Elena Tudela of ORU, Revisiting Xochimilco

After spending a day with Isla Urbana, we met with urbanist and educator Elena Tudela. Her current work at firm ORU and at the School of Architecture at UNAM revolves around masterplanning public space and environmental regeneration in México City, including regeneration of Xochimilco’s chinampa system. The ancient chinampas, or floating gardens, is a perfect system according to Elena – and is now coming back into trend. Xochimilco’s renewal gifts back the natural fertile ground for agriculture, and the hippest restaurants in México City are now using that produce, truly fresh and local, to feed their customers.

Lovely Elena shared her work and research with us, which is respectfully and thoroughly sensitive to México City’s water history, and discussed with us her feedback on our goal for the project: to focus our interests where water, waste, and food converge – one key example being Xochimilco today. After our time with her, we realized how little time we spent there the other day. We toured one canal on the edge of the chinampa system, and only saw chinampas being used as fútbol fields, empty lots. The next day, we decided to visit again for an extended tour with political scientist Tania Islas Weinstein (PhD UChicago) and Jan Dutkiewicz (Fellow at Jon Hopkins).

Elena Tudela shares her research via “Hacia una Ciudad de México Sensible al Agua” at UNAM. Photo: A+A
Elena Tudela explains CDMX water history via “Hacia una Ciudad de México Sensible al Agua”. Photo: A+A

On our second trip, we took a different trajinera route and saw much more: trash boats, chinampas with crops, homes, bars and restaurants, trajinera repair shops, more. Still we were on a route catered towards tourists, but now with better understanding of how the chinampas are used and its importance. Jan, who sparked our initial interest in the project through his work on the policy of lab-grown meats, shared “A City on a Lake”, a recant of the ecological and political history of water in México City’s urban growth.

There is an outstanding amount to understand about the exploitation of water in this city, and that is where projects like Elena’s reveal the amazing efforts to return to the original geologies of the region for an efficient and nurturing solution. The adaption of agricultural systems in their respective environments, like the trout farm, feels right in our post-rural vision.

Trash boat collecting in Xochimilco. Photo: A+A
Chinampas with flower beds. Photo: A+A
Lilies contained in floating bed. Photo: A+A
Tania and a canal with homes and other trajineras. Photo: A+A
Main canal trajinera traffic and docking. Photo: A+A
Axolótl with albino snake at Xochimilco mini zoo. Photo: A+A
Axolótl and corn mural at Xochimilco. Photo: A+A
“A City on a Lake” by Matthew Vitz, recommended by Jan Dutkiewicz. Photo: A+A
Carlos Tejeda painting of México City after ruins in 1970, painted 1947 via “A City On a Lake”

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