Saturday, February 5, 2011

Monica Porto, Plan Verde, and reading of the American Megacity

Like a dog returning to their favorite poop spot, we here at FASLANYC tend to focus in on those two eastern American metropoli- New York City and Buenos Aires.  However, in recent months some rumblings have surfaced in the two largest American cities- Mexico City and Sao Paulo- that are worth noting, especially in light of the effort to understand mega-cities as primary drivers of innovation.

Several months ago mammoth brought up Parag Khanna’s interesting thesis that “the city is increasingly becoming a more important entity than the nation-state,” an argument Khanna compellingly relates by correlating contemporary cities with medieval counterparts.  He then asserts that what is needed is a redrawing of the world’s borders- a new map- along infrastructural lines and presumably according to some logic he will elucidate in his chillingly-titled recent release How to Run the World.   While it would be a life’s work to prove the primacy of the contemporary city in relation to the nation state regarding political importance and cultural prominence, its effect on landscape and urbanism in recent decades is undeniable. 
[an informal favela in Sao Paulo; that water comes out at Buenos Aires]

Khanna’s assertion smacks of dromology and is supported by developments in policy and design, especially regarding climate change.  While international conferences on economic and environmental policy have been perceived as ineffectual, cities across the US have been rolling out publicly accessible guidelines and design and planning tools for public spaces, and entering transnational agreements to work toward goals on biodiversity, carbon emissions, and public transit.  The most ambitious and salient of these is the Plan Verde of Mexico City.

This pact has been in effect for Mexico, DF for 3 years and was agreed to at the recent World Mayors Summit on Climate by over 140 cities, including all of the American megacities except New York.  It calls for setting targets for reducing emissions, construction of public bicycle and public transit systems, and for new water infrastructure and policies so that fresh water aquifers are not depleted.  Much like the PISA (Integrated Environmental Remediation Plan) of ACUMAR in Argentina, this plan is conceived of as a “live document”, with resources being devoted to monitoring dynamics, dialogue with constituent groups, and adapting policy.  The ability of this plan to be imported by the metropolises that recently signed the pact will be a test of the Khanna’s hyperbolic thesis and its focus on infrastructure.

Further South in the financial and industrial capital of the continent, Monica Porto is working to translate Brazil’s controversial water policy into a system which does not externalize environmental costs- a radical notion to actually put in place, and one to which we tip our hat.  In the Amazon basin, engineers are hard at work building a hydrological infrastructure on the scale of what once existed as Brazil takes off.  Porto’s work could prove even more vital, given that Sao Paulo shares the la Plata watershed with the capital cities Buenos Aires, Brasilia, Montevideo, Asuncion, and Sucre, as well as 70% of the combined GDP of those countries.
[the Falls of Iguazu, at the junction of Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina]

At a more tangible, urban level these developments beg the question- if national borders are fast becoming obsolete economically and environmentally, and are either obsolete or serve as flash points for conflict politically, then why redraw the map?  Are there other forms of cartography that might be more useful?  Might we better understand and intervene in urban geographies through tiny taxonomies, hydro-period graphs, and architectural field guides?  With our interest in the manual, we can’t help but think that this thinking might have a corollary in the urban project.  Rather than conceptualizing our readings and understandings as a plan, a whole library of manuals might be produced, edited, or curated.  

Make more manuals, not maps.

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