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Tijuana Plans Respect

— A funny thing happened at Tijuana's cultural center the other day. As dozens of kids, teens, and parents lined up near the giant dome for tickets to the highest-tech movie showing in Tijuana or San Diego -- Disney's Fantasia 2000-- a low-tech exhibit caught their eye.

Many of them drifted across to the other side of the lobby, where a series of hand-drawn plans and sketches lined the wall. These were planning schemes for a future Tijuana. Vistas of "Tijuana 2000" blossomed with parks and broad tree-lined avenues; upgrades of Avenida Revolución made it look more like Rodeo Drive. Alongside these renderings were ideas for providing toilets where there is no sewer; for preventing shacks from sliding into canyons when it rains.

The kids were curious. Parents wanted to know more. And Carlos Graizbord looked pleased as punch.

The director of IMPlan (Instituto Municipal de Planeación), Tijuana's year-old semi-independent planning authority, has been working the last 14 months creating 31 plans to turn an immigrant-flooded border town into a beautiful, dignified city -- not, he adds, a San Diego clone, but a Latin city.

"It's probably a bit more like Europe. Mixed-use is one characteristic. Concentration [of population] is another. It is more of the way the [Mexican] people think of their way of living. We have high-income areas and middle-income areas, and they're close to downtown. People tend to concentrate where the services are, where you have access to transportation. There's very little middle-class pressure to create suburbs. Generally speaking, they don't want to go to the suburbs. Forty-five minutes traveling to work is too much for Tijuana's people. Half an hour is too much."

Graizbord also wants to avoid repeating what he sees as San Diego's "mistakes." "We're aware of [San Diego's] 'leapfrog development,' " he says, "which allows development to go further and further out. Here the process [is] the city consolidates in an area. The squatters will go [near the maquiladoras] because they are close to their job and because the city can't easily supply water and sewage and infrastructure far out. And people don't have as many cars as they do [in San Diego].

"There you build [anywhere], and you have all the infrastructure [to support that building]. Here, there is nothing. There is no infrastructure. So people prefer to stay in town because they know here the government will give them water and sewage. They will regulate the land. If you go [far out], they will never do it. And why should we? It's going to cost a lot of money to take the [water and sewage] lines out [beyond city limits]. How much do you pay for water in San Diego if you live up in Escondido? It's very expensive! But still you do it. !Que bárbaro! [Unbelievable!] !Que bárbaro, San Diego!"

He's laughing. But he clearly believes San Diego's "leapfrog" development represents a failure by San Diego planners. And Graizbord would know; he's worked both sides of the border. For eight years he was a staff member of San Diego's city planning department. A team he led to restore Sherman Heights was named "Preservationists of the Year" in 1995. He was part of the planning team that tried to make the "Twin Ports" cross-border airport idea work. He also earned an M.A. in planning at Harvard, a Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania, and has trained and worked in city planning in his native Mexico City.

Still, with up to two million more people expected in Tijuana by 2020, he knows the city will bulge.

We're standing beside the aerial view of his long-term plan for Tijuana. It shows the present city surrounded by wobbly circled areas, some coded for development, some for nature preserve. "We identified 22,000 hectares [about 54,000 acres] that I think might accommodate two million people in the future. That's a projection for 2020," he says. "There is enough room for the city to grow. For 2040 we may need to look in new areas. This was a job that the mayor [Francisco Vega de la Madrid] asked us to do as a priority. His idea is satellite cities linked together by corridors."

Graizbord makes a virtue of necessity in his planning decisions. "We want to preserve those areas where we have high slopes and where we cannot pump water," he says. "The remaining areas we can supply with water at low cost by gravity. We have all these creeks that we connect to the city, and hopefully we'll have an open [park] space system within the city.

"Tijuana should be more beautiful," he continues. "It should have a lot of trees -- except we cannot put trees in until we can get water. Our solution is re-used water. The state water commission is [working on recycling water through] re-used water plants. Then we'll be able to reforest areas and put more trees in the streets."

