By Katharina Wind
With the Laboratorio para la Ciudad in Mexico City, Gabriella Gómez-Mont and her team persistently work towards solving the challenges of the city as well as unlocking its enormous potential.
The Laboratorio para la Ciudad, just like Mexico City itself, is a multifaceted, inspiring and constantly evolving space. Not only is the city lab the first of its kind in Latin America, the first in a megalopolis city, and in an emerging economy, but it is also highly transdisciplinary, collaborative in nature and visionary in its endeavours. Even in the very beginning, before the lab started in March 2013, it was a bold vision of Gabriella and the willingness to go out on a limb for an idea of a better city that convinced the then-aspiring new mayor Miguel Ángel Mancera to choose Gabriella and her team for the new job.
“To be honest, I never thought that this would actually happen! I thought the idea that came out would be wild enough that he would say thank you, but no.”
Back then, she was just off to a fellowship at Yale University when the mayor’s office asked her to make a proposal for his term that would focus on citizen participation and innovation.
“Since I was off to a very nice fellowship I said OK,” she explains. “I had the time and no worries, and it was very fascinating and a provocative offer to invent a new type of city department from scratch.”
When she came back from Yale, the mayor announced the existence of the lab basically right away. Today, the lab consists of a diverse team of 20 young people. Half of them come from urban and political sciences, and the other half comes from humanities, social sciences, art, activism and more. This thread of multidisciplinarity also reflects Gabriella’s own journey as a journalist, artist, filmmaker, and advisor for cities and institutions. Creativity and the ability to imagine a different, better and more participatory kind of future for the city unites the talented team.
“Since 29 is the average age in our team and more or less also the average age in Mexico City, we are continuously exploring how we think about government for a new generation,” she says.
From sustainable mobility to questions of democracy, urban planning, and public space for millions of children, the lab is an experimental space where interesting ideas are tested.
“Because Mexico City has lots of challenges that many cities will be facing in the future, it is important to us that the lessons that we learn here, could also be relevant to cities worldwide.”
One of the things the team learned very quickly after the first demanding year of slowly building the lab, is that they always need to start by imagining the type of city they want to create.
“Only then, we work on several interventions, on multiple scales, many of them simultaneously to push forward a conversation that we need to have,” explains Gómez-Mont.
The lab first tried to stay out of politics and remain neutral, but quickly realised that this was impossible. Now, they are wearing their progressive and inclusive politics on their sleeves, while working on finding new ways people can participate and interact with public institutions in a way that facilitates positive change.
Many of the lab’s projects and experiments are deeply interconnected and multilayered to have the most holistic impact on the city. The first constitution of Mexico City is a historic milestone and example of the lab’s work. It is the first partly crowdsourced constitution worldwide, and a document and statement for inclusivity, diversity, environmental awareness and humanity. Now, as a caravan of migrants march towards the US for a better life, Gómez-Mont says, “the constitution is the reason why they will have a safe haven here in Mexico City!”
The questions of how we want to live together and what type of city we want to live in, and how it will serve people’s needs for space, connection and a healthy and happy life will remain the most important ones for Gómez-Mont when she thinks about the future.
“I imagine an open, playful, participatory, human scale, creative city.”
For her own future, she is all about the evolution of the lab, maybe outside of the restrictions and challenges that go along with working within a governmental system.
“I am thinking about what would be the next institutional design that is better suited to do the job at hand,” she says. “Doing exactly what we are doing, but with a different legal fundament.”
However it will turn out, it is certain to be exciting and trendsetting for cities all over the world.
I love my city because it fascinates me and surprises me endlessly.
I am a very curious person.
My team would describe me in one sentence as highly transdisciplinary, a new breed of a creative bureaucrat.
Everyone can live more sustainable, simply by being more human. In addition, I would say cycle more.
The best work-related decision I ever took was to always keep my passions close, dissolving borders and disciplines, work-heightening pleasure.
Every city should be created not only for the human body but also for the human imagination.About this Content