DESIGN THAT PARK
by James Brown, FAIA
We are at a delicate stage in our relationship with our ally to the south, Mexico. The destructive and divisive security wall that currently stands has the potential to overwhelm an important but fragile friendship between the citizens of the United States and Mexico. Especially in these charged times, it is critical to make a conceptual statement that says, “we remain friends and allies.” This fence is a symbol that projects mistrust and disrespect for the citizens of both countries. The current configuration transmits an erroneous message that must be countered with an equally powerful message of unification. It is especially at this time in our histories that we must celebrate our friendship, in part to remind all citizens that we share more than just a border – we share a region, an economy, a culture, and a future. International Friendship Park is a tangible celebration of this message.
The site is located at the far western border between the United States and Mexico at a small but historically significant site called Friendship Park, adjacent to the dramatic backdrop of the Pacific Ocean to the west, a large and beautiful estuary to the north, and the vibrant community of Playas, Tijuana to the south.
The United States will contribute a portion of Border Field State Park, an improved and previously graded mesa overlooking the largest continuous estuary in California. Mexico will contribute exactly that same amount of land, part of which would include the beautiful historic bullring; an apt space for conferences, music and other large group functions. It would also become a powerful forum from which to speak on the nature of borders, and the crucial need of allies.
The estuary forms a natural barrier on the northern edge of this park - perhaps no wall is needed at this location in favor of passive methods of boundary vigilance. And, perhaps the Mexican authorities will see no reason to construct a border on the southern edge of this park. Instead, we will design a retractable structure that will be raised and lowered when needed.
A pedestrian-only border crossing will be located at International Friendship Park. Tijuana, Mexico has direct access to this bi-national space as it occurs adjacent to a thriving community with shops, restaurants and housing. All of these uses and more will be within the park, effectively creating a bi-national city. As can be imagined, citizens from both sides of the border will feel powerful emotions as they stand on neutral and common soil.
Several pedestrian bridges spanning the Rio Grande from Texas to Mexico have also inspired this effort. While utilizing these bridges, citizens of both the U.S. and Mexico cross both the river and the international boundary simultaneously.
An interesting and absolutely common phenomenon is occurring in these crossings, which lays both the conceptual basis and legal groundwork for this proposal. When a U.S. citizen wishes to cross the border into Mexico, that citizen is well into sovereign Mexican soil before approaching the checkpoint. The same condition exists when traveling from Mexico into the United U.S. This is an understandable configuration, given the challenges of terrain and watershed preservation.
The idea that citizens from both countries are together, without constraints, in an intermediate zone between two sovereign nations, had a galvanizing effect on us. It sets a precedent that may allow a different way of considering the border region that allows and encourages multiple entry points for many different uses, and might support zones for San Diego with tiered access. We envision eventual shared cities along the border that flourish on the strength and spirit of both countries.
This proposal is offered because of the need for renewed faith and trust between the countries of the United States and Mexico. It is exactly at this low ebb in our mutual history that a project should be offered that expresses respect and cooperation for the citizens of both countries.
A full design will be presented on or near August 21, 2021, in observation of the 50th Anniversary of Friendship Park. We will invite input from many voices through open design competitions, charrettes, and outreach.
International Friendship Park will allow for citizens of both countries to enter into a binational space that is created from equal amounts of land from each nation.
Graphic Assistance by Francesca Redetzke