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First day of work begins to transform La Plancha into a grand park

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A rendering from Gran Plancha A.C. shows the overall scheme at La Plancha.

Mérida, Yucatán — After years of debates, negotiation and planning, actual work begins today to convert the rail yards known as “La Plancha” into Gran Parque La Plancha, a mini Central Park.

Comparing this emerging park to New York City’s centerpiece  in Manhattan — others have invoked the Highline — means that La Plancha will not be just trees and bushes, but an elaborately developed institution that engages its visitors.

The city’s new “lung” is six blocks behind the historic train station, from Calle 43 to 39, between 50 and 42.

Railway tracks that lead to the park, which used to be the nerve center of the region’s train system, are to be converted into foot and bike paths. An earlier concept which would have involved tram cars is not part of the current plan, said Jack Robinson, of Gran Parque La Plancha, A.C., the civic group promoting this grand conversion of open space.

The parcel has been unbuilt for so long because it is connected to the historic train station on Calle 55 at 48. But trains lost their luster along with the henequen industry as the 20th century advanced. Freight trains that use it now are being re-routed to a new depot outside city limits.

Work will begin in January where the warehouses and platforms still stand behind the neo-colonial train station, which was built between 1913 and 1920.

The 2016 La Plancha Master Plan (download it here) divides the area into seven zones, with “area A,” from Calle 43 to 39 between 50 and 42, reserved for art and culture. That’s where the lot gets wider, where the antique trains are on display.

By the old platforms, a gallery and an outdoor area with a series of botanical collections is planned. Workshops and exhibitions of ornamental plants is planned.

The old warehouses on the east side will be shops, office, a cafeteria, library and rest rooms.

Warehouses to the west will house a Factory of Art and Trades, with workshops, exhibits and sales of crafts.

Between them, “area B,” will be the densest area of the botanical garden, with walkways, foot paths, cycle paths, benches, open meeting spaces with tables and free wifi.

“Area C” is designated as multipurpose, currently paved over with asphalt, it will be gradually restored with sustainable materials; it will serve as a temporary space for fairs, with dancing water features and attractions for children, recreational areas, botanical collections, experimental live laboratories and bus stops.

Between the two large areas that make up La Plancha is “area D,” the current Parque Artículo 123 on Calle 43, a tiny triangle that will serve as the main accessway to the park.

The “E” zone provides for sports services, taking advantage of the softball field, and may also house collections of plants used in traditional medicine. In the “F” zone, the Railcar Museum —  a collection of old-time trains — could be expanded, under the master plan.

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