Es lamentable que sea la prensa extranjera la que difunda los proyectos verdaderamente visionaros y audaces que generan los arquitectos, urbanistas y ambientalistas mexicanos con un compromiso con el futuro y un respeto al pasado de la ciudad. Estos jovenes han sido capaces de vislumbrar un oasis, un parque lineal arbolado, con andadores, ciclovias, espacios de reunion y de juego a lo largo de 9 kilometros por el medio de la ciudad.
Han sentido piedad por la ciudad y sus habitantes y han imaginado la recuperacion y transformacion del Rio de la Piedad en un largo espacio publico, un parque lineal de la ciudad.
Look, they say, at the odd bend in the six-lane freeway, the Viaducto Miguel Alemán; or on the side streets, at the thicket of especially large trees. Better yet, walk the median, stare down the sewer grates and glimpse the cause: the Río Piedad, or Pity River.
To most urban eyes, it is just a hidden canal of trash and feces, paved over since 1952. But to these three, among others, it is a symbol of history lost, and perhaps regained. Ignore the cough, cough of exhaust, the stink and the cost, they shout over the traffic — think bliss.
“Imagine kids singing, playing in the water and dancing,” said Delfín Montañana, 27, a biologist who works with Mr. Cattan’s firm, Taller 13 Regenerative Architecture. “This is the biggest opportunity the city has to create a real public space.”
Mr. Cattan has a more technical phrase for their plans: “transformational infrastructure.” A local leader in green building — a whirl of energy armed with Apple technology — he sees a revival of the Río Piedad as the first step in creating a rehabilitated city, glistening with the water that defined this capital before the Spaniards arrived.
The proposal he submitted to city planners in March is clearly ambitious. It would restore at least three rivers, replacing busy roads with a ring of water and parks around the city center. A few lanes for cars would be allowed on the outer edges, but walking, bicycling and mass transit would take precedence. There would be fish and birds living in the river, and driving across to the urban core would mean paying a congestion tax.
“It’s urban surgery,” Mr. Cattan said. “It’s not acupuncture.”
And yet, what if the patient is too sick for the scalpel? Prophets and young dreamers are rarely very good at diagnosis, and in terms of water, Mexico City is practically on its deathbed. What was once a city of interconnected lakes and more than 60 rivers is now a dusty megalopolis with barely a clean stream or pond, with a broad downtown plaza sinking into what was once a wetland, and with a water supply dependent on sources 250 miles away.
Colonization is the main, but not the only, cause. The Aztecs were the first to alter the natural hydrological rhythms, partly to manage flooding, partly to create a capital that could be easily protected. More recently, industrialization and the rise of the car did their own damage, as various presidents in the 1940s and ’50s put roads above rivers to ease the pressure that a growing population put on transportation.
These days, city officials say there is only so much they can do to reverse the process. “The truth is that rescuing rivers is a really good idea,” said Martha Delgado, minister of the environment for Mexico City. But, she added, “We have limited resources.”
The rivers that are currently a high priority for the city, she said, are easier to fix — like the Río Magdalena in a southern section of the city, which is not covered by concrete, and not rife with sewage. “The Río Piedad is not a river anymore,” she said. “It’s just not.”
Mr. Cattan thinks the naysayers are overcomplicating matters. Citing a completed road-replaced-river project in Seoul, South Korea, he predicted that the eight-mile Río Piedad could be revived and turned into a park in two years at a cost of about $1 billion.
Manuel Perlo Cohen, an economist at the Autonomous University of Mexico who coordinated the rehabilitation plan for the Río Magdalena, said that figure was far too low: “If you are going to clean that water, you have to build sewage treatment plants, which can be done, of course, but it means huge investments and a place to build them.”
Plus, he said, the Río Piedad is actually “more of an artificial creation than a natural stream” since it is an amalgam of two other rivers, the Becerra and the Tacubaya, which engineers combined in the 19th century to prevent flooding. “What we need,” he said, “are projects rooted in technical and historic terms.”
Nonetheless, not even Mr. Perlo could resist the appeal of stripping away the hated highway suffocating the Río Piedad and replacing it with a healthy waterway. “Right now it sounds like utopia,” he said, “but in two or three decades, we might have the resources and the changes in the city that we need to do it.”
Not that Mr. Cattan, Mr. Montañana and the third leader of the project, Lucie Nguyen, 25, intend to wait that long. They are submitting their plans to architecture competitions, and trying to raise money for more research.
Mr. Cattan, meanwhile, has taken the lead in badgering city officials and friends of Mayor Marcelo Ebrard in e-mails, and sometimes, he admits, at parties after one too many glasses of mezcal. In a moment of greater calm, away from the Viaducto footbridge, separated from plans, diagrams and quotes from Buckminster Fuller (“Make that which you want to change obsolete”), he said his desire for his city was really quite simple. Perhaps even childlike.
“I just want a river,” he said. “A real river.”
El parroquialismo de los medios mexicanos incapaces de darle difusion a una vision, una propuesta de rescate del medio ambiente natural que haria surgir un oasis natural del desierto producido por la dependencia en la movilidad den automovil que ha generado la expansion urbana horizontal en la ciudad de Mexico.