The color that comes to mind when thinking of a city is usually grey. Concrete jungles made up of glinting glass skyscrapers and black asphalt roads intertwining between communities. The first things to disappear as cities turn into metropolises is the color green. Parks, common areas, trees and nature are sacrificed to allocate valuable space to more and more buildings.
Bringing life back into cities is difficult and there is a reason why the most valuable areas of cities are those with green spaces. Of course, green areas are good for the environment, but they make people happy. The real issue is how to transform concrete into grass or trees, and most importantly, how is it paid for?
Mexico’s Cities Need More Green Spaces
Parks and green spaces “can be a symbol of a neighborhood’s vitality and character, or an emblem of its disorganization and poverty of spirit,” says the Project for Public Spaces, a nonprofit dedicated to sustaining public spaces. Mexico City has many gentrified neighborhoods but there are also many that have been largely overlooked. The World Health Organization recommends urban areas should incorporate at least 9m2 of green areas per inhabitant in a city and research also suggest that these green areas should be no more than a 15-minute walking distance from homes to promote healthy urbanization. Mexico City provides its inhabitants with only 5.3m2 of green space per habitant, according to a study from the Institute of Ecology of UNAM.
Transforming Grey into Green
In the last year, one of Mexico City’s most important transport infrastructure systems has gone from grey to green. ViaVerde is the company responsible for finding the recipe to bring life back into cities and make it financially viable.
There are more than 27 million cars circulating throughout Mexico City that at some point travel through Periferico, Mexico City’s ringway that connects most of the city. Due to the growing demand (and traffic jams) a second floor was constructed for this ringway, creating more than 1,038 concrete columns throughout the city. This added up to more than 60,000m2 of usable space that could be taken advantage of for green spaces.
But how can it be financed? ViaVerde created a scheme in which the construction of vertical gardens would be funded by sponsors who would in exchange obtain advertising space. As the most transited road in Mexico City, and often at a standstill, many companies such as Coca Cola, Profuturo, Bimbo, Delta and Casa Cuervo jumped at the chance for a captive audience. The entire project cost approximately MX$360 million and 10 percent of the columns will be allocated to advertising for each sponsor.
The project is divided into various phases due to the different types of concessions and schemes. The San Jeronimo–San Antonio segment is already up and running through a Temporary and Revocable Administrative Permit (PATR) for the advertising. For this segment it was easier to obtain the permits because it belongs to Mexico City as the only segment of the second floor that is free and not concessioned. The other segments of the second floor are concessioned to IDEAL and OHL for which a different structure will have to be created. By the end of 2018, the project expects to have 545 columns filled with vertical gardens.
Cities are filled with concrete and steel bridges, columns and other infrastructure that could be given a second life. There are many positive initiatives that have been proposed to transform these spaces but lack of funding continues to hold them back. Finding strategies to involve the private sector into creating more sustainable cities and infrastructure is crucial for a greener future.