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Are Urban Microcenters the Solution to Urban Sprawl?

During the last decades, the conurbation problem in large cities has increased, reaching alarming levels. According to the information published in the 2010 Living Planet Report, 3,500 million people live in urban areas and estimations say that for the year 2050 this number will duplicate to almost 6,300 million people.

In the case of Mexico, this problem becomes relevant when we see the alarming growth in the conurbation of the country's main cities:

  • Guadalajara City: conurbation with municipalities such as El Salto, Tlajomulco de Zuñiga, Tlaquepaque, Tonalá, and Zapopan.
  • Monterrey City: conurbation with municipalities such as Apodaca, García, General Escobedo, Guadalupe, Juárez, Santa Catarina, San Nicolás de los Garza, and San Pedro Garza García.
  • Mexico City: has a crushing total amount of 56 municipalities. Those that stand out are due to their impact on the Metropolitan Area: Chimalhuacán, Ecatepec de Morelos, Atizapán de Zaragoza, Tlalnepantla de Baz, Coacalco de Berriozábal, Ixtapaluca, Tultitlán, Cuautitlán Izcalli, Valle de Chalco, Naucálpan de Juárez, and Ciudad Nezahualcóyotl.

Unfortunately, we have not used space wisely and now we must face the consequences, because when we promote horizontal growth in cities, we have created serious environmental problems, such as:

  • Consumption of large amounts of land to urbanize.
  • Loss of farming lands and natural resources like forests.
  • Enormous costs of making basic infrastructure like water, sewage, and energy available for those areas.
  • Reductions in groundwater recharge areas.
  • Increase of carbon footprint for the entire population
  • Increase of travel times from these new housing areas to workplaces.

In the case of Mexico City's Metropolitan Area (ZMVM, according to its initials in Spanish) this is a primary concern, since it represents one of the three most populated areas on the planet and the urban sprawl keeps on enlarging every year, devouring more and more hectares of land, so that new housing developments can be built. Nevertheless, along with the awareness of the environment, the development of new housing developments regarded as "sustainable" has risen in recent times. This has been accomplished by means of solar heaters, photovoltaic cells, and implementation of products with low contents of volatile organic compounds (VOC), or, through other mechanisms, such as green mortgages, and even in some cases, the use of certifications, although these developments are still located on the out skirts, very distant from the working areas, which makes their apparent sustainability, questionable. The reason is that due to the centralization present on urban areas, it forces people who live on the outskirts to travel huge distances to reach their workplaces.

Metropolitan Zone of the Mexico Valley
Metropolitan Zone of the Mexico Valley
The city's growth has been marked by real estate developers

At present, the average time a person needs to travel from home to a workplace is around 4 hours, which represents a total loss of 20 hours every week, that is, 80 hours per month, 960 hours yearly, which translates into a devastating total of 40 days in traffic a year.

This is reflected in time loss, otherwise destined for leisure, quality of life, time spent with the family, in addition to the obvious heavy traffic that floods the main roads of ZMVM, which results in enormous energy costs for moving this population, and this translates in huge CO2 emissions into the atmosphere, in other words, "pollution".

Hence, the need to create urban microcenters, that are located in central areas in the city, where the necessary infrastructure for transportation, subway systems, metro buses, buses, etc., as well as water supply, sewage, energy power, is already present. Moreover, they integrate elements in the design of their façades and facilities that allow reductions of resources and generated waste; also, they are mostly vertical urban groups that merge different activities on one place, integrating housing, offices, commerce, hotels, fun, and mostly, public spaces in squares, gardens on the ground floor or even on higher levels. The objective is to reduce the need to travel around the city, which at the same time has a direct bearing on traffic density. This allows the quality of life of users, to improve, which makes the city more efficient.

Mexico City has excellent examples of these types of developments, as it is the case of the Recovery Plan of San Francisco atrium, by Jaime Ortiz Monasterio; Architect, Reforma 222, by Teodoro Gonzales de León; Corporativo 553 or Real Loft , both by Picciotto Architects.

Rhizome community
Rhizome community
Multipurpose space for redensify the downtown of mexico (designed by Francisco Vazquez)


Therefore, the future of the city lies on the creation of these urban microcenters, because they allow the soil's recycling and enhancement, and the integration of new technologies, diversifying the real estate options, optimizing urban functionality, and allowing people to reach a higher quality of life.