As we know, residual urban spaces can open opportunities for public space projects. However, when such space has extraordinary features, as is the case with what remains of the La Union branch line · Lago Ranco, then we are invited to think about it from a perspective different from that of a traditional urban restoration project.
After 23 years of preliminary projects and studies − between 1905 and 1928 − on building a railway line to transport the riches offered by the area to the interior of the city of La Unión in the Los Ríos Region, the company Barriga, Wachholtz and Alessandri were finally awarded the construction of the project. The work began in 1929, and in 1937 the Río Bueno and Lago Ranco sections were completed. Although the main objective of the branch line was originally to transport cargo from the wood industry, agricultural and livestock operations, its role as passenger transport became more relevant because of how isolated its sector of operation was. The branch line allowed a link with its closest and most important cities, such as Rio Bueno and La Union, positioning itself as the only means of transportation in the area (1).
(1) Information obtained from Facebook page Pasión por los Trenes, published January 23, 2013 <https://www.facebook.com/PasionPorLosTrenes>
Little by little, the configuration of the current town of Lago Ranco took shape from the plots of land around the railway line, which appeared with the formation of the community of the same name in 1941. Following the end of the branch’s operations both for passenger and cargo transport in 1983 and 1990 respectively, the abandonment of the infrastructure on the part of the State Railway Company provoked the disappearance of the elements that formed it but not the space that had been designed and constructed for its passage.
This is how, until today, this visible space, particularly in its crossing through the town in the west-east direction, has not been occupied as a dump or left behind as often occurs with this type of fragment, but rather shows a “cared for decay.” In addition to distinguishing itself because of its wider than normal dimensions, it also stands out because of a plant cover with wild flowers and plant species that make up a special and attractive environment to be used and travelled along in the middle of the town.
As a result, the mentioned “decay” that might have been intentional on the part of the inhabitants of the village of Lago Ranco can also be understood as the seed for a potential public space that took hold, not from the perspective of the renovation of a degraded, abandoned site but from the perspective of taking advantage of the spatial conditions of an urban segment originating from the railway infrastructure together with a resurgent ecological richness. The rebirth of this site is the fruit of the local desire to treat this site differently from traditional urban renewal projects, which generally do not include the dynamics and ecological values existing here. As well, in this case it shows why the space remained without being “badly used” but rather with apparent care.
Sofia Schmidt M. is an architect from the University of Chile and holds a Master’s degree in Landscape Architecture from the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile.