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Smart Growth Award plan/policy nominee

Laureles Canyon draws bi-national efforts toward ecological revitalization

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The Laureles Canyon is located on the northwest side of the city of Tijuana and adjacent to the U.S./Mexico border fence. The canyon is part of the Tijuana River watershed that extends across the border into the Tijuana Estuary in Imperial Beach, Calif. The canyon is densely populated with settlements that include various forms of formal and informal constructions as well as illegal or squatter settlements. Due to the manipulation and degradation of the terrain by development, the natural ecological systems have been damaged, and produce a large amount of runoff, sediment, untreated wastewater and other debilitating agents to the ecology and geographies on both sides of the border.

Last summer, students from the Graduate School of the Sam Fox School of Design at Washington University in St. Louis, Mo., arrived in Tijuana to work with the Tijuana Municipal Planning Institute (IMPLAN) and The Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve in Imperial Beach. The project intended to study the different planning strategies created for this area by IMPLAN, and sediment studies runoff control mechanism by The Tijuana River Estuary. The proposal is a visualization and scenario strategy based on field research and documentation provided by both institutions along the northern area of the canyon adjacent to the border fence.

Several systems were studied at various scales: transportation systems; reconfiguration of the main concrete canal within a system of catch basins and bio-swales; integration of hybrid program infrastructure in various nodes along the canal that activate public space with transportation, markets, educational and natural/recreational facilities.

The project was realized in a time frame of eight weeks and presented to government and community activists on both sides of the border. This project initiated the dialogue on the importance of bi-national planning policies that can resolve and amend existing development patterns with ecological sensitive strategies. The Laureles Canyon is an important case study related to various latent development issues across the U.S./Mexico border region. This proposal brought together academic and civil institutions from both sides to begin to imagine a shared region through academic research, governmental policy and a new pedagogical approach in urban studies.

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