Thoughts on the Future Growth of Buenaventura
Buenaventura is now at a pivotal moment. The City Hall and Chamber of Commerce already have plans to build a malecon
, or beach-front esplanade, once people relocate from the land currently occupied by the comunas. Officials hope this new public space will encourage more hotel construction, strengthening the local tourism industry and associated tax revenue. Currently Buenaventura has only a couple of hotels, and most tourists bypass the city completely, heading instead to nearby ecological preserves. The relocated households will be compensated with new and better housing and services. Authorities also hope that an engineered waterfront will make Buenaventura’s shores easier to police, reducing drug trafficking and related violent crime.
This sort of effort to formalize the city appears to be a win-win scenario — until one considers that the relocated community will be geographically remote from existing infrastructure and city center jobs. The proposed relocation distances citizens not only from familiar settings but also from the employment opportunities and commercial networks that support their traditions and ways of living. Commercial fishing will prove more difficult and more expensive, given that the new wharves will be located almost 4 miles from the ocean. The move inland will also mean a loss of individuality: the new single-family, suburban-style houses will all look identical from the exterior. Despite the good intentions on the part of the architects and bureaucrats who designed the project, there is the real and troubling possibility that the new development will become an economic ghetto, a community on the periphery of the periphery, and consequently all too easy to ignore.
Yet the comunas cannot remain as they are now, endangered by inadequate infrastructure and criminal activity. Perhaps some solutions to Buenaventura’s troubles might be found in another infamous Colombian city: Medellin. There city officials decided that razing the comunas and moving citizens into shiny new ghettos was not the answer. Instead they deployed what you might call urban acupuncture, strategically upgrading slums and adding infrastructure. In one case the city commissioned Colombian architect Giancarlo Mazzanti to design a new library and community center for the comunas high up on the hills surrounding Medellin. The area around the library was transformed into a plaza, allowing the city to outfit nearby homes with public utility lines. The library was even linked to the larger public transportation system with the use of a cable cart that takes residents of the comuna to the city-wide metro system. Collectively these operations resulted in a dramatic improvement of what had been some of the most dangerous comunas in the country. Today tourists are not only flocking back to Medellin but also to its comunas, thus strengthening the city’s economy.
Buenaventura is now in search of paradigms for weaving together the socioeconomic threads of its urban fabric. Current plans threaten to further divide the city's geographies and demographics. Alternatively, Buenaventura could learn from the innovations of Colombian cities that have eased the troubles of their comunas not by relocating them but by tactically re-stitching them back into the city fabric using the tools of architecture, landscape architecture and urban design.