Drawn by a Wall

Casablanca’s Imposing Medina

China’s Great Wall. Istanbul’s Theodosian Wall. The walls of Avila, Derry, Quebec, Smolensk, Xi’an, Tokyo. I get it, this fascination with walls. Amazing feats of engineering and construction that endure is something that truly impresses me. I go out of my way to create opportunities to visit, touch, clamber upon, and marvel at these gargantuan relics. The view of the Sea of Marmara from atop the Theodosian Wall is unbeatably spectacular! Even the stone walls that parcel up the countrysides of Ireland and England have some charm, embodying the old adage of good fences making good neighbors. They represent an exercise of property rights, a livestock management mechanism. Walls were conceived as a means of protection, of control — increasingly, over time, they took on the task of division, of separation. The insidious Berlin Wall represents the apogee of this transformation. Bereft of the beauty and durability of these other walls, the now demolished Berlin Wall has rightly reverted to a trace of its former path through the refreshingly reunited city.

The wall as formerly conceived and constructed has outlived its dubious usefulness. Technological advances starting with the catapult have progressed to the point where a wall is easily breached by surmounting, subverting, piercing, or simply evading it. Some of the more imposing walls these days serve an architectural and engineering purpose, such as the beautiful retaining wall constructed by Wal-Mart in my hometown. In short, walls have become little more than a tourist attraction, motivating people to visit places that, without the wall, they might not otherwise visit. One wonders if this isn’t the ulterior motive behind the wall that some have proposed be constructed along Mexico’s northern border with the United States? After all, much of the tourism that Mexico attracts heads to places like Cancun and Cabo (the beach resorts), Yucatan and the environs of Mexico City (the Maya and Aztec ruins), and Acapulco and Vera Cruz (the cruise ship ports of call). Very few tourists spend much time at destinations along the northern border, dens of iniquity notwithstanding. The massive import of weapons from the world’s leading arsenal and export of narcotics to their drug-addled northern neighbors seems not to be the sort of thing tourists seek to see and observe in Mexico. A wall, however, could change all this.

Environmental, economic, and ecosystem impacts notwithstanding, a well-designed wall could well provide a much-needed economic boost to the region. San Diego, Yuma, Tucson, El Paso, Laredo, and Brownsville would be transformed into major tourist transit centers for tourists seeking to admire the northern face, while those preferring a southern exposure could begin their holiday from Tijuana, Mexicali, Nogales, Juarez, Boquillas, or Monterrey. If modeled architecturally on China’s Great Wall, it could attract investment financing from many sources: it might very well prove the third dimension of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Let’s not forget China’s instrumental role in constructing a transcontinental railroad in North America: Chinese labor brigades constructed innumerable retaining walls in the Sierra Nevada to shore up and stabilize the right-of-way. There’s no reason why Chinese construction companies today couldn’t replicate the 19th century feats of their ancestors.

The stated rationale (as voiced by many elected officials in the US) for such a massive undertaking — stemming the tide of illegal immigration into the US — may be little more than a political ploy to free up concessional public sector financing and subsidies for major real estate developers (presumably including those who hold out the prospect of EB-5 visas to prospective investors in their schemes) to maximize their profits at taxpayer expense. There is already a model in place for concessioning out the operation of commercial activities at national parks across the US: the companies that specialize in this market segment could profit handsomely as new visitor centers are developed on public lands to handle tourism approaching from the north. For those developed on land assigned to Native American tribes, lucrative business models are already in place across the US. Presumably, Mexico’s savvy tour operators are already seizing opportunities to serve tourists who wish to compare Aztec and Maya construction techniques with those of China. Let’s not discount the prospects for aerial views of the wall: I can see Mexican and US aviation authorities granting overflight rights to airlines proposing to serve a San Diego-Monterrey low-elevation route. Hot air balloons equipped with margaritas might also offer unique perspectives. Soon enough, I expect there will be considerable commercial pressures from Canada’s tourism promotion stakeholders for a wall along the lengthier, but much more frigid, border with their southern neighbor. The political smokescreen to cover a crass commercial ploy may prove a bit more difficult to fabricate: a wall can’t protect against acid rain, and smuggling of tobacco and maple syrup just doesn’t smack of anything so illegal as immigration in a country populated in the main by immigrants.

For all those naysayers who lack foresight, who allow themselves to be taken in by political pronouncements, I condemn you and your short-sightedness! This is much more than taking a lemon and making lemonade out of it. Rather, it’s a gold mine hiding in plain sight! Forget the Alamo! King Midas has touched Mexico’s northern states! Build it, I say! Build the wall! Build it, and tourism will flourish!