Celebrating the Stewards of an Ancient Waterway in Mexico City
Last month, I had the chance to travel to Mexico City to commemorate the conclusion of our most recent project at Canal Nacional. World Monuments Fund (WMF) has had a consistent commitment to Mexico's cultural heritage since 1985, working at a wide range of archaeological and other monumental sites. (See this slideshow for more information.) Yet our latest project and the site are unlike any other we've engaged in Mexico in the past.
Canal Nacional is one of the oldest and last remaining human-made waterways in Mexico City. Though only 12 kilometers remain today, the ancient waterway once linked Tenochtitlan (now Mexico City Center) to the floating gardens (called chinampas) of Xochimilco. Abandoned for many years as the city grew around it and covered much of its expanse, Canal Nacional became a dumping ground associated with nefarious activities. But twenty years ago, a group of concerned neighbors began mobilizing to rehabilitate a small section of Canal Nacional through tactical urbanism, whereby communities intervene in the public space with the intent of neighborhood-building. Through cleaning brigades, vegetation planting, and more, residents and interest groups coalesced to reclaim this section of the Canal as a gathering place for public enjoyment. Because of their actions, today Canal Nacional sustains a natural habitat for birds and other wildlife.
Canal Nacional was included on the 2020 World Monuments Watch to celebrate the residents and associations that have championed it through the years despite limited resources and support. WMF worked with the nominator, Mexico Territorio Creativo, the Fundación López de la Rosa, and other community leaders to co-develop a project to celebrate and strengthen the communities that steward the canal. The project included a series of art and installation workshops; skills-building workshops in heritage stewardship that were organized by the local UNESCO office; and the fabrication of cleanup tools designed by volunteers who have been organizing clean-up days, among other activities. A full description of the activities and the team who made it all happen is available here.
The nominator, along with community leader Edmundo Lopez de la Rosa, led us on a walking and boat riding tour along a small stretch of the Canal that has been the focus of our project. We saw the murals they developed as part of the "heritage and art" thematic focus of the project, the tools they designed and fabricated to maintain the site, and the border and vegetation they integrated along the water bank. It is an incredible feeling to be at Canal Nacional and to see the flora and birdlife that has developed there through the community's efforts. You would never believe you were still amid the bustling city. Beyond the financial support that WMF was able to provide, Canal Nacional is a testament to the power of the World Monuments Watch to elevate local initiatives that call for conservation. Inclusion in the program and its recognition of the residents who have cared for the Canal for years without government support provided the much-needed impetus to have a voice in the ongoing rehabilitation project undertaken by the Government of Mexico City at Canal Nacional.