196,925 meters: Mapping the Border of Mexico City as an Event in the Physical and Virtual Landscape

Laura Janka (MAUD) and Victor Sanz (MAUD)

Project Overview

196,925 meters’ is the systematic documentation by a two-sided geo-tagged panorama of the diverse conditions on the edge of Mexico City’s political boundary through walking along it. It would be both a performance and a statement: a performance since the act of us as individuals in a particular Landscape condition in a particular time would constitute a fundamental part of the work and its result, where time, space, our bodies and the relationship between them and the moving flows are the basic elements; a statement for it aims to be a call for a regional thinking in Mexico City and neighboring areas, which must acknowledge the necessity of understanding transversal landscape and infrastructural systems independently of political boundaries. While social phenomena, ecological systems and infrastructure should work organically thus respond to social and environmental natural dynamics, the geographic line that defines what is in and what is out, leaves in its place a field if not of battle, of great conflict.

The borderline can no longer be seen as merely a line, but as a place of exchange. This transversal panorama urges a shift in representation; from plan view, to section; from linear to perpendicular. It would also require a shift in scale: the complex regional scale panorama by tiny fragments of human-scale reality revealing the potential of the border as a system.



Project Information

Mexico has a 196,925-meter borderline that defines the 3 mayor states that compound the Metropolitan Area of Mexican Valley, State of México, Morelos and Mexico City. The political border seems not to recognize the natural and organic systems in which it is embedded. Instead, it appear as a point of disjunction: 45 rivers running down the hills towards the deep basin of Mexico City that merge into the sewage system, 4 Million people commuting to the inner city every day, and an ever growing urban patch that spreads outwards. While social phenomena, ecological systems and infrastructure should work organically thus respond to social and environmental natural dynamics, the geographic line that defines what is in and what is out, leaves in its place a field if not of battle, of great conflict. The line excludes all natural and integral thinking of what an urban landscape means. This line, represented in a plan view, through 1:20,000 scale maps hardly allow to an understanding of what this zone of conflict is about. Its apparent abstractness but detailed definition in a bigger scale (on paper), is most times invisible but substantial in a small scale. The absence of an understanding in the system thinking of the small and human scale opens the question of what really happens in the moment the different political entities merge into one continuous perpendicular landscape. Is it possible to recognize this politically defined system in its small scale all along its length? Are natural systems and modes of interchange recognized in this scale? And if so, in what extend do they inform the field of conflict? The borderline can no longer be seen as merely a line, but as a place of exchange. This new transversal panorama urges a shift of representation; from plan view, to section; from lineal to perpendicular. It is in this sense that an in-situ and close approach to the “site” will make its understanding possible. The systematic documentation of the political border of Mexico City as a continuous yet changing landscape through photography should allow mapping the space of exchange in great detail, and thinking about the meaning and potential of the border as a system.

So far, the Metropolitan Area of Mexican Valley does not exist as a political Institution regardless the efforts Mexico has put into creating opportunities of interaction and exchange between the different states (Metropolitan Trust or the Environmental Metropolitan Commission). Yet, the lineal condition drawn in a map and individual maps, abstract and detached from the close reality of the borders is crystal clear. The Metropolitan GIS map, dynamic mapping systems and open source represent these limits, while allow for a better geospatial embracement of landscape in its multi-scalar condition.  The Mexico City Atlas of Public Space is a platform now being developed by the Authority of Public Space that maps all public spaces in a GIS through its physical and in-site documentation. After being part of the development of the conceptual framework and spatial methodology with the support of the Community Service GSD program last Summer 2010, our closeness to the Atlas allows us to not only to add data into the system, but also to use it as a platform of integral and further understanding of urban systems. The process of building a platform of understanding is an on-going development of thinking we are searching by looking into the broad yet spatial in-situ idea of the border (now part of the gsdLATINO student group’ agenda we are involved with) as a landscape of exchange and as means for a reconciliation and recognition of the edge in despair.The edge as a condition challenges the traditional representation and understanding of linear systems seen in the artistic work of Edward Ruscha in Los Angeles Sunset Boulevard, the panorama views of the Great Venice Canal, the Vegas Strip and even Google’s Street View by shifting from a linear point of view to a perpendicular cross-sectional one. Still, this project is inspired in this lineage of practice that uses the systematic and rigorous framing of landscape to build a continuous and precise panoramic view.

