Elisa Silva, “Territorial inequality and the urban Cassandras of our times

Elisa Silva, “Territorial inequality and the urban Cassandras of our times


Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome. It’s a great pleasure for me
today to introduce Elisa Silva. She’s not only– We are not only from
the same country, but I have known her
over several years since we were together
in Rome in 2005-6. Elisa is director and founder
of Enlace Arquitectura, which was established in
Caracas, Venezuela in 2007, the year after she
came back from Rome. Her work there
focuses on raising awareness of spatial inequality
and the urban environment through public space,
the integration of informal settlements,
and community engagement in rural landscapes. She not only makes
a wonderful designs and physical interventions, for
which she has won many awards, but she has also crafted a set
of participatory methodologies that have to do with educating
the public about design that have been key to
Elisa’s practice and were recently featured
in the 20th Architecture and Urbanism Biennial in
Valparaiso, Chile in 2017. The office has also
been recognized in other international design
awards such as the XXII Ibero-American Biennial of
Architecture and Urbanism for the Sabana Grande
pavement project in Caracas and the Walk 21 award for the
Puerto Encantado Higuerote Venezuela in 2015. Her research interests
include the relationship of informal settlement growth
with housing policy and land regulation, the role of public
space in urban integration, and the adaptation of rural
communities in landscapes. In 2017 she was awarded
a Graham Foundation grant for the publication
of Pure Space: Expanding the Public
Sphere Through Public Space Transformations in
Latin-American Informal Settlements, which will be
published by Actar next year. She has coauthored
Pro-Inclusion: Practical Tools for the Integral Development
of Latin American Cities, published by the CAF Development
Bank of Latin America in 2016 and presented at
Habitat III in Quito. And she’s also the author
of a fantastic book that I have upstairs,
Cartography of the Caracas Barrios, 1966-2014 by
the Fundacion Especiale, which is really a fantastic
contribution to the city’s records of urban history. Elisa was awarded that
Wheelwright Fellowship in 2011, and as I mentioned,
the Rome Prize in 2005. She received her M.Arch
from the GSD in 2002, and right now she is
teaching an option studio in the Department of
Landscape Architecture titled The Agency of Mezcal in
the Oaxaca Valley, Mexico. Please join me in
welcoming Elisa Silva. [applause] Thank you, Anita. Thank you very much
for this invitation. I’ll get right to it. During the mid-20th century,
Venezuela’s income drastically increased with oil production. A junta government led
by Marcos Perez Jimenez was eager to quickly
and drastically reshape the country and its
capital into bastions of modernity and progress. Caracas was a city of
construction sites and cranes. A handful of buildings
are enough to illustrate the hubris and ambition attached
to this nation-building effort. The Humboldt Tower
and the cable car essentially conquered
the Avila mountain. Built in 1956, it was designed
by architect Jose Tomas Sanabria. A luxury hotel with
covered swimming pool, casino, bar, restaurant,
and ballroom. Ironically restarted
recently with state funds, and I say ironically,
because there seem to be other more pressing
issues that require resources at this time in Venezuela. Other examples include
the Centrale University by [inaudible] Villanueva, a
1953 400-acre modern campus, and now a UNESCO
World Heritage site. The Simon Bolivar art center by
Cipriano Dominguez, completed in 1954, 103-meter
tall twin towers that were the tallest buildings
in Venezuela at the time. El Helicoide, designed by
architect Romero Gutierrez and financed through
real estate speculation, had the audacity
to mold a mountain and shape it into
an ascending helix to serve as a linear
shopping mall. Construction came
to a halt in 1958 after the ousting of the
nation-building dictator. Today it is the headquarters
of [? sabine, ?] the equivalent to
Venezuela’s CIA, where many of the most
prominent political prisoners are currently held. And lastly. A four-lane freeway
financed by the Rockefellers not only sanctified
Caracas as a car city, but also ended its
relationship with the river and completely transformed the
actual center of the valley. These are all widely
praised exemplars of a modern architecture
and infrastructure that were enviable to the eyes
of the world at the time. These and other works
were very prominently featured in the Exhibition
Latin America in Construction at MOMA in 2016,
and are celebrated as testimonials of a glorious
past with style and longing. There’s also another story,
one far less acknowledged, that nonetheless transpired in
parallel all along these years. Informal settlements and Caracas
grew at a much faster rate than the rest of the city. Already in 1966, they covered
17% of the urban territory. In 1984, 36% of the
population lived in them. Today, the percentage
has increased to half. Here we can see maps of
how the territory grew in four distinct years– 1966, 1984, 2000, and 2014– and a consolidated map of
the informal settlements in Caracas, which is
part of CABA research and publication on dimension
that Enlace took on between 2012 and 2014. Oil production, which
began in the 20s and significantly
increased in the 50s, created a large industrial
and service sector to support the oil
economy that motivated migration towards cities. At the same time,
agricultural production, mainly in the form
of coffee plantation, was in decline, as markets
in Brazil and Colombia had become more competitive
and were arguably producing better-quality beans. So even though oil
production is often blamed for the ruin of
agriculture in the country, this isn’t entirely true. In Caracas, the
informal settlements grew as a result of
migration on the hills that surround the city. In other words, they were always
visible and in plain sight. This is an aerial image of
[speaking spanish] in Caracas where you can see El
Helicoide the far distance, sort of over there, and the
towers of Parca Centrale, built in 1970. So why is it that it was so hard
to read this urban narrative, even though it was
constantly revealing itself? The Caracas barrios are what
I call an urban Cassandra that disclosed the social inequality
growing within the city and was crying for attention. Cassandra was the daughter
of the King of Troy. Apollo fell madly
in love with her and conferred on her
the gift of prophecy. Cassandra, however, did not
correspond to his advances and so Apollo, in
revenge, condemns her to continue seeing the
future but without anyone believing her. In fact, Cassandra
predicted the fall of Troy, but her warnings were
not taken in earnest, and so the prophecy
unfolds just the same. In Jungian psychology,
the figure of Cassandra is used to describe the
human conscious, capable of formulating warnings and
protecting us from suffering. The figure of Apollo
represents the alter ego that resorts to denial and
discrediting of our conscious as a mechanism of
escape and evasion. And this appropriation
of the myth by psychology describes very clearly
what happened in Caracas. While informal
settlements grew at a rate 2.5 times faster than
its formal counterpart, both the government
and the private sector preferred to deny
it, or continue believing that
economic bonanza of oil would effortlessly
resolve it, ignoring the growth of a deep
social discontent that was the perfect brew for
ensuing populist movements that would later emerge. In 1988, the Caracaso ignited
a massive popular protest, mainly among people
living in barrios, against higher gasoline
prices and higher public transportation costs. A military takeover
of the streets to quell the related
looting resulted in hundreds of deaths
