Campus News - September 4, 2001

'Cristobal' Calott sets out to develop new world

By Carolyn Gonzales

Calott holds a joint appointment in architecture and community and regional planning.Chris Calott, or, Cristobal, as his Mexican colleagues know him, knows a side of Juarez few Americans see. Now that he’s seen it, he wants to make a difference.

Working primarily on community outreach projects at the UNM School of Architecture and Planning, Calott, in his second year of a visiting associate professorship at the school, holds a joint appointment in both the architecture and community and regional planning programs.

Among his many quality of life projects, his most ambitious concerns Anapra, an “unregulated colonia” or barrio that sprang up in the last 10-15 years on the outskirts of Juarez, across from Sunland Park, New Mexico on a line in the sand, considered politically to be the U.S/Mexican border.

“Realistically, the border extends long distances into both countries. Los Angeles could be considered the northernmost barrio of Mexico City,” says Calott, explaining that the culture and the border issues extend far beyond the fence and the Rio Grande River.
“How do we, as design professionals, direct the growth of an unregulated colonia?” asks Calott. “It’s a daunting task; we may be unable to,” he answers, but he adds that with Vicente Fox in office as the new Mexican president, he sees the possibility of the “tides turning.”

A first step is to look at it as a gardener would. Just as a garden is tended to improve its health and direct growth, Anapra needs to be “tended” to redefine density and plan its growth.

Calott explains that currently Anapra is expanding in the direction of the border, toward the American side near Sunland Park.
With a pedestrian crossing already authorized in the area, he sees the possibility for free flow of workers to the American side, with a corresponding cash flow into Anapra. “Conversely, there would be an impact too, on Sunland Park,” explains Calott.
Calott says that the situation must be looked at “holistically.” He says designers and environmental planners need beat the movement northward if to effect a positive direction in the evolution of the barrio.

“If no one looks at the problems, there will be more problems, more abuses by the maquila system and the housing problems will only develop further,” he says, adding that the area has no utilities, water, basic sanitation and that most of the homes are constructed of cardboard, plywood or any material the people are able to find.

Meanwhile, three miles away, at the Santa Teresa/San Jerónimo crossing, Harvard University conducted a similar study. Two differences stand out between the two areas. People were not already residing in the area where Harvard conducted their study. Additionally, private developers owned the land on both sides of the border. But, what’s more important, is what both crossing zones need, says Calott.

Acknowledging that governmental approval and support on both sides is required, Calott says, “We can truly create bi-national urban areas on these sites. Border issues such as health care, education and job training are needed so that industries such as Motorola, Phillips and Intel might relocate in the area. Also, the border is ripe to develop retirement communities – both Mexican and US – and create cultural exchanges and artisan centers. In a borderless community, a myriad of possibilities exist,” he says.
NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, was created to develop a “borderlessness,” says Calott, who adds that greed motivated the first wave and that a holistic approach is required to take NAFTA where it can go, which is to develop healthy societies and opportunities in the transborder region

At the same time, says Calott, in New Mexico we’re just beginning to realize that we’re “late to the party.” “We’re not El Paso/Juarez. We can do better if we learn the lessons of the first eight years of NAFTA,” he says. Students and others need to start thinking about our neighbors, he says, indicating that the research and outreach can be pursued for many years to come.
Calott is not a Cristobal-come-lately to Mexican urban planning issues. As co-director of the University of Arkansas/Universidad Anahuac Summer Urban Design Studio exchange program, he’s been taking students from Arkansas, and now UNM, to Mexico for 10 weeks in the summer to study Mexican urbanism and architecture, from its indigenous roots, to the colonial and modern eras. Summarily, the students spend half of those 10 weeks in a Mexico City design studio developing plans addressing a specific urban topic. Through the years, Calott has picked up some Spanish, as well as a few friends.

Funding for the program, to be conducted in spring semester, 2002, is from the J.B. Jackson endowment and brings together many of Calott’s friends. His blue ribbon group includes design students from the Universidad Naciónal Autónoma de Mexico, Mexico City, led by Miquel Adria and Isaac Broid, graduate architecture students from the University of Texas, Austin, led by Coleman Coker; graduate landscape architecture students from Auburn University led by Jack Williams; and graduate planning and architecture students from UNM will also be involved, with help from David Henkel, director of UNM’s planning program.
The studio will work directly with the Instituto de Arquitectura, Designo e Arte, the planning arm for Ciudad Juarez, and the city of Sunland Park, along with private developers and landowners.

“The problem is comprehensive and it’s not just an architectural or planning problem. It encompasses planning and landscape as well as architecture, but it also involves social, economic and environmental issues that need to be addressed,” he says.

“I send out my call. I want individuals from every background. I already have the help of Miguel Gandert from Communications and Journalism because he opened the door for me in Juarez. He has been a tremendous asset. I’d like to work with others like him from every discipline imaginable,” he says.

“UNM, as a nationally recognized institution, should be out front in work at the border and on the tough border issues,” says Calott.

The University of New Mexico
Albuquerque, New Mexico USA
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