Miguel Aguirre is a member of TBI’s advisory council and the guest editor of TBI’s Freedom of Expression Project for the week of January 23-28, 2017. He is the founder and CEO of the Border Fusion Group.
While national rhetoric about walls strain relations with many Hispanics and Mexico, most will accept that clear boundaries are necessary in harmonious relationships. Yet President Elect Trump’s campaign pledge and on-going tweets to feature “Big Beautiful Doors” represents a positive focus on physical places where the United States and Mexico first engage. (See Jimmy Kimmel Live: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-QeOSWm8WYk and, http://www.gainesville.com/zz/elections/20170106/trump-tweets-that-mexico-will-pay-us-back-for-border-wall/1)
In a fiercely competitive global economy many recognize and even admire how the United States and Mexico are strategic partners and crucial economic allies. Indeed the U.S. is blessed to have peaceful neighbors such as Canada and Mexico. Comparative advantages in production sharing, natural resources, labor and capital ensure long term sustainability and economic security for North America. Calls to unite and ‘Make America Great Again’ are well served in close cooperation with neighbors who are powerful global economic partners.
Canada is currently the United States’ top trade partner in the world with a 25% U.S. Product Content embedded in U.S. Imports (USPCI) from Canada, while the second most important trading partner, China, only has a 4% USPCI. Mexico, currently ranked third, accounts for nearly $600B in trade annually and wields a staggering 40% USPCI representing nearly six million U.S. jobs. It is no wonder Mexico is expected to soon become the United States’ top trade partner, because we essentially co-produce global exports in order to remain competitive as a region.
Nowhere is this vital relationship as visible, however, as at the border itself.
Big Beautiful Doors = “Pedestrian” Land Ports of Entry
Approximately one million people a day pass through land ports of entry at the U.S.-Mexico border for legitimate trade and travel, making these the busiest international bridges and crossings in the world. Repeat and first time border visitors from all over the world are among this massive tide of humanity, representing an untapped economic opportunity that few consider seriously, if at all. A meaningful investment in our combined future at these Bi-National Gateways where people first meet will ignite an interactive and synergistic “fusion” that is a beacon for a global future.
Yet from an environmental and logistics standpoint Mexican Cities are growing faster than their U.S. counterparts and are densely urbanized right up to the ports of entry where they connect primarily through vehicle crossings. This focus on vehicles is unsustainable. The growing millions of idling vehicles at increasingly expanded ports of entry with still more vehicle lanes enlarges the carbon footprint, harms the environment and our health, and displaces real and strategic economic development.
These Mexican border cities and vehicle-dominated ports of entry tend to sustain regional U.S. economies oriented away from the border, largely bypassing impoverished cross-border communities where binational energy is greatest. While cross border traffic is the glue that binds our region, it occurs in a space that is treated as a “no man’s land” which does nothing to benefit the binational relationship.
If you examine our Canadian neighbors to the north, you will notice very different land development patterns. At our northern border, infrastructure is focused toward, rather than away from the longest land border in the world. Canadians get it…trade! By contrast, most Mexican and U.S. citizens struggle to understand the idea of a shared border, and cultural, linguistic, and geographic barriers create obstacles for advancing the relationship.
While U.S.-Mexico high level economic dialogues seek to strengthen global competitiveness, simply increasing cross-border vehicle, truck and rail infrastructure is insufficient for bridging major disparities. And if a case is to be made for prioritizing security at border-crossings then clearly pedestrians and bicycles are a lower security risk than vehicles and must be considered more strategically in the overall equation of cross-border mobility.
Strategic Urban Settings: A Binational Synapse and Paradigm Shift
Land ports of entry and bridges conveying an authentic and culturally integrated “Sense of Place” that showcases pedestrian-transit based infrastructure and emblematic mixed-use economic development and educational program, can and should celebrate an historic U.S.-Mexico relationship and a promising North American future. Such thoughtful policies for a new “cross-border urbanism” will help transform impoverished communities into mega-regional economic catalysts and create a binational synapse that leads to paradigm shift on how borders are experienced.
Ultimately the right to help define border regions should belong to those who actively embody the very essence of North America: the border-crossers themselves. Allowing others to unilaterally do so is to forfeit a significant right to lead from home turf. Funding new research focused on pedestrian-oriented policies and infrastructure is critical for incentivizing environmentally friendly and safe public mobility where our economies and culture first meet. It is imperative that Public-Private investment in cross-border communities be integrated in a strategic fashion designed to enhance North America’s trade position in the world. (See Zones of Hope Report: http://naresearchpartnership.org/projects/zones-of-hope/)
This is basic real estate 101, and based on the principles and ideas of smart growth urbanism. President Trump absolutely can renew U.S.-Mexico relations by advocating for national legislation supporting research-based “Cross-Border Economic Micro Zones” (C-BEMZ) at our national gateways.
Big Beautiful Doors with Mexico would represent a worthy olive branch and convey a powerful message to the entire world. Indeed, a program supporting such infrastructure could herald a Great North American 21st Century by promoting a new win-win era of regional economic security embedded in a shared U.S.-Mexico border program. And that would be a welcoming blessing for all.
The Border Fusion Group, LLC is a dynamic alliance of public, private and academic sector professionals with extensive experience and insider perspective operating in the Cali-Baja Mega Region.
We advocate for systematic and strategic public-private sector planning next to our Land Ports of Entry which incorporates local stakeholder expertise, includes research and innovation and supports bold sustainable solutions and projects, border-wide.
For information about the Border Fusion Research Initiative, please contact: