C D R M X — A Fiction for Mexico City

Worldbuilding, fictional public talk, and participative roleplaying for a rejuvenated future Mexico City
20 Mar 2018
Laboratorio Para la Ciudad, Mexico City Local Government
In Collaboration With
Fictional Talk, Collaborative Worldbuilding Facilitation, & Design of Speculative Artefacts
DEC 2017 — MAR 2018
Mexico City, MX

In Decem­ber 2017, we were invit­ed in Mex­i­co City by LabCD­MX to dis­cuss and imag­ine the future of the city, and of one neigh­bor­hood in par­tic­u­lar: Xochim­il­co. Reg­is­tered as a UNESCO World Her­itage Site, the area is home to the last Aztec canal gar­dens or chi­nam­pas, cute sala­man­ders known as axolotls, but more impor­tant­ly: some of the few remain­ing bits of exposed water from what used to be a mas­sive sys­tem of canals and lakes over the Val­ley of Mexico. 

Our pres­ence being lim­it­ed to an evening of lec­ture and a day of design fic­tion work­shop, we decid­ed to turn our ini­tial inter­ven­tion into a fic­tion. This is how we end­ed up pre­sent­ing CDRMX, an ambi­tious relo­ca­tion project based on the work of Mex­i­can archi­tect Alber­to Kalach, com­bin­ing autonomous­ly 3D print­ed hous­ing and uni­ver­sal income dis­trib­uted in a new, local, self-devalu­ing cryptocurrency.

A. The Fictional Public Talk

There is no deny­ing that Mex­i­co City as it is today — built on a deplet­ing lake, severe­ly lack­ing drink­ing water, slow­ly sink­ing in its own aquifer, one of the most pol­lut­ed urban areas on the plan­et and, as if that wasn’t enough, sur­round­ed by vol­ca­noes and reg­u­lar­ly suf­fer­ing from earth­quakes — is in a state of con­stant emer­gency. There is mount­ing evi­dence that the only path to pre­serv­ing the city from an eco­log­i­cal col­lapse is to reclaim its orig­i­nal lake by, for instance, mas­sive­ly relo­cat­ing its cit­i­zens to the hillsides.

And so once on stage as rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the fic­tion­al "CDRMX", we claimed our ongo­ing rad­i­cal urban­iza­tion was doing just that. And that we received an all-too-believ­able impulse from SpaceX which saw in the local chal­lenge a "per­fect pilot pro­gram" to test out human set­tle­ment on Mars.

Autonomously 3D Printed Anti-Seismic Habitat

The engi­neer­ing part was tak­en care of by the team led by Otto Wavełs­ki who, as founder of the Bureau for Rapid Archi­tec­ture, has a his­to­ry of suc­cess­ful­ly print­ing hous­ing for dis­as­ter relief. They devel­oped a machine that can autonomous­ly print whole dis­tricts in one block, includ­ing infra­struc­tures like roads, water and elec­tric net­works, using clay from the lakebed and rub­ble as main ingredients.

Basic Income in a Self-devaluating Cryptocurrency

We also need­ed to pro­vide an incen­tive for relo­ca­tion, as opposed to forc­ing res­i­dents out of their homes, in a way that is not sub­ject to the endem­ic cor­rup­tion. With his team, social econ­o­mist Rajesh Laghari imag­ined La Renta, a new form of uni­ver­sal income paid month­ly in a local cryp­tocur­ren­cy — the Mex­i­coin — on a spe­cial ecosys­tem of three accounts with dif­fer­ent prop­er­ties, the com­bi­na­tion of which aims to make cap­i­tal­i­sa­tion inef­fi­cient, push­ing instead for invest­ments in a local, par­tic­i­pa­tive econ­o­my system.

Audi­ence reac­tions ranged from absolute­ly obfus­cat­ed to ready to move in, with lit­tle in between. We took ques­tions, and only through a sec­ond lec­ture did we reveal the fic­tion­al nature of the project. This allowed us to explain our approach and present our work as a design fic­tion col­lec­tive, and intro­duce the basis for the workshop.

B. A Creative Roleplaying Session to Extend the Worldbuilding

Using our pub­lic talk as fic­tion­al back­drop, we host­ed a work­shop in the form of a cit­i­zen assem­bly, one that would take place pri­or to relo­cat­ing the res­i­dents of the Xochim­il­co bor­ough. Par­tic­i­pants were split in two groups: the politi­cians — half con­ser­v­a­tive and half pro­gres­sive, whose duty was to present projects befit­ting their ide­ol­o­gy, and con­vince oth­ers of their adop­tion — and the cit­i­zens — who were ini­ti­at­ing grass­roots projects and had the pow­er of vot­ing for one or the oth­er polit­i­cal pro­gram. Hid­den with­in them were 'Los Cryp­tos,' an under­cov­er mafia group shoot­ing for per­son­al prof­it over any spe­cif­ic polit­i­cal agen­da. This process even­tu­al­ly gave birth to four dif­fer­ent projects.

Regenerative Floating Markets

Forced out of immo­bil­ism by a lack of elec­torate, the con­ser­v­a­tives pro­posed to pre­serve Mex­i­co City as is, with only a few mod­i­fi­ca­tions: some avenues that had been built over the ancient lakebed were to be reclaimed as water­ways for a new float­ing mar­ket hail­ing from Xochim­il­co. This prompt­ed a com­pe­ti­tion for the most inno­v­a­tive float­ing busi­ness­es, per­pet­u­at­ing the local tra­di­tion of tra­jin­eras and giv­ing rise to regen­er­a­tive smooth­ies, float­ing parks, and ver­ti­cal orchards.

AI-powered, Incorruptible Governance

The cit­i­zens decid­ed to push the local cryp­tocur­ren­cy exper­i­ment one step fur­ther, with an attempt at estab­lish­ing the roots of dis­trib­uted democ­ra­cy — a new polit­i­cal sys­tem rely­ing not on an eas­i­ly cor­rupt­ible vot­ing process, but on a big data analy­sis of dai­ly pat­terns, from glob­al con­sump­tion habits to the autonomous detec­tion of sat­is­fac­tion lev­els depend­ing on geolo­ca­tion. Result­ed a par­ty of dum­my can­di­dates yield­ing their pub­lic life to the machine.

Copy-paste Approach to Architectural Printing

With a desire to pre­serve their neigh­bor­hood his­to­ry and, just as impor­tant­ly, their per­son­al sto­ries, the LabC­DR­MX start­ed a city-wide build­ing scan pro­gram, gen­er­at­ing an archive of tex­tures and reliefs to be reprint­ed in the fresh­ly built dis­tricts. The process, how­ev­er, involved res­o­lu­tions too low to cap­ture all the details, and gave birth to new low-def­i­n­i­tion archi­tec­tur­al aesthetics.

Cryptoball, a Sport Born Out of a Devaluating Cryptocurrency

In the shad­ows, Los Cryp­tos start­ed a month­ly hack­ing inter­ven­tion: on the night when la Renta falls to zero, groups of cit­i­zens com­pete for the deten­tion of ball spilling out Mex­i­coins at a steady rate to who­ev­er holds it, for as long as they hold it. The prac­tice even­tu­al­ly evolved into an offi­cial sport — Cryp­to­ball — where two teams attempt to hit a sort of shut­tle­cock for it to go as high as pos­si­ble, the last per­son to touch it scor­ing points until the oppos­ing team gets a hit.

Special Thanks to

Ale­jan­dro Ruiz, Clorin­da Romo, Bren­da Ver­tiz, Gabriel­la Gómez-Mont, & Friends at labCD­MX that made this project pos­si­ble, and very fun.