Alejandra Perdomo Ibanez has been in Colima for almost 6 months. Her internship is focused on urban planning.
Accessibility is increasingly becoming a key consideration in city planning and design. But this has not always been the case. City builders in the past had little or no regard for how people with physical disabilities would navigate the city and for this reason older neighbourhoods are often less accessible. In Mexico, for example, colonial architecture is characterized by its very narrow sidewalks and buildings with numerous steps and stairs- less than ideal for people with mobility impairments.
But as planners, architects and engineers work to make these streets more accessible the run the danger of losing original heritage features. Because many neighbourhoods are protected by strict heritage laws, making these changes can pose both legal and design challenges.
This is the case in an area of Colima’s Historic Center, where discussions of heritage conservation and accessibility have turned into a debate between professionals.
The site in question was Colima’s best-preserved historic street, Calle Hidalgo. It is precisely because of its historical significance that planners consider it important to make it accessible. At the same time, federal funding became available to improve the road, the facades and the sidewalks, which presented a great opportunity to make the necessary changes to street accessible. Because of the very narrow sidewalks on Calle Hidalgo it is impossible to build a ramp of the appropriate slope on the corner of the street, and another design solution had to be proposed. The challenge was to respect the heritage features of the street and to make it accessible, while at the same time preserving a minimum number of on-street parking spots, which was an important request by (since that’s the only kind of parking available).
After various rounds of public consultation, a number of proposals were put forward and the city finally came up with a solution: To elevate the street and lower the sidewalk, bringing the sidewalk and the street to the same level. This would address the accessibility issue, and would maintain the same number of on-street parking spots.
In order to respect the heritage qualities of the sites, the plan proposed to mark the original position of the sidewalk-considered to be a historical feature of the site-with a line of stones made with the original material.
This proposal could seem like a fair compromise, however, the federal heritage conservation body, INAH, did not think so. INAH rejected the plan on the basis that the sidewalk was a very important heritage component and it should remain intact. This was the result of the last negotiation, which took place over a month ago. Since then, discussions have come to a virtual standstill. For now funding is still pending, but if a consensus is not reached there is a risk of losing it. In the meantime, the street remains inaccessible, and so does the question of where accessibility lies in the priority scheme of city building.
To see how other citiy dealt with this issue, click here.