The methodology we deviced to achieve our objectives was:

  1. Identify in a Mexico City map the 196,925 meters of its political border, its points of physical discontinuity, and analyze the elastic line that will allow the connection between them.
  2. Upload that vector line to a  PDA with  GPS
  3. Establish a standart point of view to take the pictures
  4. Define the distance to walk between each picture in order to get the most accurate panorama.
  5. Use the GPS to show us the way to go and the points from which we have to take pictures.
  6. Take a picture in each of the two directions perpendicular to the line in each of the points. One picture looks to Mexico City, and the other to the periphery.
  7. Upload the geo-referenced pictures to an web-based map platform.
  8. Go on walking, stage after stage, to complete the 196,925 meters of political border.

On March 2011, we travelled to Mexico City to begin the establishing contact with local institutions in order to get technical and logistical  support for our project, since we understood that the current situation in Mexico required this to make the project successful. Also, this trip was a chance to test on site our methodology and walk the first stage of our walk. On this first round of conversations, we met people from the Institute of Geography of the UNAM, as well as the Secretary of Culture of Mexico City The first institution was very excited by our project and offered some technical support, including GIS maps, and the possibility of having students as volunteers working with us. The IG also lent us a GPS which we used in our first stage of the walk.The meeting with the Secretary of Culture was also very successful. They offered support in terms of logistics, security, and helped to arrange other meetings, this time with the heads of the “Delegaciones” (the administrative units in which the city is divided), and local cultural associations, called “Faros”.We also started a collaboration with mexican photographer María Luz Bravo, known for ther work in Ciudad Juárez. She would become the documentalist of our walk, not only taking pictures of our performance, but of the urban context and cultures.With all that done, we did our first attempt and walked a first stage of the walk. The Delegación we chose was Azcapozalco, in the north-west part of the city,  neighboring the municipality of Naucalpan. We chose it because its a very urban area, and it is relatively safe. We identified in a Mexico City map  the political border of the city in that area, its points of physical discontinuity, and analyzed the elastic line that would allow the connection between them. Later, we uploaded that vector line to the GPS we borrowed from the UNAM.The issues concerning the photographic technique, such as establishing a standart point of view to take the pictures and defining the distance to walk between each picture were defined on site. The walk became a continous discovery of unexpected conditions.

After our visit to Mexico we extracted many lessons  and realized that the project is far more complex than we expected, and that it will require more time, we started to plan the next steps after the trial walk.

196,925 meters requires the support of the communities and political administrations, and that has its times. We are working with those parties at this moment, and we are confident that they will provide help.

196,925 meters requires time. Walking 196km taking pictures every 10 meters, will take more than 30 days on a row. Also, if the project wants to become an event, the time in each delegacion must be longer, in order to activate other parallel activities. We are scheduling the stages scattered along the next year, so that both of us can combine the project with our jobs.

196,925 meters requires more funding. We have applied for a FONCA grant, awarded by the Ministry of Culture of Mexico, in order to get more funding to help with the technical equipment (cameras, GPS) as well and the logistics (meals, security, transportation).

We are also in contact with other institutions for this. With all that, next August, we are planning to walk the first real stage of the walk. We will go back to Azcapozalco/Naucalpan, and walk the line again

Contact Information

Laura Janka / [email protected]

Victor Muñoz Sanz / [email protected]


Pictures 1, 3 and 5 in the slideshow by María Luz Bravo.

Stan Allen, 1999, ‘Field Conditions’, in Points and Lines: Diagrams and Projects for the City

Bernard Comment, 1999, The Panorama

James Corner, 1996, Taking Measures Across the American Landscape

James Corner, 1997, ‘Ecology and Landscape as Agents of Creativity’, in ‘Ecological Design and Planning’.

James Corner, 1999, ‘The Agency of Mapping: Speculation, Critique and Invention’, in Mappings

James Corner, 2002, ‘Representation and Landscape’, in Theory in Landscape Architecture: a Reader.

Richard Forman, 2008, Urban Regions, Ecology and Planning beyond the City.