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How Mexico City Became More Pedestrian-Friendly, Step by Step

Mexico City's city-wide bicycle scheme Old and new in Mexico City

We love stories about people taking action to solve a city's problems, and stories about the pedestrianisation cities. This story ticks both those boxes.

Thorsten Englert is a German architect who has been based in Mexico City for 10 years. He has a passion for designing sustainable buildings and, as he puts it, the "spaces between buildings".

In addition to running his architectural practice in the Roma district of Mexico City, Thorsten teaches architecture and urban design at UNAM (Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico). The campus in the south of the city is also a UNESCO heritage site.

Like up to 100,000 other pedestrians, Englert's daily journey to the university takes him by bus to the Doctor Galvez Metrobus Station, and by foot the rest of the way. Englert became fed up risking life and limb daily on this treachurous commute to class, and from the contiuous sore throat caused by the pollution. The walk simply isn't designed for pedestrians.

Pedestrian crossings are unsafe, and pavements (side-walks) are narrow and usually blocked by street vendors, forcing pedestrians onto the busy streets. The traffic-congested roads act as barriers, rather than links between the university, the station, and the surrounding neighbourhood. There had to be a better way.

Englert and his team saw an opportunity for this part of Mexico City. They asked, why not create a secure pedestrian zone for pedestrians between the station and the university, that would also link a variety of urban spaces together, thus creating a new sequence of public spaces?

The area around UNAM is home to many office buildings, residential neighbourhoods, student housing and several parks. The project has the potential to create a new point of attraction for students, residents, office workers and commuters.

Englert's approach to urban planning is to look holistically at the economic, social and environmental aspects of a project. In this project the economic aspect includes giving economic opportunity to the local community, such a street vendors; the social – creating attractive public spaces for all users; and the environmental – greening the area, cleaning up the air and reducing traffic.

The plan would provide prime locations for local vendors to cater to the large flow of pedestrian traffic. New squares and a community centre would provide public spaces. Transport-wise, the plan would offer better access to the Metrobus station for passengers, therefore increasing its use, and gives Ecobici, Mexico City's bike-share network, a launch-pad to expand to the south of the city.

Ecobici: Mexico City's city-wide bicycle scheme Pedestrianised shopping street in Mexico City

How to make it happen?

The ideas sound great. But how could Englert and his team take an idea from the drawing board to reality? The stakeholders in such a project are, after all, numerous. There are the users, the governments and regulators, the investors, and the implementers to consider.

Engaging them from the start, says Englert. That is thekey to obtaining not only their support, but also their ideas that shape and enrich the project. The team also includes a sociologist who acts as the communicator between the many the stakeholders.

Because of the size of the project, and the breadth of stakeholders involved, the project has been divided into several manageable phases. The first phase, a pedestrian bridge, is the phase that currently enjoys broad support among stakeholders. By starting here, the hope is that each subsequent phase will have a larger and larger number of supporters. Thorsten calls it the snowball approach.

Plans for the 'Pedestrian connection without barriers' project Plans for the 'Pedestrian connection without barriers' project

Let's experiment

The team are now experimenting with a few new solutions and technologies to add a few special touches to the project. Some of the proposed ideas include turning vibrations from into electricity to illuminate lights.

These same noisy vibrations may also be transformed into pleasing acoustic sounds in the park above using a Tibetan signing bowl. Englert is currently working with acoustic artists on this solution.

Plants and trees in the squares above will also play a dual function, as providers of shade and greenery above, and providing clean air into the tunnels below.

If the project is successfully implemented, some 100,000 pedestrians can say good-bye to barriers and hello to neighbours and integrated public spaces. We are looking forward to seeing this ambitious project completed.

Not only will pedestrians have a safer, healthier, and more enjoyable walk to and from the university, but a whole area of Mexico City will find new life economically and socially in a greener, more attractive setting.

Thorston Englert (left) and GreenByBlue's Alex

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