and thousands injured. Hugo Chavez first attempted
to enter into power by force in 1992,
and then succeeded through elections in 1999. He cultivated and
institutionalized discontent, and the rest is now history. Just as Troy fell,
Venezuela has also fallen, but not without the Cassandras
that clearly forewarned it. Although we commonly
associate inequity with the distribution of income
and economic opportunities, it is also evident in
the built environment. And this is especially true
in the developing world, or the global south visibly
illustrated in the form of informal settlements. Even though informal
settlements are often touted for their entrepreneurial
and creative capabilities, although this may
be true, we should be wary of such impromptu
redemptive arguments which could be seen as a romantic,
evasive, and simply not very useful way of
dealing with the effects of such disparity. Informal settlements
reinforce inequality by perpetuating urban
exclusion and difference. Public transportation, public
services, access to education, and health and human
development opportunities, are categorically
different for people who live in an informal
settlement versus those who live in the planned
segments of a city. In Caracas, for example,
the population density within barrios– and this
is a map of the densities, and barrios is how informal
settlements are called in Caracas, Venezuela– is
between three and four times greater than that of
their formal neighbors. So informal settlements
are a lot more dense than the rest of the city. Density of the five
municipalities in Caracas is starkly different
when one compares formal and informal segments. So this is divided into
the five municipalities. Alatio is this one down
here, is five times denser in its
informal settlement, which is right around there,
than the surrounding planned urban areas. Sucre, which is this
municipality here, Petad is a very famous barrio,
is three times more dense than its formal neighbors. This density, however,
is not complemented by higher endowments
of public space. And you can see the darker
parts are the barrios and it’s just because
they’re denser. Public spaces and they’re
accessibility do not include them, nor urban
services such as transportation. And you’ll see other
lines kind of run short before they
meet the barrios. And the limited access
to opportunities repeat cycles of poverty
and creates a fertile ground for young men to choose
life projects associated with criminal gangs as a way
to find the companionship they lack at home. And their female counterparts
seek early pregnancies to be recognized as
mothers and acquire status in the community. Territorial inequality
is ubiquitous, and affects a
significant portion of the world’s population. Informal settlements are
endemic to urban centers in emerging countries, where
the majority of people reside. In some cases, as in Caracas,
up to half of the citizens live in informal settlements,
while in some African cities the proportion rises to 80. These are maps of
informal settlements in cities we surveyed as part
of a study [speaking spanish],, According to United
Nations, since 2003 1/6 of the population, that
is 1 billion people, live in informal settlements. And they estimate the
number will double by 2030. The size of this
figure is startling. How has this challenge
been approached? The discourse of
modern architecture and in urban design has
championed social housing to mitigate social inequality,
and continues to do so. Although it is a
well-intentioned approach, alone it does not help
improve urban differences and inequality. Crucial to the
reduction of inequality is the degree of
integration that can be forged between different
diverse social segments. And this depends
on a set of factors that include geographical
proximity, access to amenities, and opportunities for citizens. And this is something
Henri Lefebvre was already prescribing as he
observed emerging slum areas in the Paris
[inaudible] of 1968. After many decades of
social housing production both in Latin America and
the rest of the world, we have not really seen
significant progress in reducing urban inequality. Early modern
architecture examples include the residential
project El Silencio, built in 1943 and [speaking spanish],,
built in 1958, both in Caracas by Carlo Raoul Villanueva
as the designer. Mario Panis’ Presidente
[inaudible] Center in Mexico City, 1948, and
[speaking spanish] Lima, Peru by Enrique Siriani
and others, 1962 to 69. This is a timeline of
social housing projects in Latin America that
Marianna [inaudible] elaborated for an edition of AD
magazine she curated in 2010. It begins with El
Silencio project in Caracas, which is the
one down over there, 1943, as the first social housing
family residential building, and progresses all the
way to [speaking spanish] project Ikike, Chile. Beyond on this timeline
until the last eight years, social housing efforts continued
to focus on the unit itself, with little regard to
their location, which tends to be in distant
peripheral urban areas where land is less expensive. These are images of recent
social housing developments in Leon, Mexico, Guayaquil,
Ecuador, and Caracas, Venezuela. Why and how aren’t
these examples reducing urban inequality? The first and obvious
answer is that they are conceived to
replace, not mitigate, the limitations of
informal settlements, which are undeniably real
and still growing. Informal settlements
have not in effect been replaced, so how can
such approaches continue to be to be presented as
mitigation of inequality? Secondly, local authorities
tend to simplify the structure of cities and
conflate urbanism with housing. Geordi Borja, a
Catalan urbanist who has been involved in numerous
urban renewal processes both in Europe
and Latin America, states that from his
experience urban projects and other
infrastructure projects tend to focus on a
particular sector, without maintaining a
holistic urban vision. Priority is given to
paving streets and housing. Thirdly, formal housing is not
an economically viable response to address the
magnitude of people in spontaneous communities. And this in and of
itself should be enough to question
its appropriateness as an official
government strategy to address social needs. In 2014, Mexico reported
a housing deficit of 9.7 million units– so that’s the
equivalent of 40 million people, 1/3 of its population– despite enormous investments
to increase the stock of homes between 2010 and 2014. There are no official reports
on the current housing deficit in Caracas. People in the
construction industry estimate it is around 2.4
million homes in 2017, so 10 million people, nearly
30% of the country’s population, although massive
emigration this past year has likely reduced this number. So even though we’re
talking about 1/3 of the population
in both examples, housing remains the most
championed national strategy to address social inequality. Mexico continues to be a
strong supporter of the housing agenda. And of course, there is a
whole sector of the real estate enterprise to consider,
focused on social housing projects supported by
government agencies such as [speaking spanish]
through sizable subsidies. This investment is consistently
justified in strategies to address poverty with
housing models designed by top Mexican architects. Here’s an example of a
recently built social housing project that is partly
funded by [speaking spanish] on the outskirts
of Leon, Mexico. It has strived to include
sustainable strategies and technologies,
but it has not been conceived with urban integration
or inclusion in mind. These are other similar examples
in Cancun, [speaking spanish].. A recent study I was hired to
do for UN Habitat Mexico looks at how [inaudible] prioritize
subsidies for projects located in inner-city lots through the
program [speaking spanish].. And it remains to
be seen the extent to which these suggestions
