tv Witness LINKTV October 6, 2021 3:00am-3:31am PDT
[mikael colville-andersen] at the heart of a challenged but fiercely proud nation lies its capital. this is mexico city. this is a megacity. the fifth largest in the world: 21 million inhabitants. it's also the eighth richest city in the world, and yet 30% of the population live in poverty. what a vast spectrum in which i get to work in my search for the life-sized city. but i know that there are people here, like in cities everywhere around the world, who are working positively to force urban change. i want to hear, see and experience what they're doing to improve urban life in this vast arena of contradictions.
- this is a city that is flood-prone. it's polluted. it's a hotbed for earthquakes, and it struggles with its fair share of inequality. but man! mexico city's got that thing you just can't explain. a thing that sets it apart, that makes you want to keep on coming back. because although this city fights every day with the elements, so many elements, it's also a place that is rooted in ingenuity and creativity.
you certainly can't tell it now, but this was once an island city, as in "sitting-in-the-mi iddle-of-a a-huge -lake" island city. tenochtitlan, as it was called by its first inhabitants, that would be the aztecs, dwarfed many european cities at the time, both in size and in inventiveness. then, the spanish kind of ruined it all in 1521. the lake was drained, believe it or not, and mexico city rose from... well, the dust. explosive population growth has been driving the city ever since. between 1960 and 1980, its population has more than doubled. yes, it's a megalopolis. mega. but many here still see it as a village, or rather as a patchwork quilt of many villages, each preserving its own identity, home to a unique urban solidarity. this one here, the bustling neighbourhood of portales,
far from the tourists, shows us just that. [areli carreon] this is real mexico. it's not for tourists. it's not the beautiful face that most politicians like to show. it's real mexico. this is a city, a big, humongous city, that hasn't lost its human scale. we have built the city over its ancient layers, like an onion, you know? yeah. here, all the centuries live together. here, you can find people living in the ancient aztec times, with the way they think, they eat and they behave. and at the same time, you can meet mexicans of the future, you know? people who speak a lot of languages, have travelled a lot, have new ideas. the two are mixing, they're living together. - areli carreon, co-founder of bicitekas, an activist group hoping to spread the good word about the necessity of urban cycling.
after living abroad, she decided she wanted to raise her two children here, in her hometown... well, her home metropolis, despite the countless challenges that it faces. how do you identify the most important issue of the city right now? the problem that somehow embodies it all is inequality. but it's a very difficult problem to address, because how do you start changing all this, along with everything else? we need to face poverty, we need to face infrastructure problems, we need to face challenges with pollution, with corruption. i mean, we have it all. the size of the challenge needs us as citizens. the government isn't strong enough. if we want solutions and proposals that really reflect our hearts, our feelings and our needs, we, the people, need to really be out there, building those for ourselves. that's not an official mexico city garbage can?
no, no. so somebody just put that up in the neighbourhood? yes, to say: "please don't litter". there are no garbage cans. i was looking for one earlier. it was hard to find, so some local said: "yeah, we need one there." you know, this is how the city functions. it's the people. it's not the government. it's the people fixing their block. cities are made up of mostly people. it's not streets and buildings. that's just part of it. the main thing is flesh and blood. it's people. and our best-kept secret is our ties with each other. and that is such a strong network of real power. we're not whiners. we are doers. you guys seem to make everything yourselves, like a non-stop laboratory of exploring and expanding on ideas. i think that mexico city's somehow like a laboratory of urban future. are we going to be able to live together with our differences? how much government, how much society? what is very nice is that there's isn't one way or one model to run a city.
it's like everything is going on at the same time. we're kind of figuring out what is going to work. - in this laboratory of the urban future as areli puts it, one critical problem stands out: the water crisis. now, we'll all agree that water is a basic necessity. but cities around the world are running out of it, and mexico city tops that unfortunate list. the problem here has taken on epic proportions. in the remote neighbourhood of san gregorio, one local initiative is tackling the greatest urban challenge in history. the more you look at the water situation in mexico city, the more shocking it is and the more you realize that we have to do something and we have to do it now. - enrique cofounded isla urbana. he has been setting up rainwater harvesting systems throughout the city for about a decade. that's something like 7000 of these low-tech,
but very efficient life-changers. mexico city has one of the more complex water problems in the world. first of all, it's very far away from any coast or from any body of water. and it's very high up. we're 2200 meters above sea level here. in a valley, any water that you're potentially going to bring into the city, you'd have to pump entirely uphill and like across the sierra, which is virtually impossible. - at least 250 000 people here aren't even connected to the grid. millions more have scarce access to running water, sometimes just for a few hours a day. many, mostly in poor areas, rely on water delivery trucks for their share of drinking water. but things haven't always been this way. the aztecs actually had it all figured out long before the spanish conquered them in 1521. mexico city used to be a city of lakes.
