Adaptation Approach for a Water-Sensitive Mexico City

Published: 15 January 2018

The Public Space Authority of Mexico City has recognised cyclical flooding and water shortages as some of the most pressing urban vulnerabilities in Mexico City. The Authority believes that the most appropriate response is to combine improvements in public space with water management strategies, and also to create socially sustainable locations in the public urban realm.

The goal is therefore to identify concrete solutions in a more holistic approach that integrates the design of public space and water management in a more comprehensive strategy.

Problems all magnify each other

The strength of the water-sensitive approach for Mexico City is its integral nature. Technical professional knowledge is combined with a design approach to the complex challenges faced by the city. In the summer, there are severe droughts, heat stress and drinking-water shortages, accompanied by groundwater extraction, salination and severe subsidence. In the winter, there is flooding caused by storm water, which is transported out of the city through very large underground infrastructures. Against a background of uncontrolled urbanisation and the large-scale paving of land surfaces, these problems all magnify each other. The task faced by the city is to break the downward spiral and develop concrete ways to tackle the challenges.

Raise the sponge capacity of the city

De Urbanisten and Deltares developed a strategic approach that tackles these complex issues but is also concrete, feasible and applicable on a relatively small scale, making implementation possible in the short term. The primary focus is on making Mexico City more water-sensitive using the water treatment sequence: “delay – retain – store – reuse / only drain when necessary”. The goals are to raise the sponge capacity of the city by recharging its aquifer and in that way to prevent further subsidence. Water will be held locally for greening, resulting in cooling through evapotranspiration. Six different urbanised zones have been identified that require different strategies. All six strategies are available with a catalogue of water-sensitive options that can be used in the public space. The implementation details have been elaborated in an exemplary set of typologies for the two areas in the city that require action most urgently.

The adaptation approach for a Water-Sensitive Mexico City, including using the Climate App, the Adaptation Support Tool (AST) and the 3D interactive modelling environment of Delft3D FM, has been very well received and it is seen as a potential worldwide Proof of Concept for Climate Adaptation.