Profound Mexico City

Mexico City

see full article here: http://www.e-flux.com/architecture/positions/156858/profound-modernity/

If there was one project in Mexico City that could be thought of as descendent of Haussmannian Boulevardisation in its expansiveness, destructive power, engineering rationality, and lurking militarism, it would be the Drenaje Profundo. The Drenaje Profundo is a subterranean network of 200 or so kilometers of underground tunnels, interceptors, emitters, and thousands of kilometers of pipes that flush out wastewater and rainwater from Mexico City. Inhabitants of Mexico City colloquially blame the drainage of lakes, rivers, and canals of Mexico City on Spanish colonial practices, including eighteenth century canals, or even the colonial drainage plans of 1555.

But it was only during the twentieth century with the official completion of Drenaje Profundo in 1973 (yet whose plans can be traced back to at least 1940) that Mexico City staged the culmination of such a large-scale drainage project. Drenaje Profundo reshaped Texcoco Lake in service of a certain idea of ground. It aimed to prepare the city for its complete territorialization by automobiles and tall buildings—both idealized as existing on foundations of firm, dry land.

It would be impossible to summarize the cascading effects of Drenaje Profundo, among which possibly include the large earthquake of 1985 and, more certainly, the dramatic sinking of the city by almost ten meters.

The system drains the lakebed, but no counter system recharges the aquifer. Drenaje Profundo is designed to flush its water out to the Gulf of Mexico via tunnels hundreds of meters below grade. This sinks the city and dries the aquifer a bit more each year, which in turn requires wells that pump from the aquifer to increase pressure or depth, sinking the city even further. Its contents are mixed along the way, so that even if you could reach the rainwater that gets caught—a potentially valuable source of potable water—it would already be contaminated with sewage. Additionally, emitters and such are never fast enough to flush the rainwater out in the worst rain storms, which are increasingly frequent, due to climate change. The city still floods.

The Drenaje Profundo has so thoroughly drained the city that—even as the streets and sidewalks are ripped open—the lakebed water still does not deliver enough potable water to Mexico City residents. Instead, potable water is delivered by truck to many residents and even hospitals, carted in from beyond the city borders. There are also supplements to the Deep Drain—additional wells, additional drains, longer canals. The Drenaje Profundo—in both its incompleteness (it has not yet entirely obliterated the Lake) and its excesses (draining so thoroughly that the aquifer dries up overtime)—demands maintenance of a kind that does not distinguish between the system’s failures and its supplements.

This situation of Mexico City’s deep drain becomes instructive with regards to the modernities of networks, especially the relationship between systems and their own visceral effects. It is perhaps easier in democracies to develop than to maintain. Or, perhaps, development benefits capital whereas maintenance valorizes labor. American historians Andrew Russel and Lee Vinsel recently published an op-ed in the New York Times blaming the lack of maintenance for public transit in America’s most populous city on a fetish of technology. There is an issue here of maintenance versus control. When solutions are framed in terms of self-consistent technologies and linear temporalities pushing forward toward increased control, the repetitive and labor-intensive participants in modernity are easily erased. The street rags of Paris are instruments not of control, but of hunches and gestures. Where should the water go? That way. Down. Nudge the roll of fabric with your foot. See what happens. Come back and check on it in a few days. This is maintenance. This is what the Drenaje Profundo has been draining out of Mexico City.