One of the things we in the left and international media rarely talk about is recuperation of spaces. We had two separate days on this matter on how recuperated public spaces in one municipality in Caracas. Recuperation in Venezuelan plazas, theaters and parks are done holistically and with close consultation with the communities (including people in the barrios).
We, the brigadistas met the Libertador Mayor’s Office representatives to get a good understanding of the implementation of recuperated public spaces. We were accompanied by architects and urban planners who were involved in this grand scheme. The current push of recuperation of public spaces is not merely restoring the glories of the original spaces but creating new spaces for the communities. For example, identifying gaps within communities such as lack of sports centres.
For this part of city travel, we were shown areas where spaces are restored to former glory. Just outside the Libertador Mayor’s Office lies Venezuela most important square – Plaza Bolivar. Once a dangerous place, today it is fully recovered and a hub of many activities (listening to speeches or just enjoying the company of people). We even saw the Plaza being crowded with people after 8 pm and surprisingly it was safe. Another example was Plaza Diego Ibarra, plaza just in front of Election Commission building (CNE). Once a place of informal markets and insecurity, today the space is clean and host music festivals (the time we traveled, Caracas was hosting Suena Caracas – week long music festival).
In Caracas, there is a famous Municipal theater and it is great example of recuperated public spaces. Built in late 1800s, under President Guzman Blanco, it mimicked the glories of European culture and a centre of perfromances. Over the years, the theatre has grown and shrunk and had good and bad times. However, at one point, theatre became a warehouse for street sellers and the its own glory is not being respected. This municipality organized a rescue and today, it is centre of performances and political meetings for the government. The beauty and past glory has been restored to this theatre
Parque El Calvario is located on hilly area and provide a good respite from the chaos and busyness of Caracas. It was once a private estate of rich person and the park structures are designed to European influence of the heydays in Venezuela. Over time, this park got neglected and became dangerous area. Criminals use the park as a transit from the city to the surrounding barrios to run away from the police. Hence, no one dares to go to this dilapidated park. Being a public space potential, the municipality organized a rescue of the park and its former glory has been fully restored. The park has huge entrance arch, hidden aqueduct and fully restored gazebo. This park today has 50-60 tree species and centre of many activities. A mini manual bus takes visitors from the base to the park centre. The winding roads and other lookout point give vistitors very good views of Caracas. While the initial focus of the park was towards European culture, one of the statues found in the park displayed Indigenous resistance leader. (Current Venezuelan government making initatives to includes the role of Indigenous people in society – historically they were excluded)
Up to 5th December 2014, there are 70 ongoing recuperation public space projects in Libertador. Recently, Caracas manage to recover 1.2 million square metres of public spaces, that is literally half of the size of Libertador municipality.
TIUNA EL FUERTE
Tiuna El Fuerte is a name play of the nearby military barracks of Fuerte Tiuna. It was a former parking lot, sandwiched by two roads and close to rough barrios ( neighborhood) in southern Caracas.
The community nearby felt that they want to transform this parking lot as center of culture. (I shall put a YouTube link to understand the context). They used abandoned shipping containers to transform the area. Today, the containers are home to the offices, music studio and tattoo studio.
The containers and some walls are fully painted with graffitis – expression of creativity of the artists of the barrio and elsewhere. Even the toilets are housed in the containers and fully painted with graffiti- yes even the urinal bowls
They modified some areas to have ‘underground’ amphitheater and multi level seating areas to watch shows.
In some containers, we saw people doing graphic design for clothing production. This Cultural Park – Tiuna El Fuerte- is home to many musical shows, performances, centers of learning (i.e. rap)and political planning. There are many collectives who have many specialities which bring life to area. Since everything us done collectively here, they have a room dedicated to a general Assembly where decisions are made for the park. Since Venezuela is transitioning from representative to participatory democracy, communities around park has communal councils- local democracy. The park has made available the containers for communal councils to hold meetings
Since it us hot and humid in Caracas, shipping containers are not ideal place to be in. They modified most of the interiors of the containers to have utility connections, computers and air conditioning. However, they have embarked the process of making the park ecologically friendly place. They have a small urban agriculture – planting various vegetables. Not only that, this also provides clean air in polluted city. They have explored of adding plants across the containers to cool down the interiors. The plan is to do away with air conditioners.
We visited a music studio and met one of the founders of the Tiuna El Fuerte. He showed the transformed container to a decent music studio. It was built donations from private company and others. It provides opportunity to poor people to access previously excluded music recording services. They only charge 1/6 of the market price of usage of the studio!
People working there has mentioned us that they want to be self sufficient in managing the park and not dependent on the government. The Chavista municipality do support initiative. To do so, they sell their own clothes- with in house graphic design, concert tickets etc. However, I want to stress something important.
This is Not Profit Driven institution. The monies from own works in the park and donations here are meant to sustain the park. I give you an example. Not only they do in house graphic design, the park graphic designers actively educate the outside community in how to do graphic design and make own clothes. It is breaking the logic of patents and copyrights.
There are couple of challenges. First, the land status of the property. They are working towards to a complete title deed of the property. Secondly, threat of Metropolitan Mayor. Caracas has 4-5 municipalities and Metropolitan Mayor oversee the five municipalities. It just happened the position is held by opposition. The Opposition Mayor wanted to kick off the Park and the project and replace with a Supermarket.
The community took over the Metropolitan Mayor office and painted the graffiti over the building. The Mayor backed off and did not touch them since. Hence, the need of complete title is important to avoid this eviction style issue in future.
All in all, I realize the importance of defending the revolution. The revolution makes these projects possible.
Some of the photos are credited to one of our brigadista