Colima City is the capital of the state of Colima which is located in Western Mexico on the Pacific coast, sharing its borders with the state of Jalisco and Michoacán. Most of the municipality is located in the Valley of Colima while about half of the municipality has rugged, mountainous terrain. Here, many rivers and streams run through the city, with the Colima River being one of the biggest and most important natural elements.
It is a river that was once used for bathing, drinking, fueling, playing, and fishing however has now become a space for people at the very best to take short walks along, and at the very worst use drugs/alcohol, throw garbage and dispose of toxic substances in. This natural resource has been forgotten in name of development and has become an inaccessible, contaminated space that is perceived to provide more danger than good. The question, in relation to sustainable development is how can we get back to the days when we used our natural resources to our benefit, before the days that development pushed us backwards? In the case of the Colima River, the development of the city, the construction of houses, the competition of businesses, the (over) consumption of goods has led to the downfall of a pristine resource that once worked to fuel factories, maintain sanitation and provide diversion of the most natural kind. If development has already been implemented, and has already degraded, what role does sustainability play? Is it a matter of reversing the actions? Or is it trying to create new ones?
In the Colima River Project we are being faced with the question of how to implement an infrastructure that allows for a long-lasting connection with a natural resource that runs through the heart of the city in the face of an already present, ill-functioning one. While architecture and engineering are very important aspects of urban sustainability so too is human perception and participation. The structures we build and the plans we make are only as good as the people who keep them. In the case of the Colima River, there is a dire need for rehabilitation of the space in and around the river, but just as urgent is the change in mentality about the river and what it has to offer.
How do you turn apathy into concern, disappointment into pride and disconnect into passion? These are the questions that the Colima River Project seeks to answer. Of course there is not just one answer to the question, but there is a theory, and that is of public participation! In order to create a connection you need to first learn what connection already exists/existed. The Colima River Project seeks to hear the people’s voice in many ways: through surveys, interviews, oral histories and community meetings. Hearing the voices has provided the base for us to move forward. Now that we have a representation of how the people feel towards the river, the question has become, how do we actually get people involved and excited about the river? With near to no space for interaction and unsafe levels of contamination it seems as if the options are few and far in between. However, through public opinion and an understanding of what local groups have to offer we can realistically involve the people in events such as: River walks, oral histories/theatrics, garbage cleanup, river themed (art) workshops, and community discussions. These are all approaches that seek to build a relationship between the people and their resource. What is taking place right now in the Colima River Project is a process of building relationships, identifying leaders, forming networks and transferring responsibility. Connecting the people in their work, ideas and passions is what the Colima River Project hopes will initiate long-lasting change.