I Went to Mexico City to Discover How Crypto-economics Could Save the Environment, and All I Got Was This Lousy T‑shirt.  

A short piece of fictional investigative journalism exploring a future Mexico City
10 Aug 2021
by Pitzilein Books, Print, AUG 2021 (in German and Spanish)
Goethe-Institut Mexiko & Centro de Futuros
“If there is no incen­tive to move peo­ple in the direc­tion of health­i­er ecosys­tems, there’s not going to be the change we need. No car­rot, no change!” 
This is Dr. Rajesh Laghari. Over Skype, he’s telling me how for the past ten years he’s been research­ing and imple­ment­ing ways in which eco­nom­ics can help soci­ety rather than the mar­ket; although an aca­d­e­m­ic, Dr. Laghari favors action. More recent­ly, he’s been one of the minds behind the CDRMX project, a real attempt—if there ever was one—to not only save Mex­i­co City from a major eco­log­i­cal cat­a­stro­phe, but do so while help­ing its cit­i­zens live a more just exis­tence. The project is noth­ing short of ten­tac­u­lar and feels too good to be true—like some­one man­aged to hack the uni­verse and align its stars. In two days I’m meet­ing with Dr. Laghari in Teuhtli, one of the first ful­ly-func­tion­ing CDRMX com­mu­ni­ties.
	At the core of CDRMX is an envi­ron­men­tal emer­gency: Lake Tex­co­co, over which Mex­i­co City was built, is now almost entire­ly cov­ered by con­crete. The city’s urban plan­ning is hijacked by DIY set­tle­ments built hap­haz­ard­ly, con­glom­er­at­ing into what locals call Colo­nias Pop­u­lares. The for­mer lake now serves as both a giant pool of water and a sew­er to the 25 mil­lion souls dwelling above and, as if that wasn’t enough, the whole city is slow­ly sink­ing into its depths
	A strik­ing­ly ide­al­is­tic endeav­or, CDRMX is the result of improb­a­ble pub­lic-pri­vate part­ner­ships: backed on a whim by rock­e­teer­ing tycoon Elon Musk, the project brings Space X’s research in habi­tat 3D-print­ing for Mars (the red plan­et being known for intense seis­mic activ­i­ty) to earth, through dis­tricts print­ed on the banks of Mex­i­co City’s lake (also known for intense seis­mic activ­i­ty).
	Now at Ben­i­to Juárez Inter­na­tion­al, I’m zomb­i­fied by a sleep­less, crowd­ed trip no amount of Mar­vel-on-Ambi­en could knock me out of. But it’s kick­ing in now, and I’m pray­ing the hap­py fel­la wag­ging a hand at me is Emilio, my cab dri­ver. Between honks, I probe Emilio to hear what he thinks of CDRMX. 
	“I think it’s nice. I’ve applied for res­i­den­cy with my family—we have 6 kids, man, it’s tough. They say the appli­ca­tion can take 8 months, but if you’re in a pri­or­i­ty area it can be half that.”
	Emilio and his wife live in Cul­hua­can, one of the first areas sched­uled for relo­ca­tion. 
	“My cousin is already there, she says it’s great. But for us it’s been almost a year, they say they need more time to print the hous­es, and now there are trucks every­where here, they start­ed remov­ing emp­ty build­ings. It’s too noisy, man.”
	Part of his dis­trict has already been relo­cat­ed to Xitle, one of the many vol­ca­noes sur­round­ing the city. CDRMX’s lake-cen­tric vision is two-part: to reset­tle on the hill­sides where seis­mic tremors are far less dam­ag­ing than on the mud­dy grounds of the lake, and tear down exist­ing build­ings to retrieve some of the lakebed. If this isn’t done, experts say, the city will suf­fo­cate. The first step in this ambi­tious plan was to remove the already half-built air­port, con­vert­ed instead into the Par­que Ecológi­co Tex­co­co.
	As we pass the Xochim­il­co area, Emilio explains “you know, the impre­so we’re going to now, that’s where the folks from around here got moved. It was a spe­cial case, because this is World Her­itage: the last remain­ing Aztec float­ing gar­dens, man.” All I can see from the car are a bunch of tiny col­or­ful boats filled to the brim with peo­ple, blast­ing sum­mer hits. “They’re tra­jin­eras. Today is hol­i­day, the only peo­ple not drunk are the peo­ple sell­ing drinks.” The road starts wind­ing uphill as we near Mil­pa Alta, and soon enough I see it, shin­ing in the after­noon sun: a block of poly­mer flank­ing the hill­side of Vol­cán Teuhtli, as if carved direct­ly into the rock. “They’re print­ing it all in one go”, Emilio boasts as if he did it him­self. 
	The guest­house is a three-storey block over­look­ing what has become the new district’s cen­tral square. Most hous­es are print­ed low, and often one’s rooftop is another’s ter­race. The first thing that strikes me is how dense the set­tle­ment is, and yet how much space there seems to be—it doesn’t hurt that the view of the val­ley is sim­ply breath­tak­ing, and that a gen­tle breeze flows down from over the hill, dis­pers­ing the city smog. At the recep­tion, a bul­letin board describes the par­tic­i­pa­tive nature of the accom­mo­da­tion: over 300 cit­i­zens chipped in to make it hap­pen, and a core team of sev­en take turns at the desk and clean­ing rooms.
	The hol­i­day cel­e­bra­tions are topped with anoth­er event: the arrival of a new group of cit­i­zens from the Tláhuac dis­trict. A gath­er­ing is orga­nized in the town­hall, a large build­ing with a sin­gle floor and a sin­gle room—who said open-space is dead? There the evening unfolds, half-cer­e­mo­ny half-tuto­r­i­al, and in between two canapé breaks the new load of res­i­dents dis­cov­ers the well-oiled intro­duc­to­ry spiel to CDRMX. 
