over a major road
this is the major bike facility right next to the university metro station
Tomorrow I'm taking a day off to visit the ruins at Teotihuacan. Then it's a few more days of site visits and measuring streets until I'm back to Boston on the 6th, where I'll write up my report and develop a presentation for the foundation.
*if anyone gets that reference I'll be really impressed
Happy New Year everyone.