Readers had a problem with the city's hexagonal plan, and then some. Fernando Romero

Great idea—but does it have to be a hexagon?

CityLab recently explored an interesting idea from Mexican architect Fernando Romero—instead of a border wall, why not build a binational city? There’s already an existing relationship, via trade and people at the U.S.-Mexico border. Just look at El Paso-Ciudad Juarez. Rather than trying to sever that relationship, why not capitalize on it? That’s the idea behind Romero’s vision of a walkable, well-connected metropolis.

Romero’s proposal inspired some vigorous commentary, with many CityLab readers quick to point out what they saw as design flaws in Romero’s urban plan. WithheldName wasn’t a fan of the location:

It's hot and dry in that area and it will only get hotter and drier, perhaps nearly unlivable by the end of the century. There are political, cultural, and lingual issues. I would imagine this venture would have trouble attracting investment. It's a great mental exercise. But I can't imagine it happening in today's world.

Many others objected to the city’s hexagonal plan. Such designs were once all the rage among urbanists around the world. New York architect Charles Lamb was one such fan. According to him, Pierre L’Enfant’s roundabouts in D.C. were far superior to New York’s plain grid—better for commerce and traffic flow and easy on the eyes. Here’s Eran Ben-Joseph and David Gordon quoting Lamb in the Journal of Urban Design:

In counter-distinction to the plan of Washington, the gridiron system of New York, also the outcome of a commission, can be shown as possibly the most unsatisfactory of all forms of street arrangement, if the convenience of the citizen be considered, while the artistic possibilities have been ignored by having the rectilinear plan driven through tons and tons of natural rock to the destruction of the natural contours, and to the great expense of the community at large as well as of individual house-builders. It is a geometric axiom that the distance of two sides of a right angle triangle is greater than the third, and that, therefore, any system of transit through streets of right-angled plan, north or south, east or west, must necessarily increase the distance to be travelled, as against the diagonal streets leading from one quarter of the city to another.

By the 1930s, the hexagonal plan had gone out of fashion in the U.S., in large part, because it was often unfeasible and inefficient to build. Any benefits it awarded, could be replicated by tweaking grids and cul-de-sacs.

With respect to Romero’s plan, here’s what commenter rustybeancake had to say:

Clearly he hasn't learned anything from a century of failed attempts to masterplan the perfectly shaped city. It's time we learned from the past, that a simple grid is adaptable, easy, and resilient. The key is to keep it simple and allow uses to mix freely, except for a few industrial uses that need to be kept separate for obvious reasons.

Commenter ararar3 had the same problem, and then some:

At this point it should be well-known that a grid is best, especially for public transportation, much better than the radial public transportation proposed which would congest the center with vehicles and passengers transferring and provide bad service in outer areas, as cities with a radial system add more lines, they eventually tend to pseudo-grids, as that's what's the most efficient (fastest for A to B anywhere in the city, less congestion in stations), it's also more readable for users.

It should also be known that smart growth is organic and happens naturally, and Egypt-like city masterplans don't work.

Leaving these issues that plague architects thinking too conceptually aside, joint transportation planning (both roads and public transportation) is what is actually useful and practical in border regions.

Hélio Ávila added a critique about transportation:  

Pass the highway through the urban perimeter is not a smart solution, since the heavy traffic will share space with individual vehicles and will be at the same level of commercial areas and nodal points. Perhaps the highway has a unique level not seen anything about but it would be the only way to alleviate this problem.

And finally, Jameika, brought up some less obvious flaws:

It's missing a key component: food production. With all those people, you're going to produce a lot of, ahem, fertilizer. Plus, all the water that they're going to have to store, harvest, and save will need an outlet once it's used and integrated food production in this radial plan would provide jobs and food for lots of people. There are ways to make desert agriculture quite water efficient.

It definitely needs to be better integrated into El Paso-Juárez, where there is already infrastructure that can lead into this new planned town.

To join the conversation, go here.

And check out more CityLab coverage of related topics:

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. photo: A Lyft scooter on the streets of Oakland in July.
    Transportation

    4 Predictions for the Electric Scooter Industry

    Dockless e-scooters swept cities worldwide in 2018 and 2019. In 2020, expect the battery-powered micromobility revolution to take a new direction.

  2. Life

    The Cities Americans Want to Flee, and Where They Want to Go

    An Apartment List report reveals the cities apartment-hunters are targeting for their next move—and shows that tales of a California exodus may be overstated.

  3. photo: a pair of homes in Pittsburgh
    Equity

    The House Flippers of Pittsburgh Try a New Tactic

    As the city’s real estate market heats up, neighborhood groups say that cash investors use building code violations to encourage homeowners to sell.  

  4. photo: Dominque Walker, founder of Moms 4 Housing, n the kitchen of the vacant house in West Oakland that the group occupied to draw attention to fair housing issues.
    Equity

    A Group of Mothers, a Vacant Home, and a Win for Fair Housing

    The activist group Moms 4 Housing occupied a vacant home in Oakland to draw attention to the city’s affordability crisis. They ended up launching a movement.

  5. Environment

    Housing Discrimination Made Summers Even Hotter

    The practice of redlining in the 1930s helps explain why poorer U.S. neighborhoods experience more extreme heat.

×