Mexico City, one of the world’s biggest metropolises, is getting creative about using the leftover spaces under its bridges. After the success of a pilot program called Bajo Puentes (or Under Bridges), which turned four previously trash-strewn, vacant underpass spaces into vibrant shopping plazas, playgrounds, and cafes, the city is expanding the program, adding another five and targeting 30 more as candidates.
Earlier this summer, The Washington Post reported that urban planners in Mexico City “have found a way to add thousands of square feet of new commercial and recreational space. And it isn’t costing local government a cent.” This new private-public sector model for reusing underpasses is a brilliant one: Get local developers to pay for the construction and upkeep of the spaces.
This is how it works: the city government’s department of housing and urban development (SEDUVI) asks business owners and developers to take on leases for these places at below-market rates, but also asks them to pay for the clean-up, construction, and upkeep of the sites. Local businesses have to leave 50 percent of the area as public space, but 30 percent can be used for commercial purposes, and 20 percent for new parking.