will motivate change. In the Venezuelan case,
sustained focus on housing is driven by propaganda. The [speaking spanish]
Venezuela program has supposedly served
two million families, although the
[speaking spanish] has only been able to document
less than 8,000 apartments built in Caracas
between 2011 and 2016. It is hard to imagine where
the remaining 1,992,000 are located. In any case, here we see
an image [speaking spanish] in Playa Grande, state of
Vargas, about 40 minutes from Caracas, near the coast. These homes were designed,
shipped, and built by a Belarus building company. Ventilation has not
been considered, even though the climate
here is hot and humid. But that is secondary. What is important is buying
the loyalty of people through the promise of
receiving, or earning through strong political
affiliation, an apartment at no cost. And as a side note, both the
Mexican and Venezuelan projects have been repeatedly
denounced for their scandalous levels of corruption and for
the poor quality of construction and the poor quality of services
of the apartments built. Both examples operate under
very different motivations, but they buy into the
same positivist discourse and seem to confirm that the
tool, in this case housing, has become the default
approach to address underprivileged populations in
many parts of the developing world. But when you look at
cities through the lens of territorial inequality,
such strategies are actually counterproductive
as they continue to define territory through
internally homogeneous, separate distinct enclaves. If or when the goal is framed
to address urban inequality, we find that there is a dearth
of consequential and viable approaches. A new home does not mitigate
existing urban exclusion, nor does it represent
a relevant offer for people who may have a
perfectly functional home that just happens to be in
an informal settlement. The limitations of a home
in an informal settlement have to do with exclusion
from urban dynamics, access to schools, health centers
jobs, public space, but not necessarily in the
housing structure itself. And these exclusive aspects
are not only physical, but also present in public policies
and urban investments– how funds for public
works are allocated, waste management, public
services, et cetera. They are not
equitably distributed. Fortunately, some
cities in Latin America, including Rio de Janeiro,
Medellin, Bogota, and Guayaquil, have experienced
nearly three decades of sustained experiences
in informal settlement improvement. They have created
a concrete spectrum of projects that begin
to mitigate and dissolve territorial differences. Although the approaches among
cities and within cities vary, one common denominator
is that projects that include components
of public space have had very notable effects in
advancing urban integration, as in the case of the Malecon
Salado in Guayaquil, Ecuador, and [speaking spanish]
in Rio Haneda. This is an image of Malecon
Salada in Guayaquil, Ecuador. The project, built
by a municipality, creates an urban
front onto the river as a mechanism to
control the encroachment of informal settlements
into the estatos people would throw debris
into the waterway to gain land, build
their home over this very unsound foundation, and
throw their sewage water and waste into the river. The project relocates and
demolishes unstable homes and creates a boardwalk to
contain further construction. The wastewater is
collected separately, which has reduced the
[inaudible] pollution levels, and even allowed water
sports such as rowing to take place once again. And mangroves have
also started to regrow. The boardwalk makes
the neighborhood easier to navigate, and is connected
to other linear park systems along the waterway. So it increases
accessibility and integration with the rest of the city. And that’s what’s
highlighted in yellow. The second project is
a natural reserve park above the Favela
[speaking spanish] in Rio de Janeiro It is located
just north of Copacabana Bay. So this is Copacabana Bay. It’s located up here. This is the water. And Copacabana
would be this part. And here’s [speaking spanish],,
actually two favelas together So you walk through
the favela and ascend, and as you say and you
reach the natural reserve park over the Moro. It was once
completely deforested, and the community,
with the encouragement of a civic organization, began
a process of reforestation. Today, neighbors offer to guide
visitors through the forest park to the top where some of
the most breathtaking views of Rio can be enjoyed– the Copacabana beach, Flamingo
Bay, Sugarloaf Mountain, and the Cristo on the corcovado. Kids from the favela are
often seen here flying kites. The favela becomes part of
the entrance and passage towards the park,
and in this sense begins to form part of an urban
and recreational experience, both for locals and visitors. So this is the
forest at the top. In these and other
examples, first we see how public
space interventions attenuate and weaken
urban physical boundaries. They even integrate sectors of
the city typically understood as opposites at
the same time they require significantly
less financial investment than housing projects. Secondly, public space
within informal settlements also represents a common ground
that can encourage or allow social cohesion among
different citizens to develop. I don’t mean social
cohesion among members within the settlement, that
is often already very strong. But I also mean among
different urban inhabitants. Settlements are typically
read as private enclaves where outsiders feel
very self-conscious. Open public space
allows visitors from the rest of the city, as
well as the community members, to share a common space. And third, the relevance
of public space for informal settlements
is not minor. On the contrary,
the high densities, the monofunctional use
typically associated to spontaneous communities,
and the extreme scarcity of such spaces make them
that much more significant. For example, Caracas
is already notorious for its lack of public space,
the last on the list of cities, one square meter per inhabitant. But the figure is 10 times worse
within informal settlements. [speaking spanish],,
for example, only has 0.1 square meter
per inhabitant. Informal communities
are unquestionably underserved by public space. So Pure Space: Transformations
of Public Space and Informal Settlements
of Latin America is an upcoming publication
I have written together with my office and La Sectura. It stems from research I
began with a Wheelwright Fellowship received
in 2011, and will soon be a book edited by Actar,
with the support of the Graham Foundation and CAF. It highlights 23 experiences. And here we can see the
draft of the index page. Two of these projects were
just mentioned earlier. They are all exemplars
of public space projects in informal settlements that
in one way or other advance urban integration. Although some of the
projects included are part of official
government programs, many have been financed
through the private sector or supported by
multilateral entities. As concrete-built projects
that have successfully advanced territorial
equality, they beg the question of what would
happen if resources typically dedicated to new
social housing projects were invested in
strategies that integrate existing informal settlements
to urban dynamics, especially through public space. The book’s intention
is to offer readers, including local authorities
and urban investors, the opportunity to recognize
the strategic value public space projects have in
informal settlements as conduits that link
different segments of the city, in addition to the advantages
of their viability and low cost. They should be
considered as operations to mitigate the territorial
inequality present in cities and allow housing to shift
towards other agendas. For example, ones focused
on demographic segments of the population
