GFRY Chile Trip

We returned today from a long, politically- and emotionally-charged week in Chile. The result appears to be a significantly reduced role for our initial partner and sponsor in Chile (Reconstruye) and an introduction to another group (Surmaule) for what has been reframed as an academic exercise. This is disappointing because there is so much we could do for them as designers.

Walk through almost any neighborhood in Talca and you see completely leveled buildings next to standing ones. Shacks called mediaguas spring up in patches like mushrooms after a storm. A year later, people are still living in these shacks that take up very little of their actual land. Walls of roofing steel, aluminum siding and any wood scraps cordon off sidewalks from property lines. Chains and double locks maintain the illusion of security. Visit a small collective. The pool overflows with muddy rain water. An inflated shark pool toy leans against the wall as a reminder of things before the earthquake. A toilet seat balanced on a bucket becomes an outhouse. Each day the someone steals water from a fire hydrant to sanitize the family. A little girl looks fragile and frightened. She pokes at the pile of dirt and rubble with a stick.

Some of us cried at the neighborhood meeting in Seminario before taking the tour. What we saw was a shocking reality. How could the Chilean government leave its people in these conditions? A major part of the problem are the laws which allow only one home per family and landowner. Those that had multiple homes or condo units were entitled to only one mediagua and one reconstructed home on the city outskirts in exchange for their more valuable centrally-located land. This left several classes homeless: renters who faced rising rent in the face of diminished supply, those who lived on land inherited but did not have the paperwork to prove it, and those who through other legal reasons such as separation without divorce were unable to file a “legitimate” claim. As a result, large buildings that once housed several families are reduced to two room shacks. For many, “cramped” is an understatement.

Reconstruye’s approach for integrated social housing seems humane albeit difficult to execute. They find landowners that give up the vertical space on their land in exchange for construction that other tenants finance. By building higher, a finite amount of land can accommodate more families within their respective neighborhoods.

Beyond the architectural concerns are the psychosocial concerns. The people of Talca feel betrayed by the federal government and its local appointees. Many voiced identical sentiments to what one woman in Paso Mayo said, “I’m never going to forget it (the earthquake). It’s a psychological trauma that will remain for many years. The only thing keeping me going is my brother and his business.” Children have been similarly affected. Some remain in a fight-or-flight state. “My 12 year old girl used to get good grades but now she’s fallen from a 6.1 to 4.5 in school. Each aftershock causes her to lose control. My other child, a toddler, everything scares her now.”

There is a playground in the city center, but outside of that area, there is little for children to do in their free time. Older children sit around talking in the green areas, but younger ones kick rocks and visitor guides for entertainment. After school, they are shipped home in yellow minivans (which are privately contracted by parents). Once home, there is little to do. Community centers are bare and provide only a roof and wobbly chairs for adults to talk about reconstruction efforts. The central park area is too far away for a child aged 5-8 to wander towards alone. In addition to the stresses of changing schools and making new friends, children retire to crowded realities in undivided rooms they must share with their parents and other siblings.

While I remain interested in the idea of a mobile playground, it seems that a lack of funding and the relabeling of our work as an academic exercise may change priorities. The need is there. We received positive feedback from almost everyone we spoke to about it. But Surmaule doesn’t want to raise the hopes of the people as other universities have without delivering tangible results. Bottom line: we need to regroup.

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  1. I go to college in Canada and we just now are learning
    about this in our class. Thanks for helping me with the last little bit
    of my report.

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