Tijuana eyes UNESCO Creative City status

Passion, commitment, loyalty, determination, unity, innovation — these are some of the impressions that the Urban Land Institute’s Binational Committee had of Tijuana and its vision for the future while participating in the Tijuana Innovadora 2012 conference at the Tijuana Cultural Center in October. Tijuana Innovadora was an 11-day expo aimed at showcasing Tijuana’s economic, scholarly, scientific, culinary and other offerings.

A bus whisked the ULI group away early on a Sunday morning from the Santa Fe train station in downtown San Diego. Innovadora coordinator Tatiana Mart'nez and two enthusiastic volunteers who served as escorts for the day welcomed the group on the Tijuana side of the border 30 minutes later.

The event started at the Centro Cultural Tijuana, located in the Zona Rio district, with a tour of two buildings: "La Bola" (the ball) and "El Cubo" (the cube) designed by architects Manuel Rosen and Pedro Ram'rez Vázquez, who also created Mexico City's famous Museo Nacional de Antropolog'a. The group was then escorted to the conference hall and seated front and center with José Galicot Behar, the president of Tijuana Innovadora.

José Castillo opened up the program by stating, “The moment of possibility is the moment of crisis.” Castillo was born in Mexico City and holds a doctorate in design from Harvard University Graduate School of Design. He is the co-founder and principal of Arquitectura 911sc, an architectural firm in Mexico City. Castillo‘s presentation focused on the compelling connection between food, politics and their potential impact on community design and development. The international attention placed on Tijuana’s emerging restaurants, wine region and art gallery scene is testament to this redevelopment tool.

Following Castillo, a government panel with key politicians from Tijuana, Tecate and Rosarito spoke about the Metropolitan Development Plan, focused on efficient border crossings, tourism, public safety, water supply, environmental care, education and culture, and how all of these components directly affect the economy of the region and the welfare of its citizens.

Paola Antonelli wowed the audience with her perspective on how design and art influences society, politics and progress. Antonelli is the senior curator of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and Art Review recently rated her as one of the top 100 most powerful people in the world of art. Her fascinating speech focused on the power of art and how it can make an impact on society as a whole. One interesting example presented was a project that created colorful tents for homeless people, making this challenging social issue highly visible.

The charming and inspiring Nobel Prize winner for chemistry, Ada Yonath, an Israeli crystallographer, then took the stage. Yonath shared her story of years studying the ribosome (minute particles in the cytoplasm of cells). While a chemist speaking at the conference seemed at first to cause confusion, she explained how she developed a novel technique called cryo bio-crystallography, which became routine in structural biology and allowed for intricate projects otherwise considered formidable — a good lesson for the audience about persistence in the design and development stage.

Architect Martin Krammer from Graz, Austria, closed out the conference with a presentation about his city’s designation as City of Design from United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. UNESCO’s program was instituted in 2005 and recognizes cities worldwide with reputations as centers of excellence in craft and folk art, design, gastronomy, literature, media arts, and music. The program is intended to help creative cities share ideas on preserving and enhancing their cultural programs.

Tijuana has a vision for itself as an emerging global city of innovation and has the passion, perseverance and a strong emerging international economy to make this dream a reality. A discussion ensued with the audience about how Tijuana might apply for the City of Design designation, which would help in realizing the city’s visions.

It is clear that San Diego can be a key partner in helping Tijuana become all it wants to be. The Urban Land Institute San Diego/Tijuana District Council is committed to continuing its focus on the emerging opportunities for the whole northern Baja region. This innovative, fast developing area's great culture, exquisite culinary scene and advanced manufacturing industry are attracting investors from all over the world. Juntos somos mejor (together we are better).

Panchuk is an Urban Land Institute San Diego/Tijuana Young Leader and a Master of Science in Real Estate student at the University of San Diego.

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