that can handle the financial constraints
of affordable housing and in developing countries
with greater per capita income such as Chile. And now I’d like to share a
bit of how our practice emerged and began this line of inquiry
in terms of design, research, dissemination,
and public policy. Our office is in
Caracas, Venezuela and start in 2007 when
I moved there from Rome. During the first year we
worked on three projects that really set the tone
for the years to come. The pavement and drainage
of Sabana Grande Boulevard in Caracas– and it’s where the red line is– was the result of a
competition I won– and I say I instead of we
because there wasn’t an office to speak of yet– and unbelievably,
it got built. It is a pedestrian
boulevard that traverses 1.6 kilometers of the city and
coincides with three subway stations. It had been taken over
by informal vendors during the early 2000s
and was suddenly evacuated rather aggressively in
2006 by the government and renovated with funding from
PDVSA, Venezuela’s oil company. This experience
brought us a great deal of insight on the pragmatic
aspects of designing and building public space. These are just various images
during the construction. Difficult to build something
while thousands of pedestrians are traversing this
on a daily basis. And then Sabana Grande
idea in use today. I also started working on
the Media Legua church, which is a rural setting in
the state of Vargas, two hours from Caracas,
roughly where the circle is. It is a pro bono project that
has progressed very slowly, at the pace of
donations received, and was only
recently consecrated this past September. The church was built by
members of the community, and it really does represent
a tour de force for them. The place now represents the
center of the Media Legua community to use in
a number of ways. And the open space
in front of it will be configured into
multi-functional public plaza for people of all ages. There’s more work to be
done building benches, light fixtures, and landscape,
which I look forward to because each site visit
has been the opportunity to learn about the
value in rural habitat. I have gotten to
know the community. I had a chance to
perceive the benefits of living in rural settings. Many of the neighbors
actually once lived in Caracas and decided to move to
the countryside in search of better quality of life. And this is where I
started to understand the importance of reconsidering
rural habitat as part of the informal
settlement discourse. Doug Saunders ably
discloses in his book Arrival City how
in many respects informal settlements are the
habitat for the family member that is working in the
city and sending money back to his or her village. Venezuela is already
a very urban country. 93% of the population
lives in cities. In other words,
rural urban migration has already finished
in Venezuela. But learning about the
community of Media Legua, where many inhabitants
actually left the city and returned to the
countryside because they prefer its lifestyle suggests that
much greater consideration and resources should be
focused on strengthening rural economies and
their communities together with the question
of informal settlements. And the options studio I’m
currently teaching at the GSD on the agency of Mezcal
in the Oaxaca Valley speaks to this idea. The third project I started,
literally the day after I arrived in Caracas, was focused
on the informal settlement La Moran, which is the red dot
towards the Western side of the city. For nearly a year,
I just observed. I was frankly overwhelmed. I taught to design studio
at the Centrale University of Venezuela that caught the
attention of CAF Development Bank of Latin America. They invited La Sectura to
present a project proposal for La Moran, and we were
obliged to partner with an NGO in order to meet
GAF’s requirements. The proposal was approved and
we ventured into a holistic project that began with a
census of the community, a topographical survey, social
engagement of the community– mostly through meetings– and I
have since grown very skeptical or more critical
of this format– and a detailed recovery
to sanitize a creek used to transport sewage
water, and address issues of waste management associated
with clandestine dumps, making them into opportunities
for public space. In the end, it only yielded a
very modest neighborhood square built by the
neighbors themselves. And the project came
to a frustrating end. It did not gain the
government’s support, which in hindsight is not a surprise. GAF could go no further
since their business is to provide loans
for government projects that require the
state’s approval. And the project’s
financial counterpart, an NGO that collects
contributions from sizable Venezuelan
companies, [speaking spanish],, supposedly focused on
strengthening communities, disengaged themselves
completely from the initiative as they truly believed
that such work was the sole responsibility
of the government. Then I was fortunate enough to
win the Wheelwright Fellowship from Harvard in 2011. At the moment, it really
came as a blessing. I visited six cities
in Latin America for an extended period, more
than 40 informal settlements. I was again overwhelmed by
the amount of information I had documented. But as it all settled and the
intensity of my experience calmed, I realized that
what most impressed me were the examples
of public space I encountered as catalysts
of notable urban change. We then synthesized the research
into an exhibition, Pure Space, which was presented in four
different cities Caracas, Toronto, Miami,
and Buenos Aires, and the contents soon
to be published in May, as I mentioned earlier. We also embarked on
an ambitious task of mapping the growth
of informal settlements and Caracas through our project. CABA: Cartography of
the Caracas Barrios, which has been well
received and is today an important reference for
citizens at large, students, and researchers. It basically tells the story of
how informal settlements grew over a 50-year period
and Caracas, including data on the number
of housing units, occupied area, population, and
density in four distinct years. In many ways, it is a book about
the parallel modern history of the city. I’m going to just show a
little bit how it works. The area in the red square
is the most central and most historic part of the city. Here we see in green what were
informal settlements in ’46, and red is the Silencio
Project I mentioned earlier. Then in ’57, many
of the barrios were raised for the
[speaking spanish] project, the red dots. And between ’57 and ’66, they
grew, as you see in the map. And this is more or less
what happened in that area. So the left set of pictures
[inaudible] in ’58. And the right side is
a more recent picture. These are other
images in the book. This is [speaking spanish]
You see the Helicoide there on the right. It was also an
exhibition that traveled to at least seven sites. And we invited
schools for workshops to talk about the
city where they live, what informal settlements
are, and their proximity to references they know. We are keen to continue creating
these educational opportunities for children to reflect
on the built environment. I believe these research
efforts not only helped us build stronger
arguments against skeptics such as the DVC. But they also gave
us an edge and opened the door for opportunities
to once again work with communities and
create strategies to build public spaces with them. We were asked to join
an NGO, [inaudible] with which we had worked
before in La Moran to embark on a project funded
by the private sector, Citibank. So not the government. The program is called City
Planting, as we basically started from scratch,
designing methodologies to engage the community,
create awareness regarding their surroundings, and
begin to form ideas about how it could be transformed. We found that games and
using outdoor spaces was much more successful
