Thursday, May 19, 2011

Public Spaces of Miraflores and Villa El Salvador: Peruvian Social Reality 3

(another blog post for my class. Educate yourself.)

The public spaces of Villa El Salvador and Miraflores are naturally very different, reflecting both the economic and historical differences of the two districts but also the difference in symbolic meaning these spaces hold for the respective residents.

As Setha M. Low writes in her paper on public spaces in Costa Rica:

"ethnographic approaches to spatial analysis are crucial for any adequate analysis of the contestation of values and meaning in complex societies. Further, they highlight the most valuable anthropological contribution to the study of urban space: the ability to integrate the localized discourse with larger political and economic processes" (Low 1996:863).

Now, I am no spatial analysis expert and I only know one small part of both Miraflores and Villa El Salvador but I will attempt to tease out some of the differences (and similarities) here.

Miraflores is well know for having once been a beach resort town, a playground for the wealthy. It is still one of the wealthiest districts and has some beautiful parks such as the infamous Parque de Amor and Parque Kennedy. I live in-between the two and, while I avoid the Parque de Amor due to the uhhmm..."amor" one can see between the visiting couples, I am often at the Malecon and Parque Kennedy. And I love both - the Malecon on a summery Saturday is full of puppies and babies and bicyclers and ice cream sellers and para-sailers and a handsome group of capoeira practicers. Parque Kennedy is always busy and on weekend nights there are performances and vendors and friends meeting to go out. These public spaces are well used, with all sorts of groups practicing their trades. In both you can also find many tourists and non-Peruvians (such as myself).

The Malecon off Alcanfores

The public space of Parque Kennedy being used for a marinera performance.

There are parks in Villa El Salvador as well, though I know them less. The first time I traveled to Villa on my own I asked a colegio student next to me where my stop was.
"It's one of the big, main avenues." She told me.
"Like this one?" I asked, as we drove through a big intersection, where the road was split in the middle by a grassy park.
"Oh no," She said with a chuckle, "The one you want doesn't have grass."
The way she said it made it seem that the fact that my stop did not have grass said a lot about the area where it was (and indeed it did, as I was later to see.)

Near the Municipalidad in Villa El Salvador during the 40th Anniversary Celebration.

(There are green spaces in Villa, but I do not have photos of them)

The people I have met in Villa are very proud of their parks. The first time I visited I was told repeatedly about the parks and had them pointed out to me multiple time. I go to Villa twice a week now (though not to frolic in a park unfortunately) and recently took another tour of Villa. I found it interesting that a US friend of mine noted that she felt like the speaker on the tour was "trying to sell us something".

The public space of Villa, as seen above, is used for parades, processions, vendors, performances and, I'm sure, friends meeting to go out, much like Miraflores. But the significance of having a public space is very different. If you type Villa El Salvador into Google, most of the images that pop up look like this:

Find the original link here

As that is the image of the district, no wonder its inhabitants want to make it very clear that they have public spaces consisting of more than just sand, but of grass and trees, concrete and benches. In Villa, green parks means having water in a district that is built on sand dunes. And as I have seen written on a water tower in Lima- Agua es vida. Water is life. Water is also wealth.

In Miraflores, parks are simply a fact of life. I never had anyone talk to me about Parque Kennedy or even the Malecon nor take me to see them. Instead, friends took me the Plaza de Armas downtown or to the discotecas en "el Sur". Miraflorans appear to love their parks and use them frequently, but their symbolic meaning is not tied up in a sense of needing to "prove" oneself or differentiate one neighborhood from another in terms of socioeconomic status. Parque Kennedy (or PK as I am trying very hard to introduce into the vernacular) is Parque Kennedy is Parque Kennedy - it's part of home. (I find it interesting too that it is named after a US American President...)

As Low concludes in her study of the conflict of modernization and history in public spaces in San José, a situation such as this "highlights the importance of spatializing culture and human experience as an analytic strategy for understanding people’s negotiation of cultural values and representations of those values" (Low 1996:876).

The symbolism and meaning of public spaces in Miraflores and Villa El Salvador appear to be very different. Their uses are much the same, but the meaning for the residents vary.
Of course, more study needs to be done to be able to postulate further, but I would stand behind this hypothesis. Or within it really, as I highly enjoy parks.

(What would also be interesting to study is not just similarities and differences between these public spaces, but the physical connection between poor areas of Lima and the public spaces in Miraflores. Vendors from other (poorer) districts are often found in Miraflores, selling candy, ice cream or jewelry. Or my favorite, the women selling roses at Parque de Amor who will stick the flowers right in between the faces of two amorous lovers and stand there until they buy the flower. It is incredibly forceful commercialism of "love" and cracks me up every time.)

LOW, S. M. (1996), spatializing culture: the social production and social construction of public space in Costa Rica. American Ethnologist, 23: 861–879. doi: 10.1525/ae.1996.23.4.02a00100

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