An architect’s vision for a “binational city” on the US-Mexico border is the perfect response to Donald Trump’s border wall

Urban-planning diplomacy.
Urban-planning diplomacy.
Image: FR-EE
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Republican presidential Donald Trump wants to erect a border wall to block out Mexico. Mexican architect Fernando Romero wants to build a binational city that straddles both sides of that border, sharing an economy, culture and even public transit.

Both of these competing visions sound like wishful thinking. Building a wall across the entire 2,000-mile length of the US-Mexico border would not only be expensive but in some rugged stretches, nearly impossible. Plus, existing barriers have proved that they don’t deter people or illegal merchandise.

It’s also hard to reconcile Romero’s gleaming and neatly gridded “Border City” with Mexico’s reality of urban disarray, poverty, and migration that breed shantytowns anywhere there’s jobs. And it’s unclear whether US and Mexican officials are willing—or qualified—to manage the level of integration and cooperation Romero has in mind.

But the architect is onto something with the concept of cross-border cooperation, which already drives the economies—and life in general—in the more than a dozen twin cities across each other on the US-Mexico international boundary. More than 10 million pedestrians crossed into San Diego from Tijuana in 2015. Laredo and Nuevo Laredo, McAllen and Reynosa, El Paso and Ciudad Juárez—all these cities are already tightly bound by manufacturing and trade.

Border City actually takes some inspiration from El Paso-Juárez, though it’s divided by the border, is in some ways like a single metro area. Businesses and workers on either side depend on the other for their livelihood. Trade between the two countries has also created bustling manufacturing and logistics industries. There’s even a name to describe the region: Borderplex.

But the Borderplex has many shortcomings. They include the long lines that form at border crossings as the dealings between the two cities have dwarfed existing infrastructure. The economic promise of Juárez’s maquiladoras—essentially offshore assemblers of American-made parts that ship the finished product straight back to the US—drew more residents than the city could handle, leaving many living in squalor conditions. Brutal drug-cartel violence in Juárez curbed southbound flows of Americans, and hurt the economy of both places.

Border City, which would be located near El Paso-Juárez, is trying to address those problems.

“Urban planning is a fundamental tool to improve life conditions for citizens,” said FR-EE, Romero’s firm in written responses to Quartz’s questions about the project. The master plan is designed to provide job opportunities, as well as spaces for education and research and development, it adds.

“These basic pillars help a community have a good quality of life, and make it less susceptible to succumb to drug trafficking and illegal immigration,” the firm said.

It might sound like utopia, but its proponents are serious about it. The city would be adjacent to a relatively new inland port named Santa Teresa, which was designed to be a logistics and manufacturing hub. Investment going into and around the Santa Teresa port—located where Texas, New Mexico, and the Mexican state of Chihuahua meet— “make of the location an ideal setting for a city developed on both sides of the border that unifies the two communities,” per FR-EE.

A single city

Some of the problems in sister cities stem from the fact that they were originally planned as separate entities, and have haphazardly adapted to their growing interconnectedness. “Border City” is designed to acknowledge and foster those connections. A grid of hexagons would blanket the whole area, bisected by the border.

Instead of dividing, the border becomes a hub to connect the Mexican and American portions of the city.
Image: FR-EE

Moving people, goods

Since Border City is based on the premise of trade, it includes rail and highway connections between the two sides to quickly transport goods, addressing  existing gridlock at the border.

Border City would include cross-border connections for trains and trucks to speed the transfer of goods between the two sides of the border.
Image: FR-EE

It would also speed up people’s journeys with public transit, including metrobuses and express trains, shown below.

Border City would have a single public transit system serving both sides.
Image: FR-EE

Hexagonal growth

A major improvement upon existing border cities, particularly on the Mexican side, would be organized zoning.  The hexagonal plan is designed to allow “systematic growth.” Everything will have a designated place in Border City—except shantytowns.

Border City would have zoning code in place to organize growth.
Image: FR-EE