it was like the venice of america, and the aztecs had a very, very sophisticated water management system, but the war with the spanish destroyed everything. they somehow were determined to recreate madrid. so they decided to drain the valley of mexico. so mexico city is now a big flat concrete wilderness, but this land is very flood prone. - and therein lies the irony in all of this. while mexico city is running dry, it also receives an unbelievable amount of rain, making it extremely vulnerable to flooding. picture this: during the rainy season, mexico city gets one and a half times more rain than london does in an entire year. that's a lot of water. but it heads straight into the sewers, and that's not the only problem. mexico city is on a very soft ground, because it was a lake, so the city sinks very quickly. parts of mexico city today sink 40 centimetres a year.
really? yeah, which is mind-boggling. and the aquifer which is further down, what we depend on, is just very, very quickly getting depleted. so 50 years ago, wells in mexico city were 30 or 40 meters deep. today, they're 300 or 400 meters deep, and the newest generation of wells are 2000 meters deep. in order to try to mitigate this, we started pumping water into the city from outside. we built this massive system, which starts in michoacán about 150 kilometres away and pumps water 1,1 kilometres uphill, pumps from one dam to another dam, to another dam, to another dam, and then finally makes it over the mountains in the west of the city and puts the water into the grid. gravity works. it's insane. it's one of the most energy-intensive water systems in the world. so the grid is wrecked, and there's maybe 40% to 50% of the water that gets put in the grid that is lost d leaks. - today, it's don lauro's turn. living on the outskirts of this megacity, he and his family have been collecting rainwater with what they have: an old washing machine and a tarp.
that's because they have access to the grid for only two short hours a day. so right now, we're going to harvest the water that fell on the roof of the house. and then, what we're doing is connecting tubes that are channelling the water from the roof and bring them here towards this ter tank thawe just put in. so, first, the water is going to come into this blue thing here. this is a first-flush system.
every time it rains, in the first maybe 10 minutes of the rain event, the water is going to be dissolving smog, and it's also going to be washing dust and things off of the roof. after that has sealed, water is going to start coming into the tank. and that water, they're still going to use it. they're going to use it for toilets, they're going to use it for watering their plants, but they're going to use it for things that don't need such high water quality. and then, the tank will fill up with the water that falls after that, which is going to be your cleaner water. - the tiny municipality of san gregorio is experiencing the crisis first hand. they've had enough of paying for wells that kept drying up. they're now trying very hard, with their very limited budget, to make miracles happen. so they decided to pay for isla urbana systems for the whole neighbourhood. this one here will give lauro's family five to six months of full autonomy a year, with this one simple tank. and they could eventually become fully autonomous
year-round by burying a cistern in the grown. having the tools to be fully water autonomous is the difference between naked in the storm and being equipped for it. and that's what this project is all about. - mexico city struggles with widespread and pervasive pollution. and although the place is notorious for its smog, on this particular day, i might just be able to see it from above. when, in 1992, the united nations declared mexico city to be the most polluted city on the planet, action was taken, regulations were put into place to try and reduce pollution levels. but now the city is on par with los angeles. things have been proved, but i don't know if this is the kind of club you want to be in. - on average, i spend no more than five hours a year,
in total, in a car. here, the crew and i, going from location to location, lose about five hours a day stuck in traffic. mexico city is first and worst in the world on the tragic list of car-congested cities. in the 1950's, there was one car per every 82 people in mexico city. today, things have changed drastically. now, there is one car for every five citizens 200 000 new cars hit the roads of mexico city every single year. while efforts are being made to improve public transport, this is still the most massive transport challenge that mexico city faces. - citizens here can count on an impressive metro system with 12 lines. it moves 4,6 million people each and every day.
but it was built in large part in the 1970's. the city has since expanded so heavily that its vast metropolitan area now suffers greatly from an insufficient public transport system. the result is a socially and spatially segregated city, divided between the centre and the periphery. travelling to and from the centre for those living on the outskirts takes four to six hours daily, and sadly wastes almost a third of the average salary. andrés is the go-to guy when it comes to moving people around. he's been an activist at itdp, the institute for transportation and development policy, for years. and now, he's a real estate developer concerned with urban density and affordable housing. he brings me to the pantitlan metro station located about 10 kilometres outside the city's centre. one of the problems with the transportation system
in mexico is that it's not completely integrated. a person who wants to get to the station probably has to take either a taxi or a bus. then, you get into the station and you need to make a new payment to take the train. - to a new system. yeah. and then you get out, and you'll probably make a transfer to the brt system and you need to make a new payment to a different entity. the wayfinding system of the city is not very good, and obviously, it gets worse as you move further away from the city centre. it's kind of funny. we've come to the train station here, and we're talking and we're doing our job, but we don't know where we're going and everybody's discussing. we have absolutely no idea. so the wayfinding of the station is lacking. it is also massive. i don't know where the hell i am now. - mexico city has relentlessly tried to improve the situation by adding a brt service. it expands every year, but for andres, the city lacks a transport-oriented
vision in its development, especially around the existing metro stations. the city here, with their publicly owned land and with opportunities that they have, are they doing enough? they have the first part right, which is the public discourse and the justification. we need to create more development around the stations, we need to create density, we need to create this compact city. the thing is that they're using all this land and private investments to create malls. malls. malls. that's so last century. yeah. help is needed with things that people are not able to pay in other ways. that's affordable spaces. affordable spaces obviously for houses, schools, hospitals, bakeries, shops obviously, small businesses. - we head back into the city centre to go to... a parking lot. one of the many, many parking lots lining the streets of mexico city.
