In today’s column, two of our members offer their visions about the voting on October 21, in which it was finally decided not to develop the Crystal Lagoon in the well-known Padre Hurtado Park. Romy Hecht responds to the idea that Padre Hurtado Park will be “natural” and Camila Medina questions the frustrated project and its proposal of a crystalline idyll.
A Natural Park? by Romy Hecht M.
For the last week, the Mayor of Las Condes, Joaquín Lavín, has suggested that citizens could choose between two options regarding the plan for improvement of Padre Hurtado Park: have an artificial lagoon or choose a natural park. After the vote, in which the alternative without a lagoon obtained an overwhelming 72.5%, I think it is pertinent to discuss the issue more deeply – specifically, what it means to create and maintain landscape projects that are not natural.
The site where Padre Hurtado Park is located was part of the Santa Rosa de Apoquindo farm, historically dedicated to wheat production and irrigated by the San Ramón and Las Perdices canals, which shaped the streets of Valenzuela Llanos and Padre Hurtado, respectively. Although its purchase was made in 1967, Marta Viveros was commissioned only in 1993 to convert the space to a public park, whose east end was never executed. Instead, the east end was used for sanitary landfills and for extraction of aggregates for construction, activities that have impeded the planting of trees with deep roots and have impoverished the soil.
The maintenance of the design qualities of public parks depends on the existence of a structure not only with the adequate knowledge to administer and develop the park over time, but with sufficient autonomy to avoid transforming the space due to different cultural agendas, populist decisions, budget constraints and unbalanced alliances between public and private interests. Faced with this panorama, where in the design discussion about the improvement of Padre Hurtado Park is the intent to access social integration? And at what point did we decide that private investment was the wrong mechanism for the restoration and regeneration of a project damaged by inadequate and uncontrolled intervention by the authorities in control at the time or by the companies that obtained the contracts for maintenance?
When in 1841 the Government acquired a 23-hectare plot of land to create the Quinta Normal of Agriculture, they established a site for the acclimatization of species and the teaching of agricultural techniques in this space, which would eventually be expanded to 132 hectares in size. This became a model of criteria for planning and organization of open spaces in the central valley. However, as of 1927, when agriculture ceased to be a key to the national economy, all the cultivated properties of the Quinta were ceded to public institutions (the Ministries of the Navy, Defense and Foreign Affairs, the universities of Chile and Technical School of the State, the National Board of Children and the Housing Fund, among others), which in turn sold the lands freely ceded so that today this space is reduced to an area of 37 hectares.
Then, perhaps it would be more relevant to dedicate some time to the definition of the improvement project of the Padre Hurtado Park as an opportunity to articulate relationships between infrastructure, use programs, imagined urban futures, and a possible solution to problems defined as public. And for this, first it is necessary to have a good design.
Romy Hecht Marchant. Academic and Researcher, School of Architecture, Pontifical Catholic University of Chile. Project Manager, Corporación Cultura de Paisaje en Chile (Corporation for Landscape Culture in Chile).
The Crystalline Idyll Fallacy, by Camila Medina N.
Padre Hurtado Park will not have a crystalline lagoon. The Andean foothills of Santiago will not have its Caribbean beach, nor its Valdivian jungle, perpetual ice or a southern pampa. Although the reasons why voters opted against the development of the Crystal Lagoon project for the well-known park in the foothills of Santiago were diverse, some exaggerated and others erroneous, in this brief commentary arguments are presented through which we can consider that the citizen response was correct.
To that end, I would like to dwell on two brief observations. The first is about the crystalline lagoon as an inert system that abhors the organic with its aim to construct an “idyllic” image of turquoise waters. Indeed, part of the system involves reducing the organic elements to the maximum, specifically those that can decompose within the large pool, to thus reduce the use of chemicals. To do this, the trees must be moved away from the pool and with these the insects and the mosses, leaving around the pool only the scenographic aspect of the landscape. Crystalline, in this case, means maximum control. This would imply not accepting the intrinsically dynamic character of the natural elements of the site, granting merely economic benefits to the park as a system. The lagoon does not need its location more than sunlight; it is a fragment foreign to its context that functions as a hermetic enclosure.
According to Anita Berrizbeitia landscape architecture theorist and professor at Harvard, the project of a large urban park has to methodologically consider a design that embraces the notion of process, considering both geological and cultural history. Observing not only the past, but also considering the future, the design should anticipate changes to offer not only an ecosystemic service but also a place which will be memorable over time. From this idea of process, the second observation arises with respect to how this inert system is also not particularly flexible or adaptable over time. As a summer pool, it could be open for four months of the year and in winter, empty of program, its turquoise colors would stand out dissociated from the chromatics of cloudy cordilleran blues, native dark greens and the browns of leafless branches. In this context, the crystalline lagoon is an alien and mono-functional beach. The image as an idyll is transformed into a static and merely visual scene.
In spite of the above, the discussions that arose from the controversy re-established a relevant debate associated with the value of contemporary landscape. Through citizen discussion, a concern for public parks has been demonstrated from administrative sectors, bringing up processes of participation, considering economic, social and ecological aspects among others. This is relevant because it reflects the value that is given − or that intends to be given − to landscape, as an urban infrastructure of natural systems, advancing beyond its aesthetic appreciation. Despite some disinformation, possibly the active presence of topics about landscape and the city in social networks and an increase in environmental awareness in the national context were what achieved the rejection of the Crystalline Lagoon Project by 72.5% of the voters. Let us hope the improvement plan is really an opportunity to project a maintenance plan coordinated with a responsible vision of landscape, considering its history and ecological contribution, and not pressured by political forces that yearn to cut ribbons or isolated private investments unrelated to the history of the site and its possibility to be part of the natural foothills system to which it belongs.
Camila Medina Novoa. Academic, Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, Diego Portales University, and Finis Terrae University. Independent Landscape Architect. General Editor LOFscapes 2017-2018.