Restoring an ancient lake from the ruins of an airport in Mexico City

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In the year Weeks after President Andrés Manuel López Obrador took office in 2018, the leftist leader scrapped the airport, angering international investors and Mexico’s business community, and it was about a third complete. During the campaign, López Obrador railed against the project’s management of excessive spending and corruption. Then, in a post-election referendum initiated by López Obrador’s party, the public voted to repeal it (though critics say the results were unrepresentative, only one in 90 Mexican voters voted).

Left behind is an eerily empty landscape larger than Paris, surrounded by the sprawling metropolis of Mexico City. In this broad footprint, the president decided that the city would build one of the largest urban parks in the world, a project he called the “New Tenochtitlan.” He appointed Inaqui Echeverría, a Mexican architect and landscape designer who has been advocating for the site’s restoration for more than two decades, to oversee what is known as the Lake Texcoco Ecological Park (PELT).

Echeverria’s vision for the park is part of a wave of projects that have developed the traditional goal of ecosystem restoration to restore ecosystems to the state they were in before they were damaged by humans. Rather than turning back the clock, Echeverria is creating an artificial wetland that aims to change the future of the entire valley, taking lessons from Tenochtitlan and modern Mexico City on how prosperous cities can coexist with thriving ecosystems.

With a budget of $1 billion, Texcoco Park is repurposing the structural skeletons and concrete cliffs left over from the construction of the airport, creating man-made lakes and habitats designed to accommodate human visitors and an unprecedented mix of species. The Echeverria team believes the park will help foster economic development by fostering endangered cultural practices, including the production of spirulina algae. While the end result may look a little like Texcoco, it may evoke something more fundamental: the Valley of Mexico’s long history of natural system building.

Yet today, miles away, Texcoco Park is ringed by a perimeter fence, guarded by guards in military uniform. While the project runs to 2024, when López Obrador’s term ends (he has vowed not to seek a second term), it remains largely inaccessible to the public and surrounded by controversy. Plans for the rebirth of Lake Texcoco may yet be lost.

Lake Texcoco returns

Flanked by mountain ranges and two volcanoes, the Valley of Mexico has historically formed an “endorheic basin,” where water does not flow outward, but instead circulates inland. This process concentrates salt in the lowest area where Lake Texcoco sits – the valley basin. Historically, the area’s mixed brackish and fresh waters have served as a petri dish for the evolution of unusual creatures, including an entire ecosystem of now-extinct fish species and the akalotele, an amphibian capable of regenerating its legs. Gods of Mexico.

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