	“You’re in a space that func­tions with uni­ver­sal income.” Dr Laghari, clad in the project’s red attire, is speak­ing with emo­tion “Mex­i­coin is not just free mon­ey.” For any­one with any grasp of Uni­ver­sal Basic Income and cryp­tocur­ren­cies, con­sid­er mix­ing the two: their sum is on a whole oth­er lev­el than their parts. La Renta, as it is called, grants 1500 Mex­i­coins (yes, that’s the name of the nifty cur­ren­cy devised by CDRMX) to all adults and 500 for chil­dren, deposit­ed into a dig­i­tal wallet—la Cuenta—at the start of each month. If any­thing is left when the month is over: it is lost, unless either invest­ed in Proyec­tos— local par­tic­i­pa­tive projects which will offer rewards in nature once ful­ly funded—or saved in a strong­ly deval­u­at­ing sav­ings account: los Ahor­ros. Dr. Rajesh Laghari, whom I final­ly meet over a local beer after his speech, elab­o­rates: 
	“It’s a sys­tem designed to incen­tivize a local par­tic­i­pa­tive econ­o­my. Sure, you can just dump all that’s left over in Los Ahor­ros, but you’ll lose a lot over time. That deval­u­a­tion funds pub­lic ser­vices so, in a way, you’re still invest­ing. But the very best is pick­ing projects you want to sup­port and invest­ing in them. Sup­port the local food farms. Sup­port the cul­tur­al projects. You’ll get week­ly fruit bas­kets or movie tick­ets in return. You’ll reduce your expens­es next month and be able to invest more, reduce expens­es more, invest more, and all this in a vir­tu­ous cycle of par­tic­i­pa­tive econ­o­my!” His enthu­si­asm seems shared by all attend­ing, and I can’t find any­one will­ing to talk trash on the project. But then again, I’m at the town hall—time to leave the beat­en path and see if there’s any dirt beg­ging to be dug.
	A morn­ing spent thirst­ing for a flip side to the Mex­i­coin leaves me with a strange feel­ing, and a dry mouth. It’s either well hid­den, or the con­cept of uni­ver­sal income real­ly does won­ders here. Sure, there are those you’d expect to do jack all with their days, giv­ing in to a brand of hedo­nism made of mez­cals in the sun and ball games—we’ll get to that lat­er. But, despite being free from the con­tin­gen­cies of employed life, most peo­ple seem to val­ue pro­duc­tive voca­tions that com­ple­ment their Renta or con­tribute to sol­i­dar­i­ty projects.
	But it doesn’t take much dig­ging for shad­owy patch­es to come to light. As I go through my pock­et to pay for a (reaaaaal­ly expen­sive) man­darin juice, I won­der if any­thing pre­vents me from turn­ing my per­son­al income in pesos into a wealth of Mex­i­coins. So I ask Dr Laghari who con­firms: “sure, out­side influ­ence could desta­bi­lize the sys­tem, and things like that have hap­pened; we know mafias are lurk­ing around the impre­sos.” I seem to have reached a touchy spot. After a pause, the doc­tor shrugs: “we want to avoid becom­ing yet anoth­er mon­ey-laun­der­ing machine and for that, out­side cur­ren­cy is heav­i­ly taxed.” 
	Come the after­noon, the guest­house staff was kind enough to arrange a meet­ing with Miguel, a local farmer whose busi­ness they sup­port­ed and who now pro­duces most of the food served at the hotel restau­rant. “He has some­thing to say,” they tell me.
	And indeed, Miguel is the talk­a­tive type. “Life is a lot dif­fer­ent, and some have seri­ous prob­lems adapt­ing. It’s a shift, you know. A big one. Plan­ning, it’s not for every­body, it’s gonna leave some behind. Com­pared to before, hmm… well, I’ve been here a while. I was one of the very first to relo­cate. Before, I had my gar­den on the chi­nam­pas down in Xochim­il­co. Of course I can’t recre­ate that here but there are oth­er perks. Spring water for a start. Fresh air. And I do the work for fun, not for a liv­ing. But it breaks my heart know­ing my fam­i­ly home was torn down. My grand­pa built it and poof, noth­ing left. Only mem­o­ries, some pic­tures. And it’s too late to have it scanned and reprint­ed, like the new res­i­dents do.” 
	Miguel inter­rupts his sto­ry and gen­tly push­es me to the side of the road. Just as I’m about to delve into the top­ic of safe­ty among res­i­dents, a some­what phal­lic-look­ing green con­struc­tion machine slow­ly reels itself by. “Oh jaja­ja, that’s the cac­tus” laughs Miguel, as if I were to be reas­sured by the state­ment. The machine emits a soft hum. “That’s the thing that prints it all here.”
	Back to the sto­ry. Secu­ri­ty? Things are look­ing up in Miguel’s opin­ion, now that every­one has a roof over their head and food on their plate. Sure rival­ries exist, but the impre­sos have found their cathar­sis: Cryp­to­ball. See­ing my eyes widen, Miguel explains: “it start­ed as a way to gam­ble for a chance to trans­fer the Renta from one month to the next. Because you can’t keep it any­way, right? So, peo­ple would send left­over Mex­i­coins to a ball-shaped wal­let type thing hid­den some­where. It’d boot at mid­night on the new month, and who­ev­er holds it gets the Mex­i­coins flow­ing straight to their Cuen­ta, until some­one else catch­es it or it dries out. Long sto­ry short: that got intense, banned, played any­way, reg­u­lat­ed, and now it’s trans­formed into a real sport with are­nas and teams for each impre­so. But the Renta, it’s not enough for ath­letes, so we sup­port them! I’m invest­ing 200 a month, easy, to see my team grow. And since I’m an axolotl farmer, I also con­tribute my sig­na­ture regen­er­a­tive smooth­ies!”
	Already back on the plane, I notice a stain on my sou­venir ‘impre­so impre­sio­n­ante’ t‑shirt, just when the mag­ic starts wear­ing off. How long before this print­ed social­ist haven becomes noth­ing more than a tourist attrac­tion? Think­ing of all the failed attempts at uni­ver­sal basic income else­where, does Mex­i­co City have some­thing oth­ers didn’t? Or will it too, hit a hid­den reef? Clear­ly, the project is thought through—the peo­ple behind it seem sin­cere, and the res­i­dents hap­py. Yet I strug­gle to imag­ine CDRMX stand­ing the test of time on such lit­er­al and metaphor­ic shaky grounds. Iron­i­cal­ly, the movie selec­tion on my flight has a doc­u­men­tary on Tenochti­t­lan and the his­to­ry of the Aztec empire. Maybe the key to a suc­cess­ful social sys­tem lies with­in the ancient roots of lake Texcoco’s residents? 

