How is Mexico designing its future? Architect Fernando Romero and his office FR-EE are exploring a visionary approach. They have been developing the idea of a binational future city to be located on the border in both Mexico and the United States for many years now. This ideal city, Border City, is intended to become a model for new cities around the world.
In Mexico, as is the case everywhere else, people are moving from rural areas to cities to find work. One of the fastest-growing regions in Mexico is the area along its border with the United States. Many assembly plants have been established there to profit from low wages and NAFTA, the free trade agreement between Mexico, the US, and Canada. But urbanization is not going according to plan. Settlements are popping up with no clear spatial structure, or even a basic social and cultural infrastructure. This is where Romero’s Border City comes in. His planned city intends create an orderly housing structure that allows it to continue to grow in an organized manner in the future and to supply its residents with education, culture, health, and mobility. This city aims to play a key role in and act as a catalyst for future development throughout the region.
Romero chose an area to the west of the Mexican-American metropolitan region formed by El Paso and Ciudad Juárez as the ideal location for Border City. Today, Ciudad Juárez is the fastest-growing city in Mexico. Not far away are numerous border crossings and, on the American side, the Santa Teresa container and freight station built in 2014, the I-10 interstate highway, and three airports.
Border City’s spatial structure can be expanded ad infinitum, depending on how much the population and economy grow. It is based on two overlapping street systems — which are both radial and hexagonal. The areas inside both of these systems are divided by an orthogonal grid. Thanks to this structure, the city has more than just one center; it has multiple smaller city centers and functional axes. Yet the geographical center is still particularly important, as it is where the “international zone” is located. This area, which extends over both US and Mexican territory, is supposed to be a “special economic zone” and thus the motor of regional development.
Romero doesn’t want the Border City to remain just an idea. With one American and two Mexican investors, Romero is working to make his plans a reality. He wants to build the city for 250,000 people over 290 square kilometers within the next few decades. And the new American president Donald Trump’s announcement to fortify the border and break the free trade agreement with Mexico isn’t stopping Romero's vision.
Border City addresses one of the most important challenges in our world today: What are we going to do about population growth and global migration? Can we blur existing borders, or will fear of change cause them to be come even more rigid? With his design, Romero is placing himself in a tradition that began in the Renaissance and has shaped modern architecture, too. Architects throughout history have designed ideal cities. Their priorities have not changed over the years — for them, designing these cities means more than thinking about issues of space and architecture, but also questioning society. Romero is using his Border City to set an open international future against today’s volatile political situation; to create a city that will transcend national borders.