because cars are an essential part of the transportation problem in this car-centric city. and you know what? until recently, building a new construction without a parking lot was illegal. the law actually required one parking space for every 30 square meters of newly built office space. and that led to a crazy average of 40% of building space devoted to parking. now i've been around, and let me tell you: providing more parking is often at the core of the problem. there's parking on top of that apartment building. oh, wait. right there? yeah. oh, yeah. all of these buildings, especially business and corporate buildings, they have at least 1000 parking spaces each. wow. o.k. if you create parking on every land to every destination, people start driving. and what happened is that car use has been growing exponentially in mexico city. so, we have an increasingly congested city.
we're basically creating a huge parking with some amenities... yeah. ... which is the city. and it should be the other way around. we should be creating a city and maybe, if it's very justifiable, some parking. - with a lot of work, andrés finally convinced city officials to get rid of this surreal regulation. in fact, it's been reversed; instead of a minimum parking space, the city now imposes a maximum. now, it's even legal to provide no parking space at all. this, of course, won't redefine the entire city in the blink of an eye, but it's still an important shift in mentality for this extremely car-centric city. people who want to have a different lifestyle, who don't want to spend two and half hours a day in a metal box, stressed, and who just want to bike to work or walk to work even. but you also, in a way, freed up the creativity of architects. we're reversing that line of thought. before the regulations
were changed, an architecture student would start a project from the parking, and then they would see what they could fit on top. - yeah. and now, it's going to be the other way around. there are over 30 000 people involved in traffic incidents every single day in this megacity. i'm going to meet some people here, in the neighbourhood of napoles, who are trying to do what they can to solve a very pressing problem. - it's often from a rooftop that we get a clearer picture of the pedestrian challenges. from up here, you can see it all happen. yazmin and luis, cofounders of the camina project, simply want people to be able to walk in their own city... safely. it's that simple. we're looking down at a typical problematic intersection, and it's easy to see
why their work is so important. what we see here, is a very confusing and dangerous intersection. we can find this type of intersection all over mexico city. this is very common. yeah. this is what i call the "arrogance of space", right? yeah. one of the problems with this intersection is that the cars move faster around this corner in opposite movement. it's just one-way here. the pedestrian crossing comes from nowhere and it goes into trees at the curb. yeah. - yeah. it disappears. how serious is the problem of traffic incidents in mexico city? it's very serious. there are about three people a day dying on the streets. three a day. yeah. tell me what you are trying to do. we redesign the streets in order to make them safer for pedestrians and other users. our tool is tactical urbanism and we do this
because the first thought that people have is that traffic is very normal, and it's very normal to walk around the city without a care. so we just want to develop this project to start changing people's mind. you're going to put me to work? yes. - you're ready? let's go. let's get down there. hola amigos! all right. you're going to block it off, so the cars will not be able to do that shortcut now. yes. - exactly. now, we're going to make some designs, like mexican classic tiles to make it prettier.
we're going to use a tape that glows in the dark. o.k. wow. cool! so at night, we're going to see all the textures we made. is this legal? yeah... - am i going to be in a mexican jail by 7 o'clock this evening? i don't know. it's not really illegal. that's like the best answer ever. i don't know! - i think the real answer is: "it all depends." for this specific intervention, they've obtained the blessing of the local authorities, who even lent us a truck to transport the traffic cones. but other interventions have often been carried out in a more guerilla style. we want them to change the design of this... yeah, you're showing them how it should be, right? - camina wants to democratize actions like this one. they've produced a diy manual explaining how to redesign problematic intersections wherever you are, using whatever is available: buckets, wooden crates, boxes, anything.
the idea is to show citizens that it's cheap and easy to make their streets safer. and to me, that beats waiting for the government to solve it all. as we reshape this street corner, one of my personal heroes shows up. this is peatonito. he is the lucha libre defender of all pedestrians. this is a fight against reckless motorists on the streets in order to save the pedestrians. for example, i go out on the streets and stop the cars. i push the cars backwards when they are on a crosswalk. also, my most controversial action, mikael, is when i walk on top of cars when they park on the sidewalks because that's a space for pedestrians. so how do the motorists react? my first time out on the streets, i was afraid. the motorists like it. 80% of the motorists smile.
