Lorena Martínez: Success of La Línea Verde is “totally replicable”

Lorena Martínez leads a group along La Línea Verde, a 12-km long urban park in Aguascalientes, Mexico. Martínez got the idea to build the park from visits to Brazil and Colombia. Photo Ags Prensa

AGUASCALIENTES, Mexico — Mayors in Mexico are limited to serving one term in office of just three years. That’s what makes the accomplishment of Lorena Martínez in this city so remarkable.

As Citiscope reported yesterday, her 12-km long linear park, La Línea Verde, instantly transformed the run-down neighborhoods where 300,000 people live. Martínez, a member of the traditional ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, won an election to become mayor of Aguascalientes in 2010 and took office in 2011. I spoke with her in December, shortly before her term ended and a new mayor from another political party took office. We discussed where she got the idea for La Línea Verde and what other cities could learn from Aguascalientes.

This Q&A has been edited for length and clarity and translated from Spanish.

Ana Arana: How does a mayor decide to take on a project like La Línea Verde?

Lorena Martínez: Precisely because I was trying to find solutions to old problems. I believed that to have a different impact one has to do things differently. You can’t change anything if you do the same things every year. And you don’t have to invent it all. You could find sources of inspiration that can then be tailored to the needs of your city.

Q: Where did you get your inspiration?

A: We had a serious problem of public safety — it was the most pressing problem for our citizens in 2010. We needed to find solutions that could work in the long run. The national government at the time had decided to hold a frontal combat with organized crime. The confrontation brought a head-on collision. Their policies came from a misunderstanding of where violence originates.

Before we took office, we did a diagnosis of the city and found exact data that explained violence was closely linked to a lack of opportunities. We had social inequality, limited public spaces, overcrowded housing, and a dearth of communal recreation programs. We had to reconstruct the social net. That was when we began to see what experiences were being carried out in other countries. We began to explore even before we took office.

Q: Where did you go?

A: We went to South America — Colombia and Brazil. We even got to Chile. But the first two countries had interesting processes.

Colombia was very interesting for us because it was undergoing a pacifying process. In Medellín, we found specific cases where the city found ways to use public policies to resolve insecurity and violence in their territory. Our diagnosis had found out that 75 percent of the violence in Aguascalientes came from the eastern part of the city (where La Línea Verde was built). We also found that 80 percent of those who committed crimes lived in the same area. From what we learned in our travels, we found that we needed to implement the politics of coexistence and citizen security, where one of the goals is to recuperate public space.

That is when we came upon La Línea Verde. The park is an attempt to rescue social spaces. The idea really came from the need to institute social prevention policies connected to the local environment.

Q: When did you really get the idea?

A: In Curitiba [Brazil]. We were already exploring other alternatives, but when we visited a project that recuperated a former road and it was turn into a park…that is when we got the idea of La Línea Verde.

Q: Who else has followed your example?

A: We are starting to get a lot of attention. The Inter-American Bank is looking at Línea Verde. The World Bank has invited us to make presentations. From Chile, we have had visitors. The University of Chile sent a group that is completing an outside evaluation of the project.

From Mexico, the government of Toluca has visited us multiple times. Hidalgo state is also interested. Baja California, Chihuahua state is also thinking of doing something similar. Merida state visited us and wants to create their own Línea Verde. In Monterrey, they also have a project. The federal government also uses our program of Convive Feliz [the social welfare program that organizes classes, athletics and social programming in La Línea Verde] to implement a social prevention program at the national level.

Q: Mexico is driven by party politics. Would your project be respected by other political parties?

A: All politicians have the temptation to erase everything that was in place before they came. But I think it will be hard to erase La Línea Verde. It is not a program that you can sign off easily. The international attention we have received provides protection to the project. We have placed the city of Aguascalientes on an international podium. It will be difficult to think that a new mayor just because he is from another party will be interested in destroying that project.

“We have abandoned urban spaces like we had in La Línea Verde all over the country.”

Q: If someone wants to follow your footsteps, what should they do?

A: Our project is totally replicable. It is also useful because it can be scaled up or down in size. We have abandoned urban spaces like we had in La Línea Verde all over the country. These spaces are a threat and a nest of insecurity for local residents. But a local government has to move many structures to get a project like this completed. It can’t be done with a municipal budget. You have to find other ways of financing it.

For us the project had multiple goals. The first was the social impact the project would have on the community. You have to convince local residents. You cannot invest millions of pesos in a project that people won’t value or appreciate. This will not transform the local communities.

In order to replicate the project you need leadership, an administrative structure and the participation of the local community.

Q: Does a project of this magnitude need a godmother so it won’t collapse?

A: It has to have a process that takes it past the political transition. Changing governments will be interesting, and we have set it up so it won’t disappear. [The city has set up a US$ 400,000 trust fund to continue running the park and its programs and collect future donations.] The community owns it. That is its identity. The park is a public plaza. It has won its right to continue. It can defend itself. It is also important to create institutional mechanisms that will help the park continue to operate. We did that. The park can actually take care of itself right now.


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Interview with park visionary Lorena Martínez

Photos: life of the green line

More than drug violence happens in Mexico

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Ana Arana is an investigative journalist with extensive international experience. A former U. S. foreign correspondent, Arana was director of Fundación MEPI, an investigative journalism project in Mexico that promoted investigations that cross borders with the United States and Central America. Full bio

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