The urban stretch of the Mapocho River has undergone a series of transformations, both in its course and in the public space associated with its banks, to become a landmark for Santiago. However, in its rural section, the high presence of landfills and shantytown encampments on its banks have caused a loss of cultural value and resulted in an element of stigma for the banks’ inhabitants.
Over its 110 kilometers, the Mapocho River flows down from the Andes mountain range to the Maipo River, and along the way, passes through 16 communities. Along its urban stretch between Lo Barnechea and Pudahuel, the river is channeled with widths that vary between 42 and 65 meters. In this sector, the River has been part of the city experience through a system of public parks on its banks, where the relationship between river and city was established early, on a border constructed as a topographic distance between recreation areas and riverbed. Meanwhile, in its rural segment − between Maipú and El Monte − the river does not have canals and its width varies between 200 and 500 meters, forming quite a different landscape. Since the beginning of the twentieth century, this segment has been appropriated by inhabitants as a series of hidden rustic family resorts along the banks. However, as a result of pollution, the segment has been marginalized over the last decades. This situation has begun to be reversed thanks to improvements in sanitation.
The proximity of the river to the urban area in rural communities, together with the size of the banks, has been decisive in establishing different types of relationships and interactions between the inhabitants and the river. The fact that the Mapocho is not channeled has made it possible to establish different degrees of use and occupation, which to a large extent has marked the nature of water use and the comings and goings of the banks’ inhabitants. The collective imagination constructed by this daily life is associated with the diversity of the landscape elements of river, estuary, lagoon, and pool. The most memorable are the El Trapiche rustic family resort in Peñaflor and the swimming holes La Turbina, El Paraíso and Yamil in El Monte. The community of Talagante has had a long relationship with the Mapocho since the town’s inception. The stories about this area as a rustic riverfront retreat date back to 1920 and onwards, and in the observations such as “in the summer, families were looking for leisure and recreation on the banks of the river. There were years in which even the municipality was concerned enough to install a shelter so that families could weather the intense heat. Here was the genesis of the deep-rooted custom of bathing under the train’s viaduct”(1). Later, in the fifties, a pool was built under the railway bridge, which also contributed to tourism in this community. Small hotels were opened to accommodate the tourists. Several restaurants were installed to attend the large number of people who visited on the weekends. This popular recreational area was embedded in the memory of the people of Talagante, and with a special fondness remembered by a group of divers who in the 50s and 60s jumped into the pool from the railroad bridge. Unfortunately the contamination of the waters and a general deterioration of the area’s qualities caused these popular rustic resorts to close, since many operated using the river’s water or were located directly on it.
(1) Hernán Bustos Valdivia, Historia de Talagante (History of Talagante) (Talagante: I. Municipalidad de Talagante, 2008).
Today, all the waters of the river are healthy, and thanks to this, it has been possible to rescue a series of public spaces along its banks in the form of parks, pedestrian paths along the riverbed, and riverside walkways. In spite of the above, the river continues to be victim to unscrupulous groups of people who profit from its banks, establishing recreational camps, areas of extraction of sand and gravel (aggregate), and a large number of illegal dumping grounds, making parts of it inaccessible and hiding its landscape. As a result, the community far from its banks has begun to forget its existence, causing some ecological deterioration.
To reverse this situation, we formed the Frente de Rio (2) (Riverfront Association) whose main objective is to create the Rio Mapocho Talagante Park, mentioned in the metropolitan area plan (3) and also in the municipal plan of Talagante (4). Currently we believe it is possible to recover the river and make it part of the natural and cultural heritage of the community. Field observations have provided a different vision than what some still see as a contaminated area with bad odors and general decay. We can verify that in this section, there are natural and scenic attributes that could be valuable and favorable for a recreational project. Then, reclaiming and rescuing the Mapocho Rural area for its riverside inhabitants is a process that is both cultural and ecological. Objectives for this process of reclaiming and rescuing the sector include making the river visible again, educating the neighboring communities about the sector’s flora, fauna and history, and making it possible to reestablish a link with the sector to activate it and make it again part of everyday life. This will be fundamental so that it again acquires value, and this vision can be made real.
(2) Frente de Rio is a non-profit organization that works with its own and independent conviction to contribute to the conservation of natural and cultural heritage of Talagante’s riverside landscape, favoring responsible and integral development for its communities. Our goal is to change the way the Mapocho River is perceived and valued by its inhabitants. Using strategies capable of integrating, visualizing, and valuing the river’s banks in such a way that the relationship between the river and the community is reassessed, revalued, and reconnected to recover the vision that was once strong in the Talagante community.
Yohanna Carvajal Rojas. Architect with a Master’s degree in Landscape Architecture from the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile(2017). Currently she is working as Territorial Advisor M42K-Aguas Abajo in the M42K_Lab Platform and as member of the Riverfront Association of Talagante, whose main objective is to contribute to the conservation of the natural and cultural heritage of the Riverside Landscape of the community. Her main professional interest is to assign value to cultural landscapes as a way of revaluing these places and contexts to strengthen the identity that defines them.