Petare, Caracas (Venezuela) June, 2013
Partner institution: Alcaldia de Sucre (Municipal Government), Alexandra Paty
Participants: Alexandra, Angie, Juan Manuel, Luis, Oriana, Yorako, Gabriel
Petare is known to be one of the largest slums in Latin America. Located in the eastern edge of Caracas, it is said to house more than a million people. Tracing Public Space workshop focused on the northern area of the informal settlement where houses are set in very steep hillsides that overlook the city. Over the last four years the Municipal Government has been developing new small parks, plazas, and boulevards in this area. By working with the local government, the workshop focused on recognizing those new public spaces and mapping possible connections between them to reveal sites that potentially provide opportunities to build more public spaces.
One of the most interesting outcomes was to see how children perceive and represent unsafe areas as in the case of Juan Manuel’s cognitive mapping. He said, “This is a map I made up, it might exist as it is here. The green areas are where I feel safe. I have free access. The green line is where I usually walk. This is my house. I labeled it with my name. The yellow line is the road that I occasionally pass by. The shops are places marked in green outside. These are places where I usually shop. The blue roads are the ones that I never use. The areas marked in black are where there is a lot of violence and they are unsafe. You see, around my school there are shootings when you least expect it. In that case we cover ourselves under our desks… They should put police presence. That might make this area more ‘green’. Not all of it because thieves are hard to catch. They should fix the hospital a bit… They are building houses there now. When they are done I will make a new map tracing this one and include the new construction. Maps are never the same. Cities always change.”
One of the most significant obstacles was security. When the workshop was conducted in a very dangerous informal settlement in Petare, participating children were afraid to wonder around on their own with a camera. Some of them would try to take some pictures around their house but not too far. Therefore, we decided to do a group walk around the slum with five community leaders and the children. The route was drawn by connecting one of the last stops of subway station (line 1 cross city) to one of the stops of the newly built monorail system.
In this process, an unexpected and fascinating thing surfaced. The children began to connect their different neighborhoods to each other as we progressed on our journey. One child participant would guide us through the streets around his house and stop, not knowing where to go next. At that moment, another one would say, “I know where we are, just around the corner from my place!” They constantly switched their roles as leaders of our walking trail depending on our location. We discovered new tiny plazas in-between neighborhoods, saw beautiful views of the city, and enjoyed walking through quiet and small streets lined by pretty and colorful building facades.
At the end of the workshop, we managed to create an exhibition and invited the city mayor who asked the children to choose one of the photographed sites as a potential place to create a new public space, which they gladly did. The question is: how can we follow up on the workshop and actually transform it into a new public space?
For more information, see http://tracingpublicspace.org/
Post by Ana Vargas