A lot of Graizbord's planning is directed at creating basics for new immigrants. Sketches for a pilot project labeled "Los Laureles" shows squatter settlement shacks on the bare slopes of a canyon near Tijuana's coastal Playas section. "This settlement's creek sends water to the Tijuana River valley. We contaminate the United States. So we encourage them to use 'dry toilets,' because [building a sewage] infrastructure is very expensive. This way, you turn [human waste] into compost. We also want to control the erosion there and make people recycle water on a unit-by-unit basis. That's a type of pilot project we're trying to encourage."

Another área de intervención, the "Colonia 10 de Mayo," is one of Graizbord's own ideas and his pet project. "This is a squatter area east of Rodríguez airport. The unusual thing is we are going to do this rehabilitation project with money from the maquiladora [owners] themselves. The private sector is providing money for infrastructure in the public right of way, which is not very common. This could be very transcending for Tijuana, because there are a lot of workers from maquiladoras who live in squatter areas. We want to transform it into a little town. We will encourage septic-tank toilets because, again, there isn't the money to lay in sewage. We will have public spaces and mixed public-private housing."

Graizbord says most of this would be impossible in San Diego -- because of regulations and because San Diego planners don't have the horsepower their counterparts in Tijuana do.

"One important benefit of the work style we have is [public administrators and politicians] respect planners' expertise. I didn't feel that [way] in San Diego. I'm sorry to say it, but it makes life very difficult [for a planner] over there. My own personal view is that the [San Diego city] planning department puts too much effort into regulating, into enforcing the law. They have swallowed the idea that that's planning. I'd say...right now the profession is in a dip over there."

Tijuana has one more advantage SANDAG (San Diego Association of Governments) planners must envy. "If this was San Diego, you'd have one city here, one city there, another city over there -- Chula Vista, National City, Imperial Beach -- and the county is a different government. So you have five governments, all overlapped. Here we have one government for our whole municipality."

Graizbord says he respects San Diego's association of governments and its cross-border outreach efforts, but he feels its effectiveness is limited by so many masters. "SANDAG is strong in transportation planning. It's not strong in other areas because the politics in the U.S. are complex. You have regulations all over the place from everybody, and the political power is so fragmented. So you have to bring a hundred people to the table to achieve a consensus on everything. Everybody is struggling with that situation."

At the moment, Graizbord is struggling with several cross-border planning issues of his own, including sharing the water from the aquifers that lie beneath both cities, a coordinated plan for wildlife and wildlands, and more anti-immigrant fence-building by the U.S. through ecologically sensitive lands.

"This is an example of how primitive our transborder planning is," he says. "The U.S. federal government is building a second or third border fence for the INS [Immigration and Naturalization Service]. This is your territory, so you do whatever you want here. But we inquired about the road's [environmental] effects on our side of the fence. We called the City of San Diego. Our inquiry was, 'Are we going to [see an] estimate of the impact on both sides of the border?' [The U.S. federal government] said they would look at it 'on a discretionary basis.' So we're depending on their goodwill. You see, we don't have the rules for all these things. I'm not blaming the U.S. or Mexico, but it's an example of how things haven't been institutionalized."

Graizbord believes negotiations on water and wildlife issues are going well on both sides of the border, but working out land-use issues could be better. "We can do one of two things: we can do one plan here, and you do another plan in San Diego, we then communicate with each other and coordinate. Or we can say, 'Why don't we look at the area as a whole, plan for the whole area?' If we both wanted to, there should be an agreement, a formal, institutionalized way of doing that. Maybe we need a planning department here and a planning department there under a Binational Institute."

Above all, Graizbord wants his 68-member staff and their plans to be taken seriously. Two weeks ago he took his ideas across the line. "We went to SANDAG, and for the first time we presented our projects. I think they got the message. They gave me an opening 10, 15 minutes. I presented some projects. I gave them a sample. And the message was, 'We are doing planning in Tijuana. Join us. Join us, you people!' "

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