in drawing people in than meetings. We also created simple
designs for elements that make up public space– stairs, benches, canopies,
swings, bus stop, pavement– using readily
available and often recycled materials. And we also did a lot of
planting with neighbors. Over the course
of three years, we were able to work with 18
communities in Maracaibo, Valencia, and Caracas, and build
18 modest spaces with them. I will share two of these
experiences in Caracas in 2016 and 2017. The first is [speaking spanish]
in eastern side of Caracas. The Plaza Santa Rita
was in many respects already being used as a
de facto public space, with a basketball
court cobbled together over an inclined surface, and
an improvised bus station. So basically that’s
what you see right here. These Jeeps as we call
them, gather there and wait for passengers. We began a series
of activities much like the ones in the
photographs I just shared. And then we went on to
formulating the project with the community. And their concern was
to open the space up to more segments
of the population so that not only teenagers
could play basketball, but also smaller children
could feel that was their own. Now they make a bee line
straight to the slide, stand in line, and go
down again and again. We made it purposefully steep
and the cement is very slick so it’s a really good slide. There are benches that will
be shaded at some point with trees we planted for
parents and senior citizens to gather. And a canopy is in
a protected area. So this is what it
looked like originally, and what it looks like now. Where children
can play hopscotch on pavement patterns made
with recycled bottle caps they helped build. You can maybe make out a little
bit of it here in the bottom. But it’s also a place for
outdoor movies projected onto a neighbor’s
side wall, and a place for religious ceremonies
and community markets. The second project,
is in La Palomera, towards the southern
part of the city. And this time the
community focused on– So this is La Palomera. And this time the
community focused on a waste dump that’s
roughly right here, that had been
there for 30 years. And so the project centered
on waste management and the transformation of the
space into a modest plaza. It also was part of a
larger kind of idea. But this is really where
the project that was built is focused. Design includes a
pavement motif out of recycled bottle caps that
allow children to participate, as well as– and so this is all the kids
participating that day– as well as a colorful
bench made of wood pallets from recycled pallets that
a carpenter, Senor Augusto, helped us build. And they were painted
by the children. Finally, beans were
planted by a neighbor just in front of the
fence that separates it from the basketball court. And within a few
months the beans grew and provide shade
during the afternoon hours. After 18 small projects,
six every year, we were able to gain
a lot of experience in identifying which strategies
were allowing us to better communicate with the community. We also produced
significant transformations. Not only physical ones, but
also in the community’s sense of self-worth. And it is fantastic to listen
to Senora Martina, who’s lived in La Palomera 60
years, tell the story of how her new plaza was made. However, we became increasingly
worried and aware of the fact that this work remained insular,
and felt the next step would be to forge
opportunities for people from the rest of the city
to know and experience, for example, [speaking spanish]
or La Palomera. Informal settlement
inhabitants circulate throughout the entire
city regularly. The challenge is also to build
bridges that give everyone else reasons to visit the barrio
and incorporate these places into their mental urban maps. We found an
opportunity to explore a more artistic and
ephemeral approach through an annual event
called Alca barrio And Alca barrio is the red dot
at the bottom in Alca Barrio [inaudible],, which is
an initiative [inaudible],, an important urban
activist in Caracas, started a few years ago. It is meant to
celebrate the barrio and open its doors to visitors
through a series of activities led by the community and
planned for a particular day in December, which is
a religious holiday. [speaking spanish],,
that the community traditionally celebrated
with music and dancing. For its third edition last year,
we chose to celebrate a path through Alca barrio that would
lead people from the Simon Bolivar Square– so this is
colonial fabric in the city, and there’s the Simon
Bolivar Square– and would lead
you through a path up to Plaza la Cruz,
where a live band plays and people dance. It was meant to serve as
a series of clues or links that would encourage visitors
to find all seven canopies suspended over the path. It also played off of
the artistic character of the electric wires that
commonly criss-cross the sky. We invited people to
upload photographs with the hashtag
[speaking spanish] to social media, so that others
might grow curious and decide to come see the canopies
themselves in Alca barrio. We’re also exploring
ways to alter the way we work with communities
through three new projects we were invited to design and
build with another NGO called Mi Convive, as part
of a program funded by the Swiss embassy
in Venezuela. Among Mi Convive’s
many projects, one important one is a network
of soup kitchens for children, an initiative called
[speaking spanish] that is close to reaching
60 such centers, all privately funded. We’re currently working with
three of these spaces in three different informal settlements. They are [speaking spanish],, La
Vega, and [speaking spanish].. These are all closely
linked to the soup kitchens, and what we’re
experimenting now is getting more quickly to the
moment of building the public space
with a community so that we can continue
working with them once the spaces are
built. Basically have more time post-construction
accompany community to use, maintain, and
program these spaces. We also want to plan activities
that will draw larger audiences from surrounding areas. The project that
is furthest along is in [speaking spanish] a space
ill-used and in poor condition. It was chosen by the community
to be restored and made into a more functional place. We eliminated a
1-meter difference– so you can see sort of where the
ramp and the motorcycles trying to get up– in the pavement that cut
through the center of the plaza, and leveled it so that
basketball games could be played, and also processions
and other activities could take place
more comfortably. So this is how it
begins, in meetings. And just for fun,
maybe you guys can find the Swiss ambassador that
came to the meeting that day. Clearly the tallest
one in the group. These are images during
the construction. It’s ongoing right now. We haven’t finished yet. And an image of it how
it is just last Friday. Another project in
[speaking spanish] will focus on
eliminating a waste dump with an integral waste
management project program, and convert this steep
slope into a series of slides for children. As you can see, it’s
where people have also learned to leave their waste. And here are the children
overseeing their project as it’s getting built. A year ago, we registered our
own NGO, Enlace Fundacion, in order to be able to explore
other types of projects, programs, and write our
own proposals for funding. We also want to channel future
research and dissemination efforts through this entity,
as well as initiatives focused on influencing public policy. Through private
donations, we have started to configure new public
spaces along the southern ridge of La Palomera. So there’s La Palomera again. And this entire ridge here
really has a lot of potential. These are early kind of sketches
on what it could configure, and these are images
of different points along that ridge. So we chose it for
the obvious potential it has, and for the
