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Alternative Futures for Tepotzotlan, Mexico
Liat Margolis, Student ASLA, Alex Robinson, Student ASLA, Patrick Curran, Student ASLA

Harvard Graduate School of Design
Advisors: Carl Steinitz, Honorary ASLA, Alexander and Victoria Wiley Professor of Landscape Architecture and Planning, Department of Landscape Architecture

Narrative Summary
This study was both an international and an interdisciplinary effort. Students of landscape architecture, urban planning, and urban design worked with Universidad Autonoma Metropolitana students of urban planning, political science, sociology, and architecture. At the invitation of its Mayor, our collaborative studio studied the municipality of Tepotzotlan and the possibilities for its future development.

Tepotzotlan has a rich cultural, historic, religious, and architectural heritage. It currently has large amounts of open space, including agricultural land and the Sierra in the north of the municipality. Due to its sensitive location in the growth ring of the Mexico City metropolitan area, Tepotzotlan is experiencing intense pressure to develop new housing and attract industry. With increased population and industrialization, Tepotzotlan is experiencing the ills of unregulated development: water shortages, traffic congestion, pollution of rivers and streams, and informal housing development.

Our proposal envisions Tepotzotlan as the green municipality in the Valley of Mexico. In addition, the proposal endeavors to encourage the growth of the municipality as a prominent tourist destination. The Alternative Municipal Plan that we are proposing for Tepotzotlan was developed through an analysis of natural and engineered regional systems. Four major systems were identified as being pivotal in the growth of Tepotzotlan: transportation, water, waste, and landscape. Our proposal is designed to sustainably manage and accommodate the significant growth that Tepotzotlan is destined to experience over the next 25 years.

The current transportation network poses a number of challenges to the growth and quality of life of Tepotzotlan. Existing conditions such as the hundreds of unregulated speed bumps and limited public transportation make moving through Tepotzotlan challenging. With only one main east-west road and one main north-south road, traffic is terrible and mobility is restricted.

A key concept in this network is the separation of different types of traffic. The proposed construction of two new main roads will create a variety of options for major vehicular movement through the municipality. Each of the main roads will be different in character, responding to its adjacent landscape and program.

Providing public transportation is indispensable to alleviating regional and local traffic congestion. A new express bus network will put 80% of residents within a ten minute walk of a bus stop. This bus network connects to a regional rail link. A bike network provides people with alternative options for traveling shorter distances. These transportation improvements will stimulate economic growth, raise property values, and directly improve the quality of life for everyone in Tepotzotlan.

Water supply
Water is another key issue that will not only shape where development can happen but whether it can happen. Water supply is a particularly sensitive issue for Tepotzotlan because of its location within the Valley of Mexico. It is no longer sustainable in the Valley to depend on groundwater for potable water.

Our proposal for ensuring a stable supply of potable water that does not deplete the aquifer is three-fold. The spine of our proposal is first to collect rainfall from the Sierra in reservoirs, and minimally treat it for use as potable water. Second, we propose the reuse of storm water and sewage for water use in industry and agriculture. Third, if the above sources are insufficient, we propose the treatment of storm water and sewage to drinking water quality.

Sewage and Waste
Tepotzotlan, like much of the State of Mexico, neither treats its sewage nor covers its sewers. The sewage situation is compounded by the fact that regional sewage also flows through the municipality in open channels; much of this flows unchecked into water bodies. Tepotzotlan’s sewage facilities are clearly inadequate for both its present population and its future development goals.

By utilizing the water and nutrients from wastewater, our strategy seeks to transform wastewater from a burden into a resource. Sewage can be treated to create fertilizer, energy, and treatable water. There are two major components to this proposed sewage treatment: first, a pipe infrastructure and sewage treatment plant that collects and treats both domestic sewage and industrial effluent. Second, an open wetland treatment system (part of a larger green corridor system) detains urban runoff and allows for cleansing, infiltration, and flood control.

The solid waste situation is also at a critical juncture. The municipality currently puts all of its solid waste into a mismanaged landfill north of downtown. There is no official recycling policy, though some informal recycling does occur. In addition, the landfill is poorly located with respect to both highway access and potential future development. The existing landfill should be capped. A proposed integrated waste facility combines sewage treatment, a solid waste landfill, and an energy generation plant on one highway accessible site.

The landscape plan is the municipal strategy for land conservation, public recreational parks, natural resources management, and visual quality planning. It analyzes and protects both the natural and cultural landscape. There are five components to the landscape plan: visual management, reforestation, Sierra recreation, Sierra edge, and the green corridor network.

