Once a year, mainly during the month of February and due to a climatic phenomenon of abundant rainfall typical of the high-Andean region, the San José de Arica River overflows into the sea. This event brings with it an important amount of sediment that regulates the biological cycle of hundreds of turtles and birds that inhabit the area of the river’s mouth. In its passage through the city, as brief as a carnival, it celebrates its arrival and makes it mark.
The area of Chile’s extreme north known as the fertile coast is an extended sector characterized by streams with estuaries that cross the desert forming “oasis biomes” such as Lluta, Azapa, Vitor, Camarones, and Tana. This macro-zone is of special interest for migratory bird routes as within this zone are the points along the way for rest and feeding before and after crossing the Chilean desert.
The city of Arica is located in the last stretch of one of these oases on its way to the sea, specifically at the mouth of the San José de Azapa River. This last section of the river is a natural corridor that is not particularly noticeable; it is the “product of accumulations of cultural processes and urban needs that usually occur along with transport infrastructures, electricity easements, dismantled industrial sites and urban rivers” (1). Its passage through the city is crossed by different types of road infrastructure. First, there are two railway lines: one that covers the section of Arica-Tacna and another that covers the Arica-La Paz section. Second, there are two highways of national interest that surround the city and connect it with the closest urban centers, Tacna to the north and Iquique to the south. Finally, four streets of the urban grid and five pedestrian bridges can be distinguished along with a Bolivian oil pipeline and water sanitation services below the bridges.
(1) Karl Kullmann, “Thin Parks / Thick Edges: Towards a Linear Park Typology for (post)Infrastructural Sites,” Journal of Landscape Architecture: Jola (2011), p. 70–81.
With a total of approximately 239,000 inhabitants (in addition to a large itinerant population), Arica is the Chilean city with the lowest ratio of public space per person. What is interesting here is the possibility to rethink the relationship between the banks of the San José de Arica River and the city limits. This area should belong to the city’s public-space network, integrating its parts both along the longitudinal routes and in the transverse crossings and stopping points like tambos and canchas (2), integrating this area into a natural corridor that connects the valley of Azapa with the ocean and the city with its geography, strongly contrasted between the scarcity of water resources and the oases of the valleys.
(2) Translator’s note: Tambos were small constructions that served as outposts during the Inca Empire. Canchas were fields where herds were gathered in the time of the Incas.
At present, the urban banks of the San José River are irregularly populated and at risk of landslides during the periodic river washouts associated with the El Niño climatic phenomenon and the rains in the region’s interior, popularly known as Bolivian winter. The cycles of the river and the study of the timing involved, superimposed on the zones that are populated today, generate essential information to design an adequate relationship between the inhabitants and the landscape. This information could be used to establish a pivot, which could improve the quality of life and the connectivity of a large number of people who circulate on and inhabit the river’s banks.
The complexity of producing unity along the river lies in how to open a footprint that can connect the plots defined between the riverbank and the connecting road and transform these into places where people connect with their landscape. At the same time, it should contain the overflow and protect the city and the landscape through a correct implementation of the norms that regulate urban rivers. These norms establish natural spaces to be used exclusively as green areas and/or public spaces. To conceptualize the use of these public spaces, we must imagine that “the concept of ‘urban’ arises from a multiplicity of encounters and that multiplicity requires a certain quantity and diversity” (3).
(3) See Solà-Morales i Rubió, De Cosas Urbanas (Two Urban Things) (Barcelona: Gustavo Gili, 2008). (Translated from Spanish)
No project that aspires to reform the place will be capable of doing so while its contact with the river’s edge contributes to its deteriorated condition. Today, the lack of unity between the riverbank and the city impedes the emergence of reasonable alternatives for urban integration. The new park-wetland project at the river mouth, identified as ground zero, remains a crossing point and the beginning of a route relating culture and landscape. Its design parameters are strongly influenced by the architect and urban planner Manuel de Solà-Morales, when he points out that “in order to intervene in the contemporary city it is necessary to add, to complicate, to insist, to accumulate layer over layer, juxtaposing languages and references. Multiplying traces, although they might seem incompatible, produce unusual neighborhoods that consider both the landscape and the city” (4).
(4) See Solà-Morales i Rubió, Ciudades, Esquinas (Cities, Corners) Barcelona: Forum, 2004. (Translated from the Spanish)
Sebastian Worm is an architect of the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile (2016). The text is a translation of an extract from a thesis project with thesis advisor Arturo Lyon G.: “Reconocimiento del Borde del Río San José por Parte de la Trama Urbana de Arica”. (Recognizing the Banks of the San José River as an Urban Segment of Arica)