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Megaby at the breaking point

The UN Commission on Sustainable Development wants increased focus on the world's metropolitan environments. In Mexico City, the world's largest metropolitan area, the consequences of this entire environmental foundation are threatened.


[mexico city] Almost 20 years ago, one of history's most powerful earthquakes shook Mexico City. More than ten thousand people were killed and the population is still struggling with the aftermath. The quake came to represent a new era in the city's history, where it turned out that it was more than the forces of nature that operated in uncontrolled forms.

As a result of explosive urbanization during the latter half of the 1900th century, Mexico's scale has only increased and increased, with no city planners able to maintain the necessary governance. Illegal and irregular neighborhoods are sprawling in the core areas, and have developed almost freely in the shade of better-off parts of the city. No one has made arrangements for sanitary conditions, water supply and sewerage. No one has taken responsibility for connecting the boroughs to the public transport system. No one has made sure to regulate and preserve green, valuable lungs of untouched or cultivated land.

- The consequences, which have become so all too clear today, are not just a monstrous city, completely divided by social and economic differences. It is also a city that is about to be destroyed due to mismanagement, according to Alvarado Ruiz, sociologist and former director general of Tlalplan, the largest district in Mexico City, with more than 600.000 inhabitants.

Only in Tlalplan, located south of Mexico City, there are today over a hundred irregular residential areas. The municipality is struggling especially with great pressure on land, with increasing social inequality and with water shortages.

- It has become dangerous to live in Mexico City. One thing is increasing crime. Another thing is that we poison ourselves, and constantly continue to disturb our ecological foundation. Since the city was once established on the soft swamps of a lake, Lake Texcoco, we are actually exceptionally vulnerable, Ruiz explains.

Although Mexico as a nation has a state budget that ranks among the top ten in the world economy, the willingness to think is ecologically and sustainably scarce, he believes, and also points out that there is too little cooperation between the national government and the governing bodies of Mexico City locally .

- The reforms are too slow and the constant political upheavals mean that positive projects stop again and again. The result has been a multi-headed troll, who I fear can crack at any time, he says.

Raging together

Megabyen, with nearly 20 million inhabitants within the urban zone, is in a complex, negative spiral. Large populations of people use a lot of water, which is why the groundwater beneath the city has dropped radically since the mid-1950s. Some buildings fall by up to nine centimeters each year, and according to the ecological movement in Mexico City, the city has fallen by a full eleven meters in the last 100 years. Among other things, the world-renowned Cathedral of El Zocalo in the heart of Mexico City has been collapsing several times, as has the Basilica of Guadalupe, Latin America's most popular ritual visitation destination. Unesco has provided support for restoration work in the historic center of the city, while the Catholic Church spends a fortune each year supporting the many hundred-year-old cathedrals.

Gradually, advanced techniques have been developed to stiffen the remaining buildings from the time of the Spaniards and from the magnificent era of Porfirio Diaz in the late 1800th century. In many places, however, you see how entire quarters are at odds, and how the asphalt winds and cracks. Here and there are buildings that are directly divided into two. As with the El Zocalo Cathedral, where one part of the building rests solidly on ruins from the Aztec era, while the other stands more unsupported on marshland. According to architects and building experts, one should ideally not build more than three floors high in this oldest part of the city, to avoid the houses sinking and becoming too crooked.

Myths and power

Due to the displacements, the city's most important sewer and sewerage channels have fallen, so the sludge is now running the wrong way. In many places, the pipes have also burst, and contaminated sewage seeps into the groundwater. This destroys the soil, and is also directly dangerous by floods, which often occur during the rainy season. The predatory operation on land to residential areas has led to deforestation, so that the soil does not absorb or absorb the flood water, and the air becomes more dusty than necessary.

The communication structure is also on the brink of collapse. Where the subway was initially built on an uphill slope, it now goes downhill to several places, and some station areas are gradually lower than the railroad crossing. The development of the public transport network has also not kept pace with urban growth, and the solution for many has become the car. Mexico City's federal district holds more than 3,5 million cars, and traffic pollution is so massive that authorities have imposed driving bans on some days. If you are new to the city, and come into the center, you know how the exhaust rod protrudes in the throat and lungs. The eyes run, the nose closes and some days, especially in February and March, it can get so bad that many cannot move outdoors.

- It is often claimed that the problems we struggle with are due to population growth alone. Personally, I think on the contrary that all people are a resource, but that the modern city in its time was built in the wrong place. A city with Mexico City dimensions should never be here, says Nadia Nehls, at the Department of Urbanism at the University of Mexico City. Nehls has been a Peace Corps in Norway, and is affiliated with FOSOVI, a private organization that provides assistance for house building and urban development in Mexico City. Nehls tells how the Aztecs in their time chose the swamps by Lake Texcoco as their headquarters – based on a myth. Where they first spotted an eagle catching a snake, on top of a nopal cactus, where the city was supposed to lie.

- The Spaniards continued to build and develop in the same place as the Indians had established themselves, only as a demonstration of power. To show that they could conquer land from the natives. What they unfortunately forgot was that they could not repeal the laws of nature, she says. n

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