Why Mexico City's ‘High Line’ didn't fly

Mexico City voters rejected turning a busy avenue into a linear park with shopping areas and commercial development.

In May 2014, the government of Mexico City published ambitious plans for a new linear park along and above Avenida Chapultepec, one of its busiest and most congested thoroughfares.

The new structure, to be built partly on decks above street level, evoked New York’s High Line, the popular elevated park atop an abandoned railway that has inspired new parks projects in cities around the world. Avenida Chapultepec was to be narrowed, calming traffic, while water features and green space would have been installed.

But at the end of last year, two-thirds of those who voted in a local referendum gave the Chapultepec Cultural Corridor a thumbs-down.

What went wrong?

It didn’t have to do with the plans themselves, but about the lack of transparency and public participation behind them.

Critics feared that the project would turn the existing public space into a shopping mall after a proposal to re-zone the surrounding area into high-rise commercial buildings surfaced last February. The project was to be built by private firms who would get multi-year leases on that commercial space. (City officials argued it was an incentive to convince firms to invest.)

Other groups, like Greenpeace, feared it would remove existing trees and natural features, and were concerned about the lack of environmental impact studies. Peaceful protests were organized, and on social media, #NoShopultepec was a frequently-cited hashtag.

Currently, Mexico City’s Public Space Authority hopes to coordinate a new version of the Chapultepec project, drawing more heavily from public and stakeholder consultations.

[Read: What Mexico City learned by devoting an office to designing public spaces]

Given Mexico City’s track record of designing public spaces, the Chapultepec Cultural Corridor does have potential to be genuinely great.

“We are looking for more public and green spaces,” says Mexico City native Erik Velasco, who opposed the project, “and not shopping centers.”

ALSO IN THIS SERIES:

Inspired by New York’s High Line, if not always copying it

Peter Harnik on the booming interest in linear urban parks

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Grace Chua is an award-winning journalist who covers science and the environment, from national climate change policy to community anti-littering projects.   Full bio

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