From Dead Birds to Vertical Gardens: The Case of Mexico City

Eco-sculpture installed in Mexico City by the nonprofit VerdMX. In the days leading up to Earth Day, I’m going to take a break from detailing all the ways we are failing to implement any kind of meaningful climate policy. Instead, let’s focus on the positive and highlight some great, creative initiatives that are working to make cities and public spaces healthier and greener.

Not that long ago, Mexico City was infamous for incredibly high levels of air pollution. As much as five million tons of pollutants spewed into the air, so much so that birds dropped dead in mid-flight. Now, however, by using a mix of smart government policy and creative partnerships, Mexico City’s air pollution has dramatically improved.

Compounding rapid urbanization, Mexico City is geographically sandwiched in between mountains and volcanoes, which makes it a perfect smog trap. The government started its air pollution control strategy by shutting down some of the most polluting industries, including an oil refinery that alone contributed seven percent of the city’s air pollution. The city also cracked down on vehicle emissions, a major source of air pollution, by implementing tougher emissions standards and a program called Hoy No Circula that restricts private car use on certain days and in certain high traffic areas. It also made significant investments in alternative modes of transportation, including more investment in mass transit and a city-wide bike sharing program.

The city also recently installed three eco-sculptures, including a vertical garden with 50,000 plants. A non-profit called Verdmx installed the sculptures across the city as a way to help clean the air while providing art. Verdmx’s efforts are part of a larger art scene that combines artistic expression with environmental consciousness that includes turning ocean trash into a criticism of consumerism and inter-generational projects where younger women teach older women how to grow tomatoes in an urban environment.

While Mexico City’s air still needs improvement, these concrete steps have resulted in a remarkable environmental transformation. By using smart government policy to limit emissions and promote alternative transportation and by tapping into the city’s creative energy to raise awareness, the city’s air is cleaner and environmentalism is on the rise.

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