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Mexico City Parks Revival: Partnerships in Action, Part II

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Downtown Mexico City, with one of the world’s largest collections of seventeenth to nineteenth-century architecture, is working hard to reconnect its buildings and parks with pedestrians.  When our group of City Parks Alliance board members traveled to the city in October, we headed downtown after our visit to Chapultepec Park and passed through much construction – the narrowing of streets, the widening of sidewalks, and the remaking of downtown parks such as the Alameda Central.  We also had the chance to climb to the top of city hall to see its rooftop garden, and then gazed down on the main plaza in the historic center of the city, the Zόcola, a gathering place for Mexicans since the Aztec era and filled that day with a giant book fair.

In the Alameda, made iconic in the Diego Rivera mural “Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in the Alameda,” concrete sidewalks have been replaced by marble, and tarp-covered vendor stands were kicked out – a renovation that cost about $18 million.  The newly opened park, anchored by the Palacio de Bellas Artes, is green, walkable, and a respite in the midst of a bustling city.

But the most impressive re-creation we saw was the Parque Bicentenario.  With over 50 acres, the park is ten times as large as the Zόcola and sits on a former refinery site.  It was named Parque Bicentenario in recognition of the 200th anniversary of Mexico’s independence.
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Mexico City Parks Revival: Partnerships in Action

In October I was privileged to be one of a group of City Parks Alliance board members invited by the mayor to come to Mexico City.  It was an opportunity for city park practitioners and advocates to share notes on their best practices – especially around partnerships.  Gil Penalosa, Executive Director of 8-80 Cities, a fellow board member, facilitated the visit as an opening for more dialogue between park leaders in Mexico and the United States.

MC1In addition to the city and the 8-80 Cities team playing host to us, Fundacion+Espacios, the seven year-old nonprofit parks partner in the city, led many of our tours and hosted our discussions.  The foundation is led by a board president who is one of the city’s largest housing developers and who was inspired to create the organization after a visit to San Francisco where he saw ‘parklets.’  When Gabriel Gόmez returned to Mexico City, he began using this idea to build interest around the value of parks.  Gabriel said he and the foundation are working to, “…save the spaces that cars are stealing from pedestrians.”

With a population exceeding 24 million – 8 million in the city proper – Mexico City is among the largest cities in the world, and one of the highest at an elevation of almost 8,000 feet.  I was one of eighteen board members to spend three days touring, sharing stories, and learning a great deal about the city’s new, restored, or redeveloped parks.  This is the first in a short series of blogs on the visit and what we can learn from partnership efforts across our southern border.
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