Mexico City has been working on improving its air quality for the past three decades and has made significant progress while doing so. In its most recent attempt, city leadership announced a project dubbed Via Verde (Spanish for Green Way) to convert highway columns into vertical gardens to further improve air quality in Mexico City.

Following initial planning in 2016, city leadership approved the installation of the vertical gardens in 2017 by the project’s architect, Fernand Ortiz Monasterio of Verde Vertical. The vertical gardens are planned to span over 60,000 square meters (645,800 square feet) and are supposed to provide cleaner oxygen for approximately 2,500 people. The gardens are planned to be placed on columns along the highway, also adding to the city’s green spaces.

Using rain and a drip irrigation system, the columns could filter approximately 27,000 tons of gas, capture 7,000 kilograms (15,400 pounds) of dust, and process more than 10,000 kilograms (22,000 pounds) of heavy metals. Upon completion, Via Verde could be the world’s largest nature-urban regeneration project.

Via Verde

Courtesy of Via Verde

City council moved to approve plans for the Via Verde after a 2016 petition surfaced online, calling for the installation of the vertical gardens. The petition initially called for collecting 80,000 signatures to make a case in front of Mexico City Council, which eventually passed and culminated in the ideation of the Via Verde plan.

Since the early 1990s, Mexico City has been combating rising air pollution in the city through a number of measures that actually reduced air toxicity. The first of these measures was Hoy No Circula (“No-drive Days” in Spanish), wherein vehicles were banned across the city for one weekday a week. Years later, the scheme was extended to ban vehicles on Saturdays as well.

In 2010, Mexico City leadership also launched a bike-share system called ECOBICI in an attempt to encourage more residents to cycle in the city rather than drive their cars. And while the bike-share system has garnered impressive ridership, the city is still struggling to continue reducing air pollution in the city.

Despite widespread online support, Via Verde has received an onslaught of criticism since city council announced it was moving forward with the scheme. For starts, critics are saying that the Via Verde claims to be expanding public space in Mexico City whereas citizens do not feel they were involved in the ideation process of the project.

Others are saying that are claiming that the project could have benefited cyclists and pedestrians since Via Verde mostly targets drivers. Another claim points to the cost of building one column, which is equal to planting 300 trees. City council could funnel the funding for Via Verde into planting more trees, which would exponentially multiply the benefits the vertical gardens project is laying claim to.

Via Verde was initially seen as a means to create more green spaces in Mexico City while building on already existing infrastructure. Although the project seemed promising by many on paper, residents in the capital are adamant on understanding how the project will or won’t benefit them.