relationship with already how with a community. The first intervention
addresses the issues of vehicles occupying
important free spaces. This is kind of contradictory. So we don’t have any
space for public space, but we have space
for parking cars. So we were able to
negotiate moving five cars in order to create
a modest playground under an existing
jabillo tree, which is translated as a possum tree. Here we are talking to
neighbors and showing them how cars can be rearranged to
create space under the tree. And in this slide. This is our meeting
with the car owners. They at first were not so keen
on moving their parking spaces, but we managed to
negotiate a compromise, and with their
approval then opened a public meeting where the
community would ultimately decide on the proposal. Over the past five months,
inflation has gotten much worse in the country, and
the money we had raised will no longer be enough
to cover the park’s costs. Nonetheless, we have started
with the perimeter bench. And this is really
important to the community because there’s a kind of a
high level change after it. And so we started with the
construction nonetheless, and in order to save money
we’re filling the form-work with plastic bottles to allow
us to use less concrete. In January this
year, we formally presented a proposal to
the US embassy in Venezuela to support a program
that would essentially take them for the first time
into an informal settlement in Caracas. And nine months
later we feel very fortunate that it was approved. And we have now basically
hit the ground running. The project is titled
Urban Awareness, and will take place
in La Palomera, giving us a chance to explore
new approaches toward many of the issues regarding
urban integration that we have already been discovering. For example, we will
have a lecture series in La Palomera under the title
“Art, Pedagogy, and the City.” And we will promote this
event throughout the city to encourage widespread
participation. And we will be
collaborating with a number of other civic
organizations in the city. We are also planning an
exhibition that brings together ideas that the
municipality, academia, and the community itself have
worked on over the years. That also includes a
1 to 100 scale model, so a really big
one, of La Palomera. And intention is
to create scenarios for shared
conversation regarding the settlement itself. But more importantly,
how it is perceived, approached, and integrated
with its surroundings. And lastly, we will create
an open air museum where artists and the community will
freely express reflections and critiques on the
nature of integration, or the lack thereof, that is
experienced in the La Palomera. And artists, French-American
artist Christine Graham, and Venezuelan artists
will participate in the architecture tour that
links [inaudible] center, which is formal and La
Palomera, an experience that links both fabrics. I also believe it is
important to take advantage of this research and experience
to shape public policy, which is currently very weak,
or somewhat outdated, with respect to
informal settlements. Much was done toward
incorporating the city’s Barrios into the overall
urban discourse in the 90s, by [speaking spanish] through
the [speaking spanish].. But its focus was on
improvement, not integration. And somehow oddly it
advocates strategies more appropriate of
car-centered urbanism. Times are now different, and
we have very little resources, and an obvious division
structured into the city. And so to that end, we
organized a three-day workshop with the metropolitan
municipality title “Actions for the Integration of Caracas.” And we focused on
[speaking spanish],, which is this one over here we
saw earlier, and La Palomera. And the results after meeting
urban planning experts, people from the community,
architects, urban designers, we came with a consensual
list of actions that would further integration. And I just want to sort
of share what we mean. It’s not very important or big
infrastructure investments. Sometimes just the entrance
to the barrio, for example, here in La Palomera, is the
place where waste is collected. And so it’s a very
strong statement that as you go from formal
city into the barrio, you first have to traverse
these containers of waste. And just logistical
changes could create a very big impression. So these are images of
what those entrances could look like. Currently we are working to
make another meeting of experts as part of the embassy
project, and we hope that this will
move public policy along at the Baruta municipality
level, but also national government. It was once stipulated
by Congress in the 90s that 6% of the
nation’s funds should be allocated towards informal
settlement improvement. We want to revisit this law
and suggest amendments to it, with the intention of shaping
new public policy that considers public
space-making as an investment to advance urban integration. We would eventually present
it for consideration in a legitimate
national assembly when and if future
scenarios allow it. So now to end. Up against such compromised
circumstances in Venezuela, the mere gesture of formulating
alternative urban interventions through civic forces and
more modest resources could seem marginal at
best, or even naive. Today the work we do
is perhaps no longer a logical consequence of
our interests and research, but an obstinate and even
stubborn survival effort. The truth is that
getting through each day has become so challenging,
people no longer interiorize what is happening. Rather, everyone has
learned to go habitate with hardship through any
and all available defense mechanisms. Among them there is
one Federico Vegas, a famous Venezuelan writer who
is also an architect, recently narrated in his
article Fascination, which is astonishment
or stupefaction that simply paralyzes. He argues that news today on
what is happening in Venezuela is so absurd and
extravagant that one remains entranced or hypnotized. Fascination is juxtaposed
with attention. Where the first is passive
engagement that constantly seeks out new stimuli,
much like an addiction– so being hooked on Twitter
searching for the next alarming occurrence– attention is connected to
discovery and a readiness to formulate questions
and find answers. He cites that according
to Catherine [inaudible],, a Canadian child
psychologist, screens– so iPads and phones– cause fascination in children. They are drawn by the
stimuli and become addicted, which is why more creative
activities such as painting, building blocks, and playing
outside are encouraged instead. Vegas suggests that
creativity and the audacity to work for a future
reality is a way to break the spell of
a very trying present and forge resilience. By creating opportunities
to build pilot public space projects, rehearsed
methodologies for community engagement, draft public
policy, and increase awareness, we feel this time will not
have been spent in vain. Caracas, and so
many other cities, will need to undergo
integration processes– we hope sooner than later. Faced with the growing
inequality that so flagrantly threatens social
cohesion, peace, and environmental
sustainability, how can we not recognize
the obvious Cassandras that summon us to do
everything possible? Each from our own
discipline and space, so that through the
small alterations we introduce into our
unfolding history, perhaps our contemporary
Troy, isn’t lost altogether. Thank you. [applause] Thank you so much. So this is wonderful. The best introduction
would have been the most audacious
designer one can imagine. Really. I’m so glad you mention
in the end the hardship, because she is moving mountains
every day as she designs. And has the audacity
to think of the future. We have time for questions,
so please feel free. We will pass the microphone I am going to take
the first question since I control the microphone. Early in your talk
you showed maybe your first image of
