Mexico City and the Lake { 31 images } Created 6 Jun 2011

All cities have a reason to exist: for the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan that reason was Lake Texcoco, the largest lake in the basin of the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt. For the last two thousand years this lush valley, known as Anahuac, "the land between waters," has served as a fertile staging ground for successive waves of Mesoamerican civilizations, from the Olmecs to the Aztecs, culminating in the modern-day mega-metropolis of Mexico City.

Unlike its historical forbears, modern Mexico City's infrastructure and design are disastrously at odds with the geography of the basin. Today the mega-cities' 23 million inhabitants live on a dry sinking lake bed that was was one home to one of the world's most sophisticated hydrological systems. The Aztec's complex system of canals and dykes, which divided the salt water from the sweet, was the first thing destroyed by the conquering Spanish in 1521. As natives of a drier and dustier climate, the Castilian invaders drained Tenochtitlan's lakes and canals, forming their new capital to match the urban desert ideal of their homeland.

"If we all packed up and vanished tomorrow, this whole region would fill back up with water," says Alberto Kalach, a world-renown architect and urban planner. But to Kalach this flood would be a beginning and not an end; he's dedicated the last decade to a bold proposal to reorganize Mexico City's current drainage scheme into a recycling system that would literally resuscitate Lake Texcoco, recharging the drained aquifers with treated waste and rainwater.

But Kalach isn't the only big dreamer with designs on the saline expanse of the Texcoco lakebed. Over the last decade Lake Texcoco has become a kind of geographical Rorschach blot whose significance shifts dramatically, sometimes dangerously, according to the various interests vested.
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