A Recipe for Revitalizing Guadalajara (add housing, public spaces)
Guadalajara was founded by the Spanish in the 1500s, built on the site of centuries-old Native towns. Now Mexico’s second largest city at 4 million inhabitants, it suffers from the familiar pains of modern urban areas–sprawl and traffic. In another parallel with North American cities, Guadalajara (GDL) is seeing increased redevelopment of its first tier suburbs such as the Colonia Americana as more people become tired of the trade-off between life in the calm and greenness of far-flung suburbs and the hours spent traveling on congested and polluted highways.
GDL has a varied system of mass transit, mostly private bus lines plying the same congested roads, but also light rail, bus rapid transit and a subway, mostly serving the center city.
Change is coming to the city and the usual fights are breaking out. Preservation versus density. Illegal conversion of old houses to commercial uses (because redevelopment and subdividing is discouraged) leading to neighborhoods without enough residents to support local businesses or provide eyes-on-the-street to discourage crime. In the most popular neighborhoods, developers are building medium density apartments and condominiums. Those along the main thoroughfares seem to be mostly non-controversial. Yet those that displace old houses (with architectural fans), go through because of developer’s close ties with local politicians. GDL, like much of Mexico, still functions best for those with connections.
At a recent class I gave for architects and urban planners at the Escuela Superior de Arquitectura, the challenge of how to revitalize the city was a major topic of discussion. Getting more people to live close to downtown is seen as critical for reducing traffic, improving public safety and revitalizing commercial centers. In our two day design workshop, among other ideas, student teams created plans for a mobile neighborhood fiesta along the lines of Portland based, City Repair’s placemaking projects, ideas for turning a neighborhood market into a civic gathering place by converting a street into a plaza and creating temporary, activating uses on a stalled reconstruction site in center city, like Brooklyn’s Domino Sugar Factory’s bike pump track. Lots of great ideas and inspiration for city builders everywhere with the same message: people make the city.