  1. The visual management plan is designed to guide the municipality in making land use decisions to preserve and enhance the rich visual landscapes of Tepotzotlan.
  2. The reforestation plan is a priority for the landscape plan because Tepotzotlan has severe erosion in the Sierras and along many streams. There are three types of restoration needed: landslide areas, ecological areas that need reforestation to protect stream corridors and sensitive habitat, and urban areas that need reforestation to shade city streets and improve quality of life.
  3. The Sierra is one of Tepotzotlan’s most valuable resources and requires active stewardship. The Sierra’s Federal Park designation is not enough to protect it from further degradation from erosion, informal housing, and overgrazing. The Sierra stewardship plan is conceived to expand the recreational potential of the Sierras while guaranteeing its conservation.
  4. Due to the affordable housing shortage in Mexico, self-housing (also known as informal sector housing) has become a ubiquitous feature of the Mexican landscape as well as an alternative to expensive urban residences. Self-housing has already begun to encroach on the Sierra, posing a risk to the municipality’s natural resources, water supply and Sierra ecology. The Sierra edge plan proposes different strategies in order to assure the integrity of the area of the Sierra Federal Park and prevent its informal occupation.
  5. The green corridor network serves ecological, aesthetic and civic needs. Ecologically, the network buffers the Rio Hondo (the major local river) from polluted urban runoff and flooding. Aesthetically, the green corridor network serves as a visual connection to the Sierra and prevents the creation of a “linear city” throughout the municipality. The civic benefits of the green corridor network include public spaces for sports, general recreation, events, picnicking, and public events.

By combining these 5 strategic plans, along with a policy of proper stewardship of natural resources, the Sierra will be a source of potable water, tourism income, a public open space amenity and an attractive wildlife refuge. Education will be a key component of active Sierra stewardship and a responsibility for the municipal government.

Case studies
Our proposal for Tepotzotlan tackles many problems at the regional scale, but also illustrates through five case studies and a variety of detailed designs how our municipal proposal can be implemented at the human scale. Each case study shows how housing, landscape space, industry, commercial and institutional zones could take form in specific areas. We propose a strategy that allocates distinct areas for industrial and commercial expansion while using the green corridor system to buffer residential areas from potentially unpleasant views.

The first case study addresses the Rio Hondo, a currently abused and neglected natural resource that forms the southeastern edge of the municipality. The planning and design of the river has two main components, both of which function ecologically while providing recreational spaces. First is the construction of a series of wetlands and marshes that will aid in the cleansing of water. Second is a riparian restoration program that will aid in the filtering of sediments and improve the wildlife habitats of the river.

The downtown case study addresses the quality of urban life in three ways. First, through the development of new civic buildings; second, an integrated system of landscape spaces; and third, improved transportation and parking. We propose an infill strategy that will densify the existing urban fabric. At the same time, we propose protection of existing parks and stream corridors to form a downtown landscape network that can link into the green corridor system.

The central plaza of Tepotzotlan, “The Plaza of the Viceroy”, is characterized by many distinct spaces that serve a multitude of often concurrent needs. The plaza is used on a daily basis by residents but it is also used for special events, including a weekend open air market. There is, however, a lack of sufficient infrastructure to accommodate major downtown activities. The proposal seeks to enhance this symbolic center of the municipality by increasing the spatial cohesion of the plaza. It seeks to improve the plaza without jeopardizing the area’s current character and dynamism.

Methodology and Implementation
The Tepotzotlan studio began with a site visit, in conjunction with UAM students, in September 2004. The visit had two major goals: first, to provide a first hand understanding of the site, its larger context and major issues, and second, to begin to propose possible projects. Throughout the semester, there was frequent collaboration between our studio and UAM. We communicated using videoconferencing, e-mail, and a common web-based file sharing system. Although everyone eventually focused on one topic or another, the final project is one cohesive proposal.

A matrix was developed from the comparison of two alternative models for Tepotzotlan’s growth. One was a market-driven scenario, shaped by private developers of both housing and industry, and the other our municipal plan that would implement development policies based on the analysis of natural and engineered regional systems. From an economic and environmental perspective, there are both short term reasons to support the market driven alternative, and compelling long term reasons to support our alternative. In light of other options, our plan offers the best opportunity to establish high quality residential life, create jobs, and promote environmental stewardship. These factors will make Tepotzotlan a true Green Municipality and role model for other towns in the Valley of Mexico.

The Tepotzotlan study takes a long-term design-oriented approach to physical planning, rather than focusing on the complexities of cost-benefit assessment, institutional change or implementation. While recognizing its limitations, the study may have the advantages of distance and of taking a “fresh look” at issues and prospects for Tepotzotlan. The work is overtly speculative. It is important to emphasize that this type of study neither predicts the future of the region, nor produces an immediately feasible master plan. The policies and proposals which we have developed are investigations of possible futures, given the forces and factors in motion today. Their value is to allow one to visualize the future for a moment, and perhaps to decide whether it is the future that is wanted and what decisions might be needed to take one there.

An exhibition was mounted and our project was presented to the citizens and the public authorities of Tepotzotlan at the Viceroy Museum on January 11th 2005. The exhibition attracted approximately 8000 people over 4 months. Of those 8000, 3200 (50% of which were local residents) filled out the electronic questionnaire provided at the exhibit. Due to its overwhelming popularity, the exhibition was extended by two weeks.

The municipal authorities have decided to develop a new land use plan that incorporates the main ideas (e.g. green corridors, water management) of our student proposal. In addition, there are plans to locally publish two versions of the proposal: a technically detailed version and a plain Spanish summary of the proposal aimed at a wider audience. This exhibit was the official ending of our studio, but for the people of Tepotzotlan it was the beginning of a public debate on the alternatives for their future.



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