Land use planning-based sustainability is a key aspect of successful local governance and urban resilience, especially when urban-regional socioecological dynamics are factored into land use policy making. In emerging countries, which are characterized by intense demographic, economic, and environmental transitions, effective land use policies and planning institutions may be especially important to the long-term sustainability of urban centers and their regions of influence and the wellbeing of millions of people. Conservation and restoration of peri-urban landscapes and ecosystems for example, has proven to be a highly cost-effective way of increasing urban resilience, climate change adaptiveness, and given the recreational and socio-cultural value that peri-urban ecosystems can have, overall life quality for city dwellers. In Mexico however, where 75% of people now live in urban and peri-urban environments and where close to 90% of the population is projected to live in cities by the end of the century, city governments have been and continue to be institutionally disconnected from regional land use policies, and thus unable to promote socio-ecologically healthy associations between cities and their surrounding landscapes. During the XX century, Mexico embarked in a nationwide agrarian reform which central tenet was the distribution of all lands that belonged to the State. Driven by political interests and the idea that land distribution was the ultimate path to equality and development, this policy brought severe social inequality issues and barriers to economic growth and poverty reduction, as well as serious ecological consequences through widespread deforestation and inadequate land management schemes. As a result, Mexico is now left with only 2% of its territory as public land, and therefore its national conservation strategies depend entirely on private owners’ willingness to agree to protected areas regulations. Similarly, land use and urban planning policies have been widely unsuccessful because the portfolio of planning instruments is restricted to imposed regulatory schemes over private property with high transaction and enforcement costs, favoring urban sprawl, irregular settlements, and incubating social and political conflict. With the goal of opening new institutional possibilities for conservation and land use / land management policy in Mexico, we are collaborating with the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources of Mexico (SEMARNAT) and with other researchers and non-profit organizations, to develop solutions to these issues through the creation of Mexico’s Public Lands Initiative (MPLI). At the core of our initiative is the creation of a National Land Trust for Public Lands and Conservation, funded through a fraction of a federal carbon tax and by international and private contributions. Importantly, during this process we have realized that cities and their governments have a central role to play in the financial viability of the land trust and in the management and governance of acquired public lands, as well as in securing the long-term functionality and stability of the project. Moreover, the inclusion of cities would ensure the development of a public lands system in Mexico that responds to national biodiversity conservation interests, while also attending local scale needs of urban governance and ecosystem services production for millions of citizens.
In this presentation I will summarize Mexico’s historic and current land ownership system, and the associated constrains it imposes on conservation and urban - land use planning efforts. I will describe our work and findings in detail about how MPLI has the capacity to address many of these constrains, and why is critical that city governments, urban NGOs, and international donors get involved in this initiative to help build more sustainable and resilient cities and landscapes for Mexico in the XXI century.