The RUS. Lima project was made by Basurama in 2010. It consisted in a playground for the Surquillo district, in Lima. The main objective was to revitalize an abandoned space under the Electric Train infrastructure, that was abandoned unfinished since 25 years before.
The playground was unusual because of its artistic personality, and also because of the criticism that it had behind itself, which transmitted messages about the usurpation of public spaces by private transport.
The project lasted only 2 weeks, because the council removed it for building definitely the infrastructure, which today is operating.
Lima has 7,605,742 people and a density of 2,854 inhabitants/km2 (2007). This city concentrates the politic and economic power of Peru, as well as a great part of the population. This situation has affected enormously in the basic services of the city, which now are obsolete. One of those services is the public transport.
The RUS. Lima project was located in Surquillo, a district with a strong industry and commerce due to the internal highways. However, it has some problems about hygiene and ornament, and it has a lack of parks.
The intervention was located in the unfinished Electric Train infrastructure in the Surquillo area, in the cross of Angamos and Aviación avenues concretely. In this location stands out the National Institute of Neoplastic Illnesses, that is next to the railway; and the malls Metro and Real Plaza, which are next to the Coliseo Eduardo Dibos. For the rest, the neighbourhood is mainly residential and with a medium-high socioeconomic level.
Lima is a city focused to cars instead of pedestrians. The strong infrastructures take a big part of the territory, so the public space is mainly residual and is also deteriorated. To understand the bad situation of public transport and why it can’t compete with private transport we have to know the mobility situation of Lima.
During the XX century Peru has been governed by democratic and dictatorial regimes. Those strong changes between those regimes, and the fact that governments were moved by electoral interests, affected the urban development of the city. Economic matters become into a priority instead of sustainability and social matters, so the city was being thinking in short term, what was important was the current moment of each government .
After 1968 the public transport was privatized and the government become into a mere moderator. In this sense the public transport starts having only business goals rather than be conceived as a social service.
About the Electric Train project, his story goes here: in the first half century Lima used only buses and trams. In 1965 the tram service was stop because it became into a not competitive service compared with buses, so the infrastructure was dismantle and new ways for vehicles were created instead of the previous infrastructure. But those ways weren’t able to satisfy the transport necessity in Lima. To solve this transport problem the Electric Train was conceived as a good solution, and the project began to be constructed, but because of economic and management problems the project was delayed. So, governments continued promoting huge private transport projects.
Finally, at the end of 2009 the construction of the Electric Train resumed and in 2.012 the first 22km of the project was in service.
In this context there are two different population groups. On the one hand there are the politicians, who weren’t interested in the public transport but in the private because of economic matters, in the other hand there are the neighbors, who couldn’t enjoy the public space since the car infrastructure colonized every public space. But in this last group we have to differentiate the children for the rest, because they are more vulnerable for the problematic, and they only can stay in their homes because there is not public space to enjoy, or its quality is awful.
To sum up we will distinguish two more groups that are quite different, the first ones are artist, who collaborated in the RUS. Lima project because they are absolutely against of the city mobility model. The other group is traders, who are against the mobility model because it damages a lot their business instead of malls, who are beneficiated. That’s because the current mobility program and the lack of public space encourage the car transportation instead of pedestrian mobility, so the business area of shops becomes into a not attractive and not visited area, affecting absolutely in the sales.
- Mobility vs. public space
Lima had a huge population growth in the last decades that supposed a mobility problem that was tried to be solved with private transport infrastructures within the city. But, the mobility question was very complex, and even with enormous infrastructures it was not enough to guarantee the population movements in the city. The fact is that building those infrastructures the public space have almost disappear, or at least its quality has decrease a lot, affecting to the living quality of the population. The public space it’s now abandoned and degraded because walking in the street it’s dangerous and harmful for the health because of acoustic and air contamination.
So the idea is that in order to solve the mobility problem another problem was created: the public space problem; that seems not less important, because nowadays the living experience of people stay in their homes, in the shopping centres and in the workplace, but not in the city itself.
It’s a very complex controversy because solving the mobility for 7 million people it’s not really easy, but if the idea is to let the public space be an important part of the city the mobility system must be different to the current, which works for cars and buses, a not very efficient way to move here.
But, to not generalize the controversy for the whole city, we will concentrate in the RUS Lima project area. So, knowing now the problem we will describe more precisely the different elements that live together in the area and which are related with the controversy. So, first of all we have the Aviación avenue, that with 8 lanes it can’t host all the traffic. It’s the main focus of the pollution, noise and insecurity. Other elements are the green areas, there are not too much, but the existing ones are fenced, so they don’t work like public space and don’t connect neighbourhood too. Other element is the Electric Train, unfinished since 25 years before. It was a framework with no use, but people who had to visit the hospital waited under it shadow, and because the ground had grass not being a public space it was not so uncomfortable.
This situation shows clearly the bad situation of public space in the city, because a not public space it’s used like a public space despite all the contamination of the place, but it shows too that the public space matter is as relevant as the mobility question.
