The urban process of Caracas | Luis Britto Garcia

Perhaps the most genuine thing in Caracas has been the improvised architecture of the hills./Petare -Caracas / UNICEF

The communicating city. The city is something irremediable. Only those who did not build it can think of destroying it. Home of others, most of whose doors are unanimously closed to us, guessing what happens or happened behind them relieves or comforts us. We are the unknown community, not because we value privacy, but because the crowd is indecipherable. The city is the paradoxical place where excess company translates into loneliness. We need to live in agglomerates because the precariousness of our means of communication requires it. In a hypothetical future in which most jobs consist of information processing and are carried out remotely, perhaps new virtual cities will emerge, dispersed in space and focused on information. Meanwhile