Mexico City wetlands

and sustainable agriculture

In 2016, the Government of Mexico City commissioned Keystone to conduct a study for a Rescue Plan for the World Heritage Zone of Xochimilco, Tláhuac and Milpa Alta.


To this end, workshops and interviews were held with residents, officials and leading academics and experts in the field.


These maps represent the synthesis of the collective understanding of more than 50 experts.


The heart of the document is the "Systemic Map", a diagram that shows the elements and relationships crucial to understanding the problem in the form of a system.


This Systemic Map is also a tool to create and communicate a comprehensive vision of the problem and possible solution strategies.


Based on the Systemic Map of Xochimilco (SMX), and in partnership with Rebuild by Design (RBD), the collaborative design process applied in the United States to design the reconstruction of New York after Hurricane Sandy, was adapted to Mexico.


Thanks to the above actions (SMX and RBD’s collaborative design process), collaborative projects that are aligned with environmental and social good can be generated.


Through private and social investment, the alignment and integration of collaborative projects will create a citizen founded institution. This will ensure the continuity, analysis and updating of the actions undertaken to achieve the reconfiguration of the system, with a positive long-term impact.


Xochimilco is not a series of isolated problems belonging to specialists, but an interconnected network of interacting elements, processes and relationships.


If a change is made in one part, the other parts are affected.


It cannot be resolved in parts or gradually.


You have to understand the whole system and to manage it as systems are managed: from the outside and creating the right incentives to guide, not control, the direction of the system ... allow the system to fix and stabilize itself.


The Xochimilco system worked in an exemplary manner for perhaps 2000 years.


Its productivity, resilience and abundance emanated from the synergy between the wetland ecosystem and human activity in the form of traditional Chinampa agriculture.


This balance has been lost but it can be recovered.


In order to accomplish this, various topics must be attended to simultaneously, in a systemic way. Such as ecology, agriculture, housing, transportation, water, drainage, tourism, etcetera.


If ecological balance is recovered without reducing economic benefits, the productivity and profitability of the system will also be recovered. This will maintain and reinforce the environmental services it provides throughout Mexico City, such as supplying one third of the drinking water.


The chinampas, the typical agriculture system of Xochimilco, is one of the most productive and sustainable agricultural systems that has been invented.


It consists of growing plants on small islets created by man within shallow lakes.  


Their productivity comes from taking advantage of the fact that temperate and shallow lakes recycle plant nutrients very quickly and make them available to achieve several agricultural cycles per year.


Human activity in the chinampa creates more habitat for local species and helps recycle the nutrients when Chinampero farmers take the mud from the bottom and use it as fertilizer for the next harvest.


In the chinampa, the human is a key integral part of the ecosystem.


For decades, attempts have been made to solve the problem of Xochimilco through welfare and government programs.


Of these programs, only a few have been successful and have achieved little more than to gain time to postpone the total collapse, drying out and urbanization of the area, which today seems inevitable.


The solution is to understand the problem as a complex system that worked for hundreds of years, and that can work again if it is redesigned to achieve the alignment of human interests with the health of the ecosystem.


The two crucial interventions to regenerate the system are

  1. the improvement of the quality and quantity of water and

  2. the increase in the value of Chinampa agriculture to recognize and reflect its generation of environmental services for Mexico City.

A brief history of place

Systemic Map of Xochimilco

This diagram emanates from the perspectives of more than 50 experts, and shows the elements, factors and key relationships to understand the problem of Xochimilco as a system and thus be able to propose solutions in the form of interventions to a system.


From this diagram you can extract the main vicious cycles that cause the deterioration, and you can also analyse the effects of any proposed intervention.


Green: main symptoms of deterioration

Blue: simplified systemic map

Yellow: extended map

Feedback loops: from entropy to life

© 2020 Proyectos Keystone S.C.