- Public transport vs. private transport
One of the most important controversies in Lima is about the mobility politics. Since the second part of the last century the governments have bet on the private transport, and public transport only was used for electoral uses. As a consequence of that the city is very contaminated today, and the streets are very insecure for neighbours too, affecting to the living quality.
The public transport could give an alternative and a solution to those problems, but paradoxically the bet on the Metropolitan bus service, that was even more contaminant and unsustainable than any other transport mean, didn’t solve any problem. So, today the incommodity of passengers, and the important waits and delays, robberies, fight, etc. it’s something usual in the public transport.
So, here we can see how is not so easy to talk about public transport like something better than private, because in the current public transport system it isn’t. But of course the solution of the private transport problems it’s the public transport, but not by the current system. One of the alternatives could be the Electric Train, because environmentally it doesn’t contaminate, but it could clear the streets of cars.
It’s clear that this problem was not taken seriously for much time, but finally in 2010 it was taking up again.
- Consider the Electric Train Structure as an urban residue vs. give an alternative use to the structure
Since 2010 the structure was an urban residue, but Basurama saw this element from other perspective and decided to use it to create public space. They view in it an opportunity. So the idea here is how to see those kind of elements that are not used as they were designed, because you can see some other possibility to use that or think that there is nothing to do. But it didn’t happened only with the structure, the elements that were used in the playground are in the same idea, because they were elements that were considered like trash, and transforming them a little the connotation that you have of them is completely different.
Community – The neighbours were who suffered for many time the lack of public space, and they were obliged in some way to live in their homes and workplaces, but not in the street. In this group the most affected part are children, who need to play in the street. The RUS. Lima project goes to this group, so the project tries to give them the opportunity to enjoy in the street in this complicated area.
Governments – The politicians were one of the main responsible of the public space problem because they were thinking only in mobility terms, but not in public space ones. But the thing is that the mobility is not solved neither because of the bet on private transport. The project is in part a critique to the decisions that this group have been taken, but Basurama wanted to be a positive critique in order to change the mind of governments.
Cars – They are responsible of the contamination of the city. We can blame the bad situation of the public service, but anyway, the citizen is damaging its surrounding by the using of the car despite him could think that he is not a part in the problem.
Designers – This group includes the Basurama group and different local artists. All of them decided to do something against the lack of public space, so they decided to transform the Electric Train structure in order to create a playground.
Basurama is a company from Madrid that works in social design and tries to recover the value of public spaces that are degraded. Some of their problems are called RUS because use solid urban residues (residuos urbanos sólidos). The initiative of RUS was developed in many cities of south America like Mexico DF, Buenos Aires, Quito, Montevideo, Córdoba, La Paz o Santo Domingo.
About the local artists, they were a very important piece because they supported Basurama with their local knowledge.
Here we have a short chronology that shows the main events related with the project:
s. XX Number of cars is growing immensely and roads are taking up all the public space.
1986 The Electric train project starts, but it will be stop before be finished. The infrastructure will be in the city for the next 25 years.
2008 Basurama starts the RUS (Residuos Urbanos Sólidos) project in Miami.
– April The Basurama group decides to make a project for Lima related to the lack of public space. In April they visit the city to starting the study of the situation.
– September Days 14-24 – Basurama constructs the prototypes of the games in La Casa de la Juventud, in the Surquillo neighborhood.
– January Days 25-28 – The project is constructed.
– Jan/Feb Day 29-1 – There are activities in the place, like an organized walking over the railway and a concert.
– February Two weeks after the Municipality remove the playground to construct definitely the Electric Train project.
– […] The old infrastructure is removed, and a new one is constructed
– July The first way of the new railway is open. 25 years after the Electric Train Project is a reality.
- Low Cost construction
To make the project low cost resources and recycled materials were used, like tyres and ropes. The main materials were available in some warehouses. With this strategy the cost of the project was zero. Only with the work of artist and collaborators the project become into a reality.
- Create a public space in a place where people needed it
The section of the infrastructure where the project was set up used to work like a public space despite it wasn’t very inviting. It was because the railway casted shadow and people who were waiting their turn in the hospital aside preferred to wait protected of the sun. The strategy that Basurama used was to fit out that space in order to create a real public space, more comfortable and friendly to kids.
- Work in collaboration with other collectives
Working with other collectives allowed working in the same line a great number of persons. This is important because each part know about something in specific. Local people contributed with their knowledge of local constructive technics, whereas Basurama contributed with their experience in this kind of projects, for example.
In addition, working in this way allow developing other projects in a future with all the knowledge generated in the project, so, despite of Basurama finish its work in Lima, local people can continue the project.
