Mexico City sprawls across what was formerly Lake Texcoco in the heart of Mexico. This location, now struggling to support its millions of residents, was once the strategic stronghold of Tenochtitlan. Since then, the city’s growing demands have exhausted what the location can offer.

The ancient city of Tenochtitlan was founded upon an island within Lake Texcoco, where Aztecs witnessed an eagle perched upon a cactus with a snake dangling from its beak. Myth provides that the Aztecs took this sign as proof they would thrive on the marshy island, and thrive they did. With water surrounding the city and crops grown on artificial islands, Tenochtitlan became a bountiful and populous city.

Today, Mexico City boasts one of the most populated metropolitan areas in the world, currently reaching 21.6 million residents. The booming population calls for the vast expansion of infrastructure. Though it was built upon a lake, it now struggles to provide water for its residents. Lake Texcoco has disappeared beneath the hungry, concrete city. The water aquifers that remain in their place, deep beneath the earth, prove to be enemies of the modern city.

Mexico City is sinking.

The former lakebed is compacting, the subsidence causing the city to sink roughly 50 centimetres each year. The American Geophysical Union estimates the subsidence could potentially reach up to 30 meters and warns that this geological change may be permanent. When paired with high pollution and other strains an enormous population induces, Mexico City faces a grim future. Relocating the capital to another city might alleviate the demand on Mexico City and protect government operations from the risks of Mexico City.

Changing the capital city of a nation can be a daunting task, Mexico would not be alone in the initiative. There have been multiple instances of a nation moving its capital throughout history, sometimes for religious reasons and other times as a result of conquest. In the modernized world, the change is often a response to one or more of three factors; political influence, population, and sustainability.

Myanmar, or Burma, made a political manoeuvre in moving their capital city from Yangon to Naypyidaw in 2005. Built upon a river delta, the coastal city of Yangon thrived, offering access to water and resources to its inhabitants. The move to Naypyidaw brought government operations inland where it could better control internal conflict.

Sustainability concerns, caused by population growth, have led Indonesia to change its capital city as well. Jakarta, the current capital of Indonesia, is home to 11 million citizens. Like Mexico City, Jakarta cannot adequately maintain its growing population. Resources are strained in the region and citizens are forced to deal with incredible traffic, but it shares its more pressing concerns with Mexico City. Beneath the weight of modern infrastructure, Jakarta’s well as sinking into the earth. A growing population demands urban expansion, but such expansion has become increasingly dangerous. Not only can the land not sustain the growing city, but the air has become so polluted that citizens may face serious health risks when outdoors.

President Joko Widodo made the difficult decision to relocate the capital to the city of Nusantara. The new capital city is to be constructed on the island of Borneo in the East Kalimantan region. The new location offers multiple benefits as there is plenty of room for urban expansion (although at the steep cost of deforestation), pollution levels are lower and can be maintained, and it is more geographically centred within the archipelago. The very name Nusantara means archipelago, suggesting a holistic vision for the new city.

With Mexico City sinking each year, the Mexican government should develop plans to adjust. Spreading their government centres out of Mexico City will prepare them for an impending future in which Mexico City is no longer a viable place for operations. Mexico should take the Indonesian initiative as an inspiration and consider relocating its capital.

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