a community meeting, and you mentioned
that you have grown– I can’t remember
the word you used– but disillusioned with that
format, or maybe unconvinced that that format
produces a good result. Could you talk a
little bit about, or just talk more about that? What’s led you to
those feelings? And maybe what other approaches
you might apply going forward. Well, just the
meeting format is very hierarchical in its
essence, and essentially, I mean 10 years ago I didn’t
have the tools to really be able to identify
that what was happening was kind of giving information,
and the counterparts just receiving it. And it’s very intimidating for
them to actually participate. Some are very well-versed
and leaders in the community and don’t have issues with it. But you don’t get the
input from other people. I remember Marty Poitier’s
lecture last time, you know, this thing
of with the dice that was rolled so that
somebody else would participate who normally might have
not been the first one. But you get none of that
in meeting settings. So what we started to do
with city planting project was games. And also more
people from our side there to be with people on
a closer, one-to-one basis. And what is most
interesting are the comments that come out during the
game, or in between the game. And just being closer
to them somehow opens their creativity even. And they do feel, I think,
less intimidated to participate and speak. That’s kind of the reason. The first power of your work
is the beautiful projects that are made and seen, the
people using the projects. But the second power of
the work is in each case a different or new
structure has to be made between different
people, different– You mentioned at one point
private NGOs, public, and these versions all require
their different structures to create a project. And then we saw that
the woman who had lived 60 years in that
particular barrio, so it seems to me
that these, let’s call them templates
or project structures, are themselves a design,
themselves a work, and shouldn’t be in a drawer. But somehow might
even be passed around as a kind of samizdat literature
for recreating a public city, a commons. And that’s what struck
me very strongly that you have done these, that
you have a collection of these. And in your book you
talked a little bit, you showed at the end sort of
a policy conclusion about it. Do you see it that way? Do you see that this
is material that should be circulated or made known? Yes. Thank you for that, Alex. And I feel very strongly about
the importance of dissemination and publishing in
different formats, which is why we’ve done exhibitions
and a lot of the work we’ve been doing
progressively, and then trying to get them into books. So hopefully at some
point there will be an opportunity to take these
methods as projects themselves. I very much agree
it’s very laborious. And they’ve been tested. And as we test them,
we change them. So it would be worthwhile
to record them. We have talked about this with
the last Mi Convive project. They’ve been a fantastic
counterpart to work with. And I know they’re very eager
to get this into something that is useful for others to not
reinvent the wheel always, but gain position from
adapting, or frankly, just taking some of the
strategies we’ve used. But as far as
public policy goes, it’s a moot point at this stage. There is no person to converse
with in the government right now. But there is a lot of
underground political activity going on in younger
generations, which is fantastic. People trying to do things, but
stay low-key enough to not get themselves in prison basically. And I cringe when I
think that if we– Because we have had in
the past very important, big agendas with a
lot of money behind it to do things in the city. [speaking spanish] was
billions of dollars. None of this is published,
so I can’t really say a precise figure. But before that, the
[speaking spanish],, which I mentioned, was a very
important program in the 90s that David [inaudible]
who’s teaching at U Penn, was able to put together,
and these two key architects. I don’t really coincide
with their strategies, but they did do a lot. And there were competitions
and all sorts of things. So my thought is I would hate
to not have done the groundwork to create a situation when one
comes again that is current, and not taking out of
drawers these past projects that didn’t really have
a focus that’s more in the spirit of these times. So the [speaking spanish] was
about organizing the community, and joining housing units
into a kind of a condominium structure, which has many
interesting advantages. And it was also about
taking a road through them. So relocating like 300 homes,
and things that we just know today are socially not viable. So I’m close with several of the
people that won the elections to be in Congress. That entity has since been
sort of brushed aside. but they know a lot. And so the idea is for us
to work together and have something pretty well massaged. So you mentioned you formed your
own NGO foundation last year. And I was wondering how
you see the relationship between your design firm and
your NGO in public policy, and how they inform each other. What challenges they face
individually, but also as a collective? Their relationship and how
you see a work play out in the larger environment. In many ways I
think we have been operating as what you
would conventionally associate more with an NGO. I mean research,
and exhibitions, and most of this work is
not compensated in a way that you would call it
typical of an office. So the structure is not really
any different internally in the office. But what the foundation
allows us to do is to comply with
the requirements to be able to compete for
grants and this sort of thing. I mean, the honest reason
is it’s more of a legal one. But I think also in the end
it will help us position the different projects. Because we do have some
that are more conventional. A hotel in Aruba doesn’t
really fit into this. So it would help us parcel
out the projects in a more coherent way. Thank you so much for everything
that you shared today. I was just curious. I appreciated your
provocation at the end of thinking about the need for
integration in so many cities, and the spatial
inequality that exists. And I was just curious if you
could offer some reflections on what this would look
like in the US context, or maybe in Boston,
what interventions come to mind that you
think would be effective? That’s a really good question. Well, I think, for example, that
the emerald necklace just does that in a really beautiful way. Since so many of these
neighborhoods towards the south maybe now are
gentrified, but they were, when I was here as a
student, pretty shabby places. And yet they had access
to this fantastic park. So I am not trained as
a landscape architect, but I certainly have
a whole lot more faith in those kind of strategies to
achieve integration in cities than I do others, I should say. But I’m thinking of like
the St. Louis studio that Daniel Doca is
doing, again, focused on the third ward apparently. And I was born and
raised in St. Louis, and I can say that I
actually don’t really know the structure
of the city enough to be able to say
how it would work. But I think the issue would be
to just look at its boundaries and look at what’s next to it,
and make a concerted effort to not just sort of think of
the center of those places, but really to think about
what’s going on at the hinges that it has with the next place. So that it flows, and
you don’t abruptly feel like you’re
passing from one place into another within the city. Thank you. That was incredible
and inspiring. I was thinking I’m more familiar
with colonias in Mexico City. But I was thinking
about what do you think about the role of the resources,
for instance water, that is so important as
a supply, and that falls for free from
the sky, and all this you know strategies that
