The rapid urbanisation of Mexico City in the last 30 years has swallowed quiet outer-lying towns, with the influx of people from depressed rural areas. But the pueblo of Tlalpan, now wholly within the city, retains its colonial character with a rectangular grid of small tree-lined avenues flanked by high stone walls hiding old institutions, haciendas and other architectural treasures. The Delegation (urban district) covers one fifth of the area of Mexico City, and is home to four million people. It also contains the highest number of ecological parks in the city, including the 1,000ha Great Park of Adjusco, which forms the dramatic mountainous backdrop to the south west of the city.
It is the historical urban area, and the Fuentes Brotantes park, that EcoTlalpan seeks to protect in current regotiations with UNESCO. Until recently the areas were largely underused and forgotten, divided off by three major transport routes - Avenida San Fernando, Calzada de Tlalpan and Avenida de Insurgentes.
But increasingly, the quiet atmosphere of the main Zocalo plaza is attracting people keen to escape the stress of the city. This renewed interest is spawning new bars and restaurants but with the new visitors and businesses come cars and congestion, damaging the ecology and the material fabric of the zone.
The situation will worsen unless a solution is found.
Without intervention, the Fuentes Brotantes Park, a hidden gorge within the urban sprawl, will also continue to degrade. Surrounding houses have gradually encroached, with potable water from its ancient spring poorly managed to relieve the city's chronic shortage.
EcoTlalpan has as its highest priority maintaining the character of this natural valley by reviving the park and spring, refurbishing the installations, as well as adding some new elements to secure the independent financial future of the park.
The EcoTlalpan project plans to direct development trends, allowing the use of the areas by more people in a less destructive manner and bringing increased prosperity.
The project will have a major impact on the local community, and consensus between the authorities and a public which has become distrustful after many years of political corruption is essential.
Development of the city has also complicated the boundaries between the areas within the project. They do not engender the necessary integrated approach and the views of each small community must be taken into account. However there is no shortage of ideas and the EcoTlalpan project is drawing together local initiatives, with the goal of producing an integrated urban area that will benefit tens of thousands of people.
The main themes of the EcoTlalpan project are water, the manmade environment and the natural habitat. These three components are common to all zones and are a vital part of achieving world heritage status, which if approved would make it the 21st UNESCO site in Mexico.
But the scale of solutions required, following years of under investment in both human needs and the environment, are immense. There is not enough money and a lack of skills in some key areas.
However, projects elsewhere around the world could provide models for successful planning and development and these are to be considered in the proposed masterplan.
The UK's Eden project and the new Bath Spa have much in common with many of the key ideas of EcoTlalpan, and as an integral part of the masterplan an intercultural trip is to be organised between England and Tlalpan.
Though principally revolving around specific projects, the aspirations of the visit are wider, and private and public sponsorship is being sought in the hope that the exchange of ideas will benefit everyone involved.