By Maria M. Mur |
Santiago de Chile, (EFE).- Plaza Italia, the mythical roundabout in the center of Santiago, emblem of urban segregation and epicenter of the social outbreak of 2019, has its days numbered: a million-dollar project seeks to redesign the deteriorated area, but without “forget” its great symbolic charge.
Gone are those years of the last century when Plaza Italia, renamed Plaza Dignidad by protesters, was the pride of the city, with leafy trees and majestic buildings nearby.
Today, both the crowded roundabout and the neighboring Alameda, the main artery of the capital, look very different.
«The state of our Alameda is unfortunate. It is dirty, painted, full of tents and street vendors and very unsafe. Today, more than motivating the pride of Santiago, it motivates sadness and hopelessness,” the governor of the Metropolitan Region, Claudio Orrego, told EFE.
Orrego, one of the main promoters of the project, explained that a large esplanade will be built in the place of the square, where a third of the people of Santiago pass every day, because the objective is to “prioritize pedestrians over vehicles.”
Above or below Plaza Italia?
Plaza Italia became known worldwide in October 2019, when Chile was experiencing the most serious wave of protests since the end of the dictatorship (1973-1990) in favor of better basic services.
But that “social outbreak,” Orrego pointed out, “is just one more chapter” in its history.
The triumph of the “no” to the continuity of the dictator Augusto Pinochet in the plebiscite of 1988, Chile’s third place in the 1962 World Cup or the student marches of 2006 and 2011 are other of its milestones.
“Like many large squares such as Taksim in Istanbul, the Martyrs in Beirut or Puerta del Sol in Madrid, Plaza Italia is our place of commemoration,” Pablo Allard, dean of the Faculty of Architecture at the Universidad del Desarrollo, told EFE. .
In the Chilean imaginary, the roundabout is also the invisible border between the rich and poor neighborhoods of Santiago, and it is common for residents of the capital to locate places based on whether they are “above or below Plaza Italia.”
The expression, according to Allard, was born at the end of the 19th century, when the city began to expand and the upper classes began to leave the center.
His future disappearance is, in some way, an attempt to overcome inequality in Chile, one of the countries with the worst data in the region.
«One of the main accelerators of the reduction of inequality is the city, public space and infrastructure. And this project has a very clear objective in that sense,” the Chilean Minister of Public Works, Juan Carlos García, told EFE.
What is the project about?
Initially devised in 2014, the project was put in a drawer by former President Sebastián Piñera (2018-2022) and now recovered thanks to an alliance between the central and regional governments (of different political persuasions), as well as different municipalities.
“The objective is to create together (a) better quality of life, cleaner, more illuminated and safer public spaces, which we know is the priority of our citizens,” said the president, Gabriel Boric, on December 26 during the relaunch official of the plan known as “Nueva Alameda Providencia”.
With a budget of 151,200 million pesos (140 million dollars), the initiative contemplates the construction in three years of a 24-kilometre cycle path, the connection of the neighboring Forestal, Balmaceda and Bustamante parks and the improvement of facades and sidewalks.
The project, not without controversy, has also had “an unprecedented citizen participation process,” according to Allard, who was a member of a technical panel that validated the plan.
Although all the institutions agree on redesigning the area without “forgetting” its symbology, the great challenge now is to find a way to reflect what was experienced here three years ago: a social earthquake unparalleled in democracy, from which the country is unaware. has recovered and that different political and social sensibilities interpret divergently.
For some, it was a rebellion in search of dignity, which caused some thirty deaths and a lot of pain and meant a change in the future of the country.
For others, on the other hand, it was a violent, almost criminal movement, which constitutes a “black page” of history that must be erased.
“You have to do it democratically. It cannot be that a small group imposes its way of interpreting history on a majority,” Orrego urged.