Site and Significance
An Important Waterway
Mexico City’s Canal Nacional was built over 2,000 years ago to transport goods from Xochimilco to the center of the city. A rare survivor of the city’s once-expansive network of canals that disappeared as the city expanded rapidly in the twentieth century, Canal Nacional has endured as an open waterway and gathering place for the nearby communities. Today, the waterway sustains a natural habitat for animals, birds, and plants in the heart of the densely populated city.
The Community’s Role in Revitalization
Neglected by local authorities for many years, sections of the 12-kilometer waterway have been adopted by residents and community groups, who have organized regular cleaning brigades, planting campaigns, art installations, and more at the site. In 2015, community members opposed the city’s plan to pave over the canal to build a road. They now seek to have greater input in the city government’s plan to clean Canal Nacional and develop a linear park in the next three years as part of the city’s 2019–24 environment and climate change program.
2020 World Monuments Watch
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. The commitment to invest in Canal Nacional is an opportunity to engage longtime stewards and other stakeholders in its revitalization and protection.
The Future of the Canal
As part of the Canal Nacional project, World Monuments Fund (WMF) and local community groups are developing a series of cultural programs, enhanced site interpretation, and workshops to solidify community-led management and maintenance of the historic canal, contributing to a broader recognition of its significance within the city and beyond.
Canal Nacional requires consistent maintenance and conservation work, particularly at the edges of the water, or "shoreline." This work is carried out by community volunteers who, for the past 20 years, have dedicated their personal time and resources to maintain the canal—even building or modifying tools and rafts and purchasing materials for cleaning the water and maintaining the land vegetation. WMF’s project in 2021 and 2022 supported the volunteers’ work by supplying materials, equipment, and tools necessary for this upkeep.
In 2021, the project’s volunteers created a website to promote activities, projects, and general information about Canal Nacional. The online platform contains information about the history of the canal, WMF’s work there, the team of volunteers leading the project, and activities happening at the site. The website will also feature historic images of canal so that the team can create a visualization of how the site looked like during its heyday.
With the objective of strengthening the collective stewardship of the canal, the project guided by Mexico Territorio Creativo and the Fundación López de la Rosa in 2021 and 2022 accomplished a robust program of art and capacity-building workshops, installations, and mural painting that engaged all age groups. Other activities included participatory video workshops, interviews with residents, cleaning brigades, and the fabrication of custom-designed tools for the upkeep of the canal.
In August 2022, a Watch Day event at the Canal Nacional celebrated the completion of a series of community murals. The two-day event featured activities for kids involving creating art out of recycled plastic bags, bilingual story time in Spanish and Náhuatl focusing on the city's traditional relationship with the water, boat tours, and painting workshops. The main event was a performance by Oaxacan Mixe soprano María Reyna González, who sang about the history and use of the Canal Nacional.
World Monuments Fund safeguards cultural heritage around the globe, ensuring our treasured places are preserved for present and future generations.
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This project has been supported, in part, by American Express.