Since the rapid expansion of the city of Santiago in the second half of the twentieth century, apparently there is no more space for the landscape in our cities. The authors offer a response declaring obsolete and contaminated post-industrial sites as new possibilities for constructing parks. But in a local context where productive manufacturing is lacking, it is urgent to ask ourselves which sites are vacant for landscape in our contemporary city. Which places can Santiago claim or reclaim today?
In the second half of the twentieth century, Santiago experienced explosive growth in its number of inhabitants. This phenomenon became a problem when the speed of this transformation prevented the city from adapting and triggered an infrastructure crisis that we are experiencing up to the present. This infrastructure issue is not exclusively understood as limitations on pipelines for electricity and water, but as a combination of elements, resources, and services necessary for the good functioning of a city in its various areas and multiple scales. Within these areas and scales, landscape can be seen as a type of infrastructure.
The “green” infrastructure classified by planning tools as “green” areas and formed by the open spaces destined for the “natural” landscape in the city, in the form of parks, squares, and others are not unrelated to this crisis. While the WHO (World Health Organization) recommends a minimal area of 10 m2 as an ideal index for cities such as Santiago, the figure is closer to 4 m2 in our capital. Given this difference, a large part of the public discussion on green infrastructure has focused, under the environmental and quantifiable gaze of the WHO, on a problem of quantity, which has led at present to regional and metropolitan plans focusing only on this deficit. By leaving out of this argument aspects of continuity, scale and the quality of design, the citizen’s view of what this infrastructure is supposed to fulfill is simplified and greatly reduced. In relation to the scale of urban parks, in 2007 landscape architect James Corner established in the publication Large Parks that the minimum dimension required for these sites to effectively contribute to the relevant needs of the social, ecological and the symbolic is 500 acres (about 202 hectares). However, according to Corner, it is not only necessary to add meters to solve this issue, but also within these parameters, urbanites should have a context in which they can be exposed physically and mentally to a landscape composed mostly by natural elements (2).
(1) Definition of the RAE, “Infrastructure”
(2) “Foreword,” by James Corner in Czeniak & Hargreaves, Large Parks (NY: Princeton Architectural Press, 2008)
Whereas in the nineteenth century European parks were built on hunting grounds and real land, in the twentieth century parks were relegated to agricultural plots, which had been reserved on the periphery in the anticipation of further urban growth. Faced with these two ways of building landscape in the city, which are not feasible in the contemporary context, it is worth wondering what is and what will be the origin of the large format pieces for new parks and green areas in increasingly populated and extended cities. Several responses have emerged in the voices of authors such as Alan Berger and Ignasi de Solá-Morales, appealing to the fact that just as the accelerated growth of cities demands the availability of more space, this same dynamic and changing character of the contemporary city will call for responses to this demand for new parks. In fact, changes in the economic systems and the expansion of cities have led to the obsolescence of multiple sites, either because of a program that has fallen into disuse or because of incompatibility of use with respect to the immediate context. These obsolete large-scale sites in developed countries have tended to coincide with post-industrial areas, a set of dissimilar pieces in terms of morphology and function whose common denominator is having once belonged to a chain of production that is now obsolete. These sites include manufacturing sites, obsolete infrastructure for water, transport and other uses, as well as areas for waste. As these areas become obsolete and therefore vacant for new uses, they open the way to be used as landscape as is the case with Landschaftspark Duisburg-Nord in the industrial zone of the Emscher River in Germany, The High Line on an old railway line in the southern part of Manhattan, and Fresh Kills on an old sanitary landfill in Staten Island, among others.
In Santiago which has experienced a more modest and delayed industrialization than European and North American cities, the character of obsolete sites available to reclaim has been rather mixed. Sites with traces of heavy metals or petrochemicals are not typical. In contrast, in Santiago a panorama of sites can be identified that are associated with manufacturing linked by the railway ring that borders the city, agricultural areas, mainly vineyards, linked by a network of canals in the foothills of the Andes, sites along the bed of the Maipo river and other minor water courses, and limestone quarries particular to the surrounding hills. However, in Santiago despite having an evident lack of “green” infrastructure, it has not been easy to materalize projects on these sites. Reasons for this have been advanced from many angles, but from the perspective of Vittoria Di Palma, architect and author of Wasteland: a History, the reasons are contained in this condition as Wasteland: “As wild land, it resists being civilized. As useless land, it resists obligations for use. When it is desolate and sterile, it resists domestication. As common land, it resists the notion of private property and as part of a casual or domestic economy, it resists regulation and quantification” (3)
(3) Vittoria Di Palma, Wasteland, A History (NY: MIT Press, 2014)
The term, which was originally used to refer to lands made infertile by intensive agricultural use, has found new meaning in those lands abandoned by production and other post-industrial uses, according to Di Palma. It is precisely this characteristic of the wasteland, its resistance to being domesticated by the city, which allows its transformation into new parks. Its wear requires landscape architecture in dialogue with ecology to be reclaimed: actions of appropriation and resignification that we hope will gather strength in local contexts.
Paula Aguirre Brautigam. Architect (2005) and holds a Master’s degree in Landscape Architecture (2011) from the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile. Currently, she combines her independent practice in landscape architecture with teaching courses in landscape and urbanism in undergraduate and post-graduate studies at the Pontifical Catholic University and the Diego Portales University.