A RISD graduate returns to his home country to improve the water use in Mexico City, turning his back on the classic brain drain.
Harvesting the rain: Enrique Lomnitz’ urban island /
Brain drain or human capital flight is a growing phenomenon in developing countries. This alludes to the flight of talented individuals from their country of birth to another country where they can fully take advantage of new opportunities, a problem that diminishes the human capital in countries that need them the most, even if paradoxically they lack opportunities for their brightest minds. It is hard to give up a comfortable lifestyle in a place that offers professional spaces to return to a birthplace that might not fulfil the same expectations or living standards. This requires a high level of social commitment and a valuable sense of detachment.
Such is Enrique Lomnitz’ case, who returned to Mexico to put his knowledge to good use, thus giving up a promising career in the United States. After studying in the Rhode Island School of Design he transferred back to Mexico City where he began working in low income homes, noticing that the water supply for this city —that has over 20 million inhabitants— is completely anti-sustainable since it gets 70% of its water from the Valle de Mexico, making the city sink one metre every year. Additionally, the remaining 30% comes from a nearby river; transporting its water from one point to the next requires the same amount of electricity to light a city with 6 million inhabitants.
Facing the harmful dynamic of the Mexico City water supply, Lomnitz created the Isla Urbana project that pretends to build, on a large scale, rain water harvesting systems, which according to certain data can provide each home with six months’ worth of water, which would roughly cut the demand by 50%.
So far Lomnitz and his team have installed over 1,300 systems over the course of 4 years, a complex task if we consider that in this city 10 million people lack access to this vital resource. Luckily, this project has received the support of several authorities in some areas which could be reflected in an extension of the program. The idea is that this type of mechanism can spread throughout the city, at the same time as thousands of people are drawn to an essential and relatively easy service that can be particularly beneficial in areas where rainfall is plentiful and radically underused.Tagged: avant urbanism, environment, sustainability, Enrique Lomnitz