Citizen revolt preserves 2,000-year-old waterway
The 7.4-mile-long Canal Nacional served as the main transportation waterway during the construction of Mexico City more than 2,000 years ago, and since then has been a conduit of vital supplies, from food to construction materials. It is the oldest linear park in the city—a rich ecosystem that is home to more than 50 bird species, bringing the healthful effects of nature to more than 9,000 families along the route.
The canal is a survivor in the automobile age, which has threatened to obliterate this tangible symbol of a multi-millennial civilization within a metropolis of 22 million people.
When the local government announced plans to turn Canal Nacional into a road, neighbors and community associations organized a grassroots revolt, sued the local authorities, and won. That lengthy process led first to the creation of Residencia Semilla by Design Your Action and Design Week Mexico as a platform for citizens to express their views of the corridor, and ultimately led to a plan by C Cúbica Arquitectos.
“Canal Nacional is a wonderful inspiration to reflect on the roads to the New Urbanism that Mexico City so desperately needs, which must be designed on the basis of the full recognition of its environmental, cultural, community and historical heritage.” Edmundo López de la Rosa, Fundación López de la Rosa.
The project envisions the rejuvenation of three critical sites along the canal totaling 30 acres: An abandoned pumping station and crane; a vehicular bridge that is a barrier to pedestrians and fauna; and an undersized pedestrian bridge that is used for community activities. New parks, plazas, public spaces, and a history interpretation center could be built on these sites to expand their potential as destinations and neighborhood gathering spots—serving cultural purposes while protecting the corridor for wildlife. An abandoned crane would be transformed into a viewing point over the city. The plan focuses on accommodating users of all ages relying on all modes of mobility—especially walking, cycling, and public transit.
The Canal Nacional project is an important step in protection of a vital, historic waterway for future generations—and integrating the channel into the lives and culture of inhabitants of a great city.
Beacon Park won a 2019 Merit Award from the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) for C Cúbica Arquitectos. Other team members included Design Week Mexico, Design Your Action, Fundacion Lopez de la Rosa, Residencia Semilla, and developer Gobierno de la Ciudad de Mexico. The winners were formally recognized at CNU 27 in Louisville.