As one of the world’s largest megacities, Mexico City’s skyrocketing real estate prices can pose a challenge to the creation of public space. Fortunately, city planners have come up with an innovative plan to expand the city’s common areas without costing the government a cent. The program is called Under Bridges (“Bajo Puentes”) and it transforms vacant, trash-strewn lots beneath freeways into thriving public plazas, outdoor cafes and playgrounds.

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Managed by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (SEDUVI), the Under Bridges program works as a public-private partnership. City officials persuade business owners and private developers to move into the area with below-market lease rates. In return, the private sector foots the bill in the costs of cleanup, construction, and maintenance.

To keep the focus on public space, the program stipulates that only 30% of the area can be zoned for commercial uses, whereas 50% must remain public space and the remaining 20% allocated for parking. So far, four spaces with a total area of 24,000 square meters, have been successfully rehabilitated, and there are plans to develop at least twenty more areas.

Once the site of illegal dumping grounds and homeless campsites, these spaces now boast attractive, secure and affordable retail areas that are outfitted with bathrooms, running water, electricity and outdoor lighting. The six-lane highways overhead provide shaded relief from the blistering sun and the newly freed up land down below opens itself up for new, creative possibilities, from free outdoor gyms to upscale food courts.

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+ Bajo Puentes (in Spanish)

Via Washington Post