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Public park project threatened by university campus plans

August 6, 2012

Overlooking Guadalajara, the Cerro del Cuatro is the only public green space that residents of Tlaquepaque, the city’s most polluted municipality, can enjoy.

Since February 2008, the Jalisco Office of Urban Development (Prodeur) has spent 50 million pesos on transforming the hill into a Parque Central, which, at 55 hectares, was set to become the biggest park in the metropolitan zone. Now, a controversial new project to build a University of Guadalajara (UdG) campus on the Cerro del Cuatro is seriously undermining plans for the ecological park.

Easily recognizable by the towering Televia antenna which sits atop the hill, the Cerro del Cuatro is located on the southern outskirts of the city, sandwiched between the Periferico ring road, 8 de Julio, Jesus Reyes Herodes and Gobernador Curiel.

In a meeting on July 11, the Tlaquepaque municipal government agreed unanimously to cancel the Parque Central project in favor of the UdG campus. The decision surprised and angered the local community, which had not been previously consulted.

Prodeur has warned that the decision could be reversed because the Code of Urban Development requires the municipal government to conduct a 30-day public consultation prior to any ruling. However, Ernesto Romero, the Director of Urban Development in Tlaquepaque, has defended the decision, citing Article 10 of the code, which permits the municipal government to approve changes to use of land.

The UdG plans to build not only classrooms, but also shops and residential halls on the Cerro del Cuatro. The university wants a new campus because it lacks the infrastructure to meet demand and currently accepts only 47 percent of applicants.

A campus in Tlaquepaque would also reduce the need for 22,000 students to commute from the municipality to UdG campuses across Guadalajara, as they do today. Moreover, the Cerro del Cuatro is considered the only place in Tlaquepaque with the appropriate space and conditions for a university campus.

The Ministry of Environment for Sustainable Development (Semades) flatly opposes the new plans, noting that Tlaquepaque has fewer green areas than any other municipality in the metropolitan zone. The Parque Central project would not only have promoted reforestation, but also a much needed improvement in local air quality.

According to Semades, Tlaquepaque experienced 65 days of poor air quality last year. Residents have suffered health problems due to air pollution, the result of converging winds which draw fumes from the valley of Atemajac to Tlaquepaque. It was hoped that the Parque Central would serve as “lung” to cleanse the area’s air, just as the Bosque Primavera does on the western side of Guadalajara.

Popular with local families and young people, the existing park is currently home to two soccer pitches, a children’s play area, public bathrooms and parking facilities. But instead of the mayor expansion it was promised, the neighborhood’s only public recreation area could be effectively privatized, with at best a diminished green zone to counter pollution.

“What ecological project? Where is it? How many trees are there? All I can say is that it was a good idea, but the ecological park has not worked out at all,” said Marco Gonzalez Fierros, Tlaquepaque’s interim mayor, noting the lack of progress made on the Parque Central.

Gonzalez has the support of his successor, Mayor-elect Alfredo Barba Mariscal of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), who assumes office in October, having pledged in his campaign to build a university campus in Tlaquepaque.

“Why have 55 hectares idle if they can be used to address the larger problem of the nation, education?” Barba asked in response to public criticism of the new plans. He admitted “there will be pollution during the construction,” but denied there was anything “sinister” or “illegal” behind the municipal decision, assuring local residents that no offices, housing or shopping centers will be built beyond what is necessary for the campus.

“The citizens should not worry: this land is exclusively for use as a park and the campus. If the campus is not built, we will keep the park,” Barba said. Furthermore, the municipal government has said the UdG will use just 18 of the 55 hectares available, meaning even if construction goes ahead, the remaining area can be used for an ecological park.

“I am not looking to get rid of the park. I assure you that building the campus will bring more investment, and then we will truly have an ecological park,” Barba explained.

Not all local PRI members have shown such enthusiasm for the campus project. Last week the party’s State President Eduardo Almaguer requested that the Tlaquepaque municipal government not go ahead with the project until the local population has been consulted.

“If the citizens are not convinced, the project must be paused for them to review and discuss it,” Almaguer said, adding that if there is no agreement then work should “continue on the environmental project.”

Even some members of the UdG are against the plans. UdG architect Fernando Gonzalez Gortazar has called on the university not to accept the plot offered by the municipal government for construction of the campus in Tlaquepaque.

“My hope is that the University of Guadalajara will not accept complicity in this, and if they want to build a college, they will find a place that really has no use and not an area that already has a purpose,” Gonzalez said.

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