they understand the message. that's why we have to build this city, this human-scale city for pedestrians. that's why we should shift the paradigm, you know? now, we are full of cars. if we build intersections like this, people will feel safer to walk. and that's why i fight for pedestrian rights. you put the cones and i will defend it here. yeah. i will save you from the cars. - o.k. all right? - all right. cool. all right. - nailed it. yeah. - boom! last year, the activists changed the traffic law in mexico city. we reduced the speed on the streets, and now, we have reduced 18% of all the fatalities on the streets. and now, the government has implemented more than 100 safe crosswalks in mexico city. we have reduced 50% of all the fatalities
on those crosswalks. 50? wow. 50%, yeah. it's a lot of people that we already have saved. if we build a city for the pedestrians, it's safe for everyone: for the pedestrians, for the cyclists and also for the motorists. not a bad little gig you've got going on up here. i know! rumour has it this is the largest green rooftop of the mexico city centre, which is where the city started, actually. wow. you know, more than 600 years ago.
- gabriella gomez-mont is the director and cofounder of laboratorio para la ciudad, the laboratory for the city. mexico city's official creative and experimental think tank. and trust me. she isn't afraid of facing urban challenges head-on. her staff of 20 is very diverse. half of them come from disciplines you'd expect: geographers, data analysts, social scientists. the other half, however, comes from the creative world. they're writers, filmmakers, artists. and to them, creativity is a powerful tool. if you ask me what the laboratory specializes in, because we've got a wide agenda, from mobility to experimenting democracy, i think we specialize in the gaps, like what are the conversations that are not being had, the things that are not being said, the people that are not included in the conversations, the disciplines, the framings, the points of view that have not necessarily been part of policy-making and city-making
from within the government. one of the things that i find really intriguing about mexico city, not only for ourselves but actually for the rest of the world, is that we function as a bridge between the emerging world and the developed world, because we are one of the largest city economies in the world, just like the mexico city economy is equivalent to the economy of the whole of finland. - wow. this is also a very divided city in many ways: geographically, socially. so we have some of the world's richest men, but we also the lowest minimum wage of latin america. so as a lab, how do you deal with this? how do you think in visions that incomb as a city, but also start travelling the scales of the city, and to be able to ground projects and ideas in very specific neighbourhoods that are very, very different from one another. in the metropolitan area of mexico city, there are almost 5 million kids, so i believe that's more or less the population of denmark. yeah, give or take, yeah. - give or take, just of kids. just kids. you know, that is what it's like. that's a beautiful resource to have. it's a beautiful resource to have
if you do something with it. because again, this is where we play with paradoxes. places that have a young community, a young muscle obviously have a lot of advantages, but you need to know how to work with your youth, your young people and your children, because if not, it becomes an achilles heel as well. many of the crime index and such also come from the same population that could be one of your biggest assets. - peatoninos called "play streets" in english is one of the leaning projects supported by gabriella's team. it's quite simple, but it really is a way for the children to reclaim their streets. citizens of a marginalized neighbourhood are called on to close the street to traffic, so the children can actually play in it. because that is the true nature of the people here: a passionate involvement in their quest for a better home. 60% of the city was neighbours and people saying: "oh! we should create a neighbourhood here."
and borrow your hammer, a saw and we'll figure it out. - absolutely. is your job fixing a leaky boat and making this beautifully crafted boat float again, or building a ship for the future? i think a lot of the urban planning for places such as mexico city is, yes, figuring out what our urban future looks like, but part of that urban future many times is actually looking back into our historical dna. can we recreate urban languages in political forms and have places such as the lab be a meeting space and a common ground between people who want to be part of the city life, even if they don't trust bureaucracy? every time we host a workshop, every time we host any type of call, we see people coming in important numbers. so this is a little bit what i'm very excited about in terms of the future of cities. how can governments be more of that and less of my pain, which is bureaucratic and stubborn, and obtuse, and not necessarily all that integrated into what their society wants? the ultimate right to the city is the ability
to imagine the city and then make it come true, because first we make the cities, and then the cities make us. how do we live together? how do we move together? how do we stay healthy together? - for me, a conversation about the future of cities on a human scale obviously includes... bikeability. remember my friend areli? well, she's been awarded the title of "bike mayer" by fellow bike activists. we're testing the streets of this car-addicted city on two wheels. according to her, it took 10 years for authorities to accept that urban cycling was more than just a hobby, and another 10 to actually build a few bike lanes. ecobici helped spark the change. the bike-sharing service is now the largest year round system in the americas. has that had a positive impact on the city? for sure. i think it gave a lot of people the opportunity to experience first hand that bicycling, it's a thing!