Pedrupes921: Yeah well. I tried get­ting on the pro­gram but no dice. Seems I’ll have to wait three years.

Mattias_​Kelper: I’m amazed that this project func­tions, but I seri­ous­ly doubt it will save the city from the pend­ing envi­ron­men­tal cri­sis. Well, at least it’s that many hous­es that won’t sink in the lake!

The­Cho­sen­Juan: Ladera Guer­rera! Cryp­tocryp­tocryp­to­baaaaaaall go go go!

Chin­gonde­la­muerte: @Pedrupes921 It’s pos­si­ble to get assigned ear­li­er by get­ting a post­box in one of the areas cur­rent­ly elect­ed for imme­di­ate relo­ca­tion. My sis­ter did it.

Junk­yard­Pan­da: @Chingondelamuerte I wouldn’t say it too loud, she can prob­a­bly still get kicked out of the pro­gram and nev­er be able to get back on it if they find out.

Bubu­dobu: Yeah yeah I’ve tried the smooth­ies they taste like snot.

[ooo<>ooo]: @TheChosenJuan We all know Bosque Dos will kick your hill­bil­ly ass­es! Boooooooooooosque dos!

The CDRMX project, the Mex­i­coin and Rajesh Laghari are all fic­tions imag­ined by N O R M A L S for a con­fer­ence and work­shop on the future of Mex­i­co City held at LabCD­MX in Decem­ber 2017. Any resem­blance with exist­ing events would be real­ly amazing.