This register seeks to contrast the quality and accessibility of public space and green areas in different communities of Santiago’s metropolitan area. The aim is to demonstrate the direct relationship between the socioeconomic status of a neighborhood’s inhabitants and the qualities of the urban environment to which those inhabitants have access. Likewise, we insist that, although in the communities with higher income there are more green areas, this is not necessarily a common good, but rather private, exclusive and excluding.
In Chile, the basic administrative unit in which territory is subdivided, both rural and urban, is the “comuna” (1). These comunas can propose their own urban policies and must at the same time finance themselves through their property taxes, vehicle registration, and business licenses. Due to the above, comunas with a predominantly low-income population collect few resources through traditional channels. These resources are mainly destined to the more urgent issues such as security, health, and housing which leaves public space and the quality of that space low on the list of priorities. In the absence of planning instruments that are responsible for designing and maintaining the urban environment on a metropolitan scale, the relationship between the quality of green spaces and the income of inhabitants of each comuna is directly proportional.
(1) Translator’s note: the comuna can be understood more or less as a neighborhood but with the status of a municipality.
In 2017 within the framework of the project “City for All,” the Public Policy Center of the Catholic University published an executive summary of the Roundtable on Green Areas aimed at measuring the quality of urban life in Chile (2). This summary showed the results of a national register in which the contrast in green areas by comuna, quantity of inhabitants, and income level was revealed. The results confirmed the aforementioned: the poorest comunas were those that had the least number of square meters of vegetation per person. In the case of Santiago, this situation is especially clear. In Santiago, composed of more than 30 comunas, each with its own municipal regulatory plan and most easily classified according to the socioeconomic status of its residents, the differences between the quality of its public spaces and green areas are many and marked. When flying from Santiago from the West to the East, you can see how as we approach the mountains, the vegetation increases in quantity and quality. However, once we cross the threshold of the center of the city, Plaza Italia and the Metropolitan Park, the quantity of public green areas is diminished and the bulk of what is green is increasingly concentrated inside private enclosures.
(2) Centro de Políticas Públicas UC. Centro for Public Policy UC, Resumen Ejecutivo Mesa de Áreas Verdes. Ciudad con Todos. (Executive Summary for Roundtable on Green Areas. City for All). Santiago, Chile. 2017
Santiago not only has a major problem with respect to the number of square meters of green areas per inhabitant according to comuna, but also in relation to its accessibility. The large metropolitan parks are still far from the poorest comunas and the immediate surroundings of those poor comunas will not improve until the way of administering them improves. The right to shade and moisture, order and cleanliness, should be an integral part of large-scale urban policies. However, if we maintain the current clumsy and fragmentary administrative structure for our cities, it is difficult to imagine a future in which public agencies can coordinate important efforts to balance this situation.
Juan Francisco Guzmán. Architect, Pontifical Catholic University, partner of PLANTA, producer dedicated to registering and documenting audiovisual urban and territorial phenomena.