- Launch a message
The project launches a message, so it isn’t only an intervention; the project is full of critique: the first message is about residues: it includes solid residues and the structure itself. This message says that things that we think are obsolete could have an appropriate use if we are imaginative; the second message is about transport. Using the platform of the Electric Train the project is demanding to the government solving the transport problem of the city with a public transport; the third message is about public space. It’s very striking to see children playing in an informal public space, surrounded by cars and contamination. The message is clear, the lack of public space makes children playing where the can.
The project was very critic with government and its public transport politics. For this reason it was very important to attract the attention of people and showing them the real situation and the Electric Train project, approved since long. The slogan was: “¡Súbete al tren fantasma!”
RUS. Lima wanted to last in the time, so the strategy used for this objective was to create a first spot that could be continued easily. So, it consisted in do the first step with the confidence that neighbours will continue the initiative.
- Recover an iconic element of the city
The Electric Train structure was very deep in the mind of citizen because of its huge presence and all the time that has been there. So, what RUS. Lima wanted was to recover the structure providing a use and to improve its appearance painting it.
- Reused materials
Other aspect was the use of residues as materials, like tyres. It is part of a message too: the term “residue” is sometimes a mental conception, we give this concept to something when the main use that it has can’t continue, but that don’t means that the object itself turns into a useless object. Reuse is a way to reduce the rubbish that we produce.
—– INTERVENTION LEVELS
Visiting the city and studying the context
It was necessary because before planning a project it’s basic to know perfectly all the circumstances.
To invite the community and local artists to collaborate in the project
Neighbours and some artists proposed some games to the playground because of this invitation. They helped the architects to design and construct some of the prototypes.
This point was important because the architects are from Spain and they don’t know as well as local people the context. In this way, they provide the architects all this knowledge.
Before doing the playground architects had to construct prototypes of the games to ensure that they were resistant and secure.
Build the playground
In this point the project designed is materialized. It’s important to create a secure playground because it’s going to be used by kids, and as some activities are very dynamic they could be dangerous.
In order to show the playground to the neighbours some activities were organized. Some of them were a tour over the railway and a concert.
Very low Budget
To do the project there wasn’t much money, so it was necessary to use reused materials from the city warehouse and form enterprises that wanted to collaborate.
The playground stayed only two week because the municipality removed it to restart the construction of the Electric Train infrastructure. The fact was that the structure started to be built some months after, so it was some rush in the remove that shows the incomprehension of the project by the government.
Work in an unknown context
Basurama didn’t know very much about Lima. They had only 15 days to know the basic of the place. So, in this situation is very difficult to do something, because unknowing the context is very easy to fail in a project. So it was very important working with local artists, who provided the knowledge that was required to do the project.
—– SUCCESS AND FAILURE
The project was designed to be permanent, but only two weeks later was removed by the municipality. In this sense it was a failure.
Despite its short duration the thing is that the local groups that were part of the project took the idea and repeated it in other projects in Lima with the same strategy and methodology, with some variations that adapted the project to other contexts. The project changed its name into Parques Autoarmables (Self-Constructed Parks).
Large number of people (V)
While the playground was working, there were a lot of people who came there, especially kids. That space was the only one in the surrounding where they could play. In this reason, the good reception for the neighbours was a complete success.
1.The main idea of the project is to create a very clear and simple initiative in order to make easy for ordinary people to reproduce it. So the point is not to create a particular project, the project itself is irrelevant. The important thing is to create a methodology that could be reproduced in order to create something when and where it could be necessary.
Here it’s important to notice that the methodology must be simple and clear to work properly. That shows the success of the project, which had 4 copies in the city using the same system. So the important is that knowledge that stays after the project was removed.
2. When you are doing a project in an unknown context is not enough with a study of it in a short term. Basurama had 2 weeks to study the context, but they were in touch with local groups to develop the project, because those local groups had a big knowledge about its city that Basurama didn’t. That is a good point that we must learn, because if they weren’t use that knowledge about local construction for example they would fail, since local people couldn’t reproduced the project in other places, for example.
3. It’s interesting the decision of the emplacement because it responds to a real necessity. In that place people used to wait they turn for the hospital, so they used the place as a public space, but it wasn’t a public space really. So what is important here is in the capability of knowing the reality before to do something, because with this decision the project was going to be successful in what depends of people who could use it.
4. Other thing that it’s important of the project is the positive irony as a background of the project. What Basurama do is to evidence the bad situation of the reality creating amazing situations that in fact are possible but are not happening. This resource has a big critical value, and that is very clear in the remove by the municipality, from whom the critic went. The critic message was about the colonization of the city by the public transport and its repercussion in pedestrians; it’s about the residues that can be reused; about the public transport… All that problems were reflected in the project in different ways, for example using the Electric Train Station the message that they give is that the public transport is abandoned in the politic agenda. And that critical point had its consequences beyond the remove of the playground, in fact the Electric Train infrastructure started to be building not much more time after.
5. In RUS. Lima we have to underline the economic difficulties, and the solutions that they did. It’s important to understand how a project like this one can be developed with only 500€ in this case. It’s only a question of imagination and knowing what elements are available in a certain context.