Project Presentation

The Mexico City/London Institutional Links program bridged two of the most important cities of the world, bringing together several award-wining teams from Mexico City and London to think about the present and future of cities.

The program was composed of in-depth research, joint workshops, collaborative sessions, city walks, presentations and sharing of best practices, public events, urban prototypes and a continuous conversation across borders via email and videoconference, using these different formats to explore the challenges shared by both cities, and also those unique to one specific metropolis. Across this binational series of workshops and programs, locals converged in studio sessions led by design-thinking in order to rapidly prototype collaborative and urban strategies.

Each team member took different approaches and formats to investigate and share ideas that could directly (or obliquely) inform new social scripts and urban futures: proposing insights from wide-ranging fields and pointing towards other possibilities born out of each individual’s practices and experiences and offering up thought-provoking conceptual tools with which to view cities—and with which to try to tackle imposing urban challenges.

This editorial project functions as a summary (and even a diary) of this sustained conversation between London and Mexico City, which took place from August 2015 to April 2016. It is also a library of experiments and conceptual tools that will now inform the practices of all those involved, and which can serve to guide future inquiries into the subjects herein.

At the same time, this book also functions as a first approach towards an exploration of the potential of international and multidisciplinary teams tasked with not only sharing ides, but coming together with the objective of creating a common language and theoretical framework that can later be taken to its next evolution, both collectively and individually, across the Atlantic.

Grey Cities, Green Infrastructures: A Point Of Departure

The initial point of departure for the the Newton Fund consisted in exploring the relationship between health and the built environment, since this is a key issue in both London and Mexico City, and one that especially impacts poor and vulnerable urban dwellers. Both cities have significant issues with poor air quality and its attendant causes: primarily traffic-related pollution, though other factors are also present, including industrial pollution, domestic heating and cooling, waste-processing and lack of “green infrastructure” in the form of parks, trees and foliage. Poor air quality 12 significantly impinges on the health of citizens in both cities—and in many others worldwide—with the greatest cost in fundamental human terms (early, painful deaths through respiratory illnesses) as well as secondary costs in terms of healthcare.

In the first phase, the teams did independent research on the specific challenges of the two cities. Pollution was high on the list for both, especially mobility-related and industry-related causes, as well as domestic heating and cooling and geographical/topological inversion. And so, the initial reflections were based on collecting new approaches to built environment projects that combined innovative, high-quality, sustainable design. After enough data and research came in, both cities came to the conclusion that certain interesting policies were already in place, but had been poorly received by citizens, for example, congestion charge in London and car-pollution policies in Mexico City, such as the expansion of the bike sharing system and bikeways, auto emissions testing centres and the Doble No Circula program, among others.

So, during the first London workshop it was identified that there was another key issue at hand: the translation of public policy into the public realm.

Second Stop: Legible Policy

At that first London workshop the group agreed on a common interest: the necessity of public policy that manages to induce cultural change and shifts. The teams began collectively investigating the potential of hard facts (such as urban geography and data analysis) and soft tools (design fictions, for example) to come up with a repertoire of urban experiments capable of positively affecting quality of life in cities. Also established from the start was the need for new political languages and urban forms that could bring not only more transparency to the complex systems at hand, but take advantage of narrative qualities and input from systems thinking, the social sciences and other relevant disciplines.

Given the multifold perspectives and diverse skill sets of all involved, a conclusion was reached to make a collection of conceptual tools addressing these priorities, and to use Mexico City as a test-bed for the idea of legible policy—a relatively recent concept that, while still in the process of definition, offers tremendous potential for tackling issues inherent to the complex urban landscapes.