Why Build a ‘Museum of Light’ in La Plancha?

The culturally relevant 'green lung' concept has slipped away

The Museo de la Luz's planned vestibule is filled with light. Photo: Courtesy
The Museo de la Luz’s planned vestibule is filled with light. Photo: Courtesy

The following editorial was written by Arturo Novelo Dorantes, Jack Robinson and Luis Romahn Diez

Just when we thought a magnificent green park would replace the empty freight cars, rusting rails and blowing dust of La Plancha, the state government has announced its intention to build a “Museo de la Luz” or Museum of Light with funds from UNAM, the Autonomous National University of Mexico City. 

The offer is generous, but it should give everyone waiting for a park in La Plancha reason for concern. UNAM’s choice of a narrowly focused copy of the same science and technology museum it operates to the north indicates this is a purely strategic investment, and unconcerned with this historic neighborhood and its needs. 

Furthermore, the Museum of Light will further strain a state already critically short of resources. Who, after all, will cover the museum’s operating costs and close any eventual deficits? Funds for park construction and installing the state schools of Music and Dance inside two magnificently renovated warehouses north of the train station are critical investments in Yucatan’s infrastructure, promising major benefits for education, public health, and the economy. But a Museum of Light?      

Five years ago, a group of neighbors began planning a beautiful public space for La Plancha’s 26 hectares. We did so because we were convinced a world-class park could transform this proud but neglected neighborhood by targeting some of its worst problems: unemployment, abandoned properties, decrepit infrastructure. Designing it with features to address modern urban challenges like pollution, sustainable transportation and our “life-style” epidemics of diabetes and heart disease, we reasoned, could replace a simplistic formula for creating parks (park = trees + grass + benches + concrete) with a new paradigm for vibrant green spaces that encourage sports, exercise, creativity, and a cleaner environment. 

In August 2014, we enlisted 130 experts, government officials and neighbors to spend two days rethinking the elements of a park in La Plancha. This was followed by public meetings to review and refine our proposal. The result was a compelling vision for the park:

  • Reforesting 80 percent of the space to create a lush environment at minor cost — an essential “green lung” to cool and cleanse the air in an historic center choked with exhaust fumes. 
  • Generous space for sports fields, play and leisure areas, walking and biking paths, an outdoor performance amphitheater, an expanded railway museum, and a permanent camp site for Scouts.  We identified the still unrenovated warehouse on Calle 46 for cultural, educational and social activities. Our suggestions include a public library, a collection of historic photographs, public space for meetings and classes, and a museum for the donated works of Yucatan artist Fernando Castro Pacheco, now stored in Mexico City.
  • Drawing on national and international experience, we urged that the park be managed by a group of experienced professionals, led by an executive board of outstanding members drawn from the public and private sectors. 
  • And because government funds must prioritize essential public services, we proposed augmenting park financing with donations from individuals, businesses and foundations. Monterrey’s Parque Fundidora and Chapultepec Park in Mexico City are just two of many parks in Mexico relying heavily on private donors.

A glimmer of hope exists that Gov. Mauricio Vila will delay or cancel the Museo de la Luz.  Here are three suggestions for making a fresh start:

  • Reforest areas under state control with the arrival of June rains, inviting volunteers to participate so that the community has a sense of ownership and responsibility once again for the site where generations labored to create Yucatan’s modern economy.
  • Push forward construction of the most popular park features: sports fields and playgrounds, walking and biking paths, and the amphitheater.
  • Finally, invite UNAM to swap its ill-considered Museum of Light for renovation of the warehouse along Calle 46, and curation of the public library and Fernando Castro Pacheco Museum.

Our vision of the park predicted that “a great park serving as the city’s green lung could become Yucatan’s most outstanding achievement of the 21st Century.”  The community’s dream shouldn’t be delayed a moment longer.

Arturo Novelo Dorantes
Jack Robinson
Luis Romahn Diez