Grounds for Change: Activating Vacant Land

Xochimilco Ecological Park


Tags: agriculture, architecture, boats, building, community, ecology, energy, farming, floating, grow, habitat, history, island, landscape, lotsoflots, metal, Mexico, planting, power, production, reclamation, remediation, restoration, solar, stone, technology, tourism, trees, water, wood

A large-scale ecological restoration and productive landscape inspired by Xochimilco's landscape history.

A series of canals are all that remains of Lake Xochimilco, which was in turn the last remaining portion of the lake system that once filled the Valley of Mexico. Aztecs at the height of empire settled on an island in the center of the lake and filled its water with chinampas, floating islands comprising over 20,000 acres and supporting enough crops to feed the entire valley. Over centuries of conquest and urbanization, the lakes were gradually neglected and polluted with waste water. Water shortages led to the diversion of natural springs and subsequent pollution of canals to the point of unfitness for agriculture.

UNESCO declared the area a Cultural Heritage Site in 1987. Xochimilco was declared an urban ecological park in 1990, and cleanup and rebuilding began in 1993. Mexican landscape architecture firm Grupo Desino Urbano, under Mario Schjetnan Garduno's leadership, provided the master plan through which Xochimilco was transformed. The plan focused primarily on wetland restoration through improved hydrology. Cleaner water and efficient water treatment have allowed the chinampas to re-emerge as models of sustainable agriculture. Surface algae harvested and organic debris simply pulled from the canal help to fertilize crops and enrich the chinampas soil in fallow seasons.


Schjetnan, Mario. "The Ecological Park of Xochimilco." Lotus International, No. 91 (1996).

Cumberlidge, Claire. Design & Landscape for People: New Approaches to Renewal. London: Thames & Hudson, 2007.

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