During the government of President Sebastián Piñera, the development of a river park project on the banks of the Mapocho River was insisted upon to fulfill a campaign promise − or a populist fantasy: make the Mapocho a navigable river despite its turbulent character and inconstant flow. Then, despite a low-profile inauguration at the PR level, but with massive popular attendance, the gates of the Renato Poblete River Park were opened on January 9, 2015 (1).
(1) See www.emol.com, January 21, 2015 (seen on March 18, 2015), <http://www.emol.com/noticias/nacional/2015/01/21/700284/minvu-abrio-parque-fluvial-renato-poblete-en-quinta-normal.html>
If we analyze the park and its elements based on the concepts presented in the “Re-Placing Process” essay by Anita Berrizbeitia, an academic in the Master’s Program in Landscape Architecture at Harvard University (2), we should consider the notion of process as a fundamental dynamic condition in the design of contemporary parks. Process, according to Berrizbeitia, refers not only to what changes in time in a visible way, but also to those economic, demographic and ecological transformations that have influenced and will act upon the history of the site where the urban park is located. In this sense, and under the lens of the assessment of the history and the preexistence of a site, I propose that the Renato Poblete Park, rather than being of a river character, is one that establishes relations with the existing landscape and with the dynamics of our society’s use.
(2) Anita Berrizbeitia. “Re-Placing Process” in Julia Czerniak and Georges Hargreaves (eds.), Large Parks (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2007), 174-97.
In the first place, in the understanding of the project as an aquatic element, the constructed calm lagoon manifests itself as an irreverent response to the snowy character and high slopes of our Mapocho. A relationship of contrast is generated with a river that by its walls and artificial falls is far from a “natural” condition and even has an industrial appearance. In turn, the border created by the small hills of the park turns its back on the original course, taking away from the lagoon the sense of belonging to the river that gives rise to it.
Second, understanding the park from the topography enriches the concept as one that includes territorial and cultural dynamics. I say this because, independent of its faceted geometry of triangles that reminds us of the cardboard models characteristic of the architecture workshops, the topography in this park is an intelligent answer to achieve a multiplication of paths, views and verdant ground cover. As a small artificial island hill that protrudes from the valley, the project communicates visually with Renca Hill and the distant high peaks, increasing the relationship of the site with the existing landscape in its role as viewpoint.
Finally, regarding the selection of the vegetation on these slopes, the use of ground cover and low shrubs is rescued, which operates in an integrated way making it difficult for visitors to leave the established route and which in turn supports the care and stability of the vegetation. The dynamics of seasonal color change are also incorporated in the choice of plants that bloom or transform the color of their foliage. As a criticism, we could talk about the non-consideration of sun light for generating slopes with specific vegetation and that the distribution of species in triangular areas tends to create monoculture, an ecological practice not recommended in terms of biodiversity and care of the soil stratum. Despite the above, there is a value in differentiating between surfaces for trails and those that are off-limits to foot traffic, facilitating the use and maintenance of the place. In sum and in contrast, hard pavements, grass and gravel are positively transformed into the intensively used interior sectors of this large recreational open area.
Beyond the analysis based on the large elements of the park, one thing is unquestionable: as an urban infrastructure, and like the Parque Forestal of 1910, the Renato Poblete River Park revitalizes a section of the Mapocho riverbank in a critical state, incorporating an artificial water pond as the element of main attraction. And although it is very pleasant to observe a lagoon and receive the freshness of the air currents that cross the new hills, we know, like the children we once were, that the most entertaining for a good frolic are definitely the spray pools and the grassy slopes that can be rolled down.