Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A Vision of an Oasis Beneath the Sprawl

Look, they say, at the odd bend in the six-lane freeway, the Viaducto Miguel Alemán; or on the side streets, at the thicket of especially large trees. Better yet, walk the median, stare down the sewer grates and glimpse the cause: the Río Piedad, or Pity River.

To most urban eyes, it is just a hidden canal of trash and feces, paved over since 1952. But to these three, among others, it is a symbol of history lost, and perhaps regained. Ignore the cough, cough of exhaust, the stink and the cost, they shout over the traffic — think bliss.

“Imagine kids singing, playing in the water and dancing,” said Delfín Montañana, 27, a biologist who works with Mr. Cattan’s firm, Taller 13 Regenerative Architecture. “This is the biggest opportunity the city has to create a real public space.”

Mr. Cattan has a more technical phrase for their plans: “transformational infrastructure.” A local leader in green building — a whirl of energy armed with Apple technology — he sees a revival of the Río Piedad as the first step in creating a rehabilitated city, glistening with the water that defined this capital before the Spaniards arrived.

The proposal he submitted to city planners in March is clearly ambitious. It would restore at least three rivers, replacing busy roads with a ring of water and parks around the city center. A few lanes for cars would be allowed on the outer edges, but walking, bicycling and mass transit would take precedence. There would be fish and birds living in the river, and driving across to the urban core would mean paying a congestion tax.

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