make people trying to transform the urban environment
in order to harvest or make them stronger
because in fact they have– Sometimes we think that
it’s the public space, but sometimes has the
resources that they can get for free that empower
to them in energy or supplies. Very good question. There’s two sides of the water. So be more resourceful with
rainwater, for example. And I have an
example that I think does that quite well in
Mexico, in a colonia. I think that’s the one
you’re thinking of. But also just services. Often you’ll get
the question, well, why is public space important
if people don’t have access to water, or so forth? And quite frankly, in Venezuela
that, just my own experience, has made it a less important
point in terms of integration. Where I live in
Alta Mira, which is a pretty nice part of the
city, water is rationed, and we get it in the
building half an hour in the morning and half
an hour in the evening. So we’re kind of
at the same level of the rest of the
city in that respect. But there is a project in
[inaudible] in Mexico City that does just that. It’s on the lower
part of a volcano. And I don’t– [speaking spanish] [speaking spanish] Yeah. And so the thing
there that’s key is that it had a religious
organization [speaking spanish] school. And they live in the
community, and they’re very kind of progressive. So they’ve managed to,
with the community, get all these projects along
that have to do with recovering water that comes from the
volcano side into there’s not a large public space
just at the base of it that I visited, just before
going with my students actually to Oaxaca, I kind
of did a detour there. And they have been able to get
funding from the government. The government has these
participatory budgets. So if you do a really good
job presenting your project. You can get some funds
from the government. And also Deutsche Bank financed
a lot of what they did. And then they have a kind of a
demonstrative space that shows what you do with this water. So they collect it. They have cisterns. They have pumps that they
have attached to bicycles, so you just get on the
bicycle pump the water. There are a series of green
houses, agricultural fields. They have I think
it’s even a fish pond trying to show how
you could cultivate fish. It’s fantastic. And I think that
these kind of examples need to further proliferate
themselves, absolutely. Because it’s public
space but it’s didactic and it’s productive as well. And you learn to have
this different conscience about water resources. Yeah, do you know the project? No. I didn’t know the project. Do you know [speaking spanish]? No, I don’t know that one. It’s like also two students
came back, going back to Mexico and then I starting this
way like a really, really small tools to harvest
your water and purify it. And they go around,
because the government has started investing
on them, because invest more money on water trucks. Because during six months
of the year they need to– In [inaudible],, for instance,
I did a studio there, and I know people in there. So it’s interesting because
now these type of initiative for them, at least for
the Mexico government, are getting more funds. Because at the end like water
trucks are more expensive. So if you leave them kind
of water independent, you empower them to– Because the investment is
at the beginning and then you can invest in other things. The problem is that they keep
investing on moving water to there, and they have
to go and take the water and pack it and go back home. It’s incredible. [inaudible] because it’s
so related to landscape. Thank you, Elisa. This is more a comment. And I want to say that I
think we find in the world now with seemingly
insurmountable problems we’re all asking how do we fix it? And I think the answer is you. I think that what
you’ve demonstrated is that, in the face of power,
what to do is to be smarter. And so you’ve eloquently shown
how you define a problem. Because if you don’t
define the problem, we don’t understand
how to fix it. And you’ve woven a beauty
through your work too. And so I think that I’m
just excited to watch what’s going to happen. Because it’s people
like you that are going to fix the world. So thank you. [applause] So my question has to
do with the future. Here we have, as you said,
the emerald necklace, and all of the sort of
integrative landscapes that have organized so much
of the city and its culture. They also, with them
came institutions, private and public,
to protect them and to sustain them over time. How or what is going to protect
these landscapes over time so that they do continue
its job of integrating? So this is why we’re
so keen now on getting to be able to make the public
spaces with them earlier, so that we can now really
deal with the second part of the issue, which
is completely germane. And for example, the
Sucre municipality. About 10 years ago when
I first got to Venezuela, this [speaking spanish]
and his then wife were making all sorts
of public spaces inside [speaking spanish]
and designing them with the university and
a lot of paint, which I’m not such a big fan of. And one of the spaces that
we included in our program was one that was
completely abandoned. It was not working anymore,
only six years later. And this is pretty alarming. So what we found was that it
was a program the way that the– this is kind of a lot
of insider information– but the way that the
mayor was focusing on it is, I need to get
them done fast. One park is the equivalent
of a patrol car in costs. And so they need to car
and come out fast and show that we’re doing something. No attention– this is
systemic of the country, as you know– no attention
to maintenance or not even community engagement
in the process. So the project we did with them
as part of [speaking spanish] was really taking
a good deal of time to talk to the people,
what didn’t work? What is the kind of
programs that you need? Who are the people
that would come here? And then you design
the project with them. So that’s, I think,
one big guarantee. So it is exactly what
they dreamed of or hoped for with the money
constraints that we have. And that program, we just
kind of got to that point because it was such a
struggle within a year to even get to that much. So we’re looking now at
finding ways for the community to really be one-on-one,
directly associated with the project. So for example, in
the Tepellin one, I’ve been so adamant
about including greenery, because it’s just pavement,
pavement, pavement. And the neighbors don’t want it. They’re like, people
urinate in them. I don’t want a planting. And I’ve just kept
at it and kept at it. And finally we found
that the ministry has imposed on schools
to have urban huertos, urban plots of agriculture. Well, agriculture is a big word. Urban plots of our vegetables. And she doesn’t have
a place to do it. So we’re doing this
like correlation. These will be the children’s
huertos, or vegetable gardens. And we’re going to have a
name tag with every single one of the plants for the children. And they will go and
they’ll take care of them. So this is something that kind
of spontaneously occurred, but the plantings will be the
responsibility of the school to take care of and upkeep. And we just hope to
be able to find things like this that are
already somehow needs that the community
has that we’ll be able– But in a way depend
on the municipality to fund any of this,
or the government. It really has to come
from the community. We don’t have structures. Our institutions are even
weaker now, as you know. There’s a big anecdote, but– Thank you very much.

Author: Kennedi Daugherty

2 thoughts on “Elisa Silva, “Territorial inequality and the urban Cassandras of our times

  1. Amazing lecture, extremely detailed and Harvard quality too <3 I wish she didn't read her words, would have a greater impact.

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