The preservationists have had moral and economic support from citizens and coverage from one major local media group known as PSN, which is covering their efforts on radio and cable television. Support from local councilmembers has been minimal and not amounted to any real gain against the project from within the local and state government.
As to their opinion about the architectural project, the group feels there is no real project. It is noticeable that the project is not entirely conceptualized, because every time the community criticizes its form or the lack of elements such as recreational areas and the need for park space, the architects keep redesigning the building to make it hold up to the demands. In the eyes of the citizens’ group, the design does not seem to be interpreted from a regional architecture. According to some, the central tower, designed as the new library, looks like a bad copy of the Burj Al Arabin hotel in Dubai.
As one activist expressed, “There is nothing real to the project; it only exists as a television commercial.”
Welcome to Megaflopolis
“The contemporary visitor looking for public urban places is increasingly forced to stroll through recycled and revalued areas…urban tableaux that have been turned into gentrified, historicized, commercialized, and privatized places.” — Christine Boyer
This project in all its essence is simulated, a spectacle, contrived in the mind of a television mogul and her entourage with the power of mass media forcing us to imagine their chimera as if it were our reality. This project is not a place, but only a virtual image; it is what New York architect and urban theorist Michael Sorkin calls “Cyburbia”: “An architecture of deception which, in its happy-face familiarity, constantly distances itself from the most fundamental realties. The architecture of this city is almost purely semiotic, playing the game of grafted signification, theme park building.”
This romanticized idea of grafting a 300-year-old urban structure such as a zócalo within the contemporary city is to suffer from temporal amnesia and a retrograde effort to build the city in accordance to a time of colonial hegemony. They want to give us a transplanted identity and free-market urbanism, whether we like it or not.
Zócalo 11 de Julio as an idea seems to act out as a narcissistic desire to recontextualize an urban space that already has given form to diverse systems of coexistence, public and ecological. Yet, as the city to the east is being ghettoized (in consequence to giving private developers the power to build thousands of hectares of micro-houses), the board and its members want to build the Zócalo in an already active and central urban area, an action that reinforces the segregation of almost half of the population (it is documented that half of the population of Tijuana lives on the periphery), who don’t have access to public and recreational spaces. Investments like these need to be specific to the needs of the city, not just a neo-bourgeoisie fantasy. Tijuana needs to learn the term gentrification!
In terms of ecology, both sides are arguing about the number of trees — how many there are now and how many the Zócalo is proposing to plant. Instead of quantities, the important subject should concern “ecosystems” and areas that produce a favorable environment for the city. Tijuana is below the UN-suggested eight meters of green space per inhabitant: as of today, the city offers one meter of green space per inhabitant.
From Andrea Palladio to Le Corbusier, the relationships between power and land have been a critical theme in the formation of a democratic urban space. Different groups (social and political) have engaged in power struggles since the conception of contemporary urban space. Yet, the right to the city, as the geographer David Harvey defines it, “is not merely a right of access to what the property speculators and state planners define.” The design of public space must be a democratic and an inclusive endeavor and not left only to the private sector.
To read this article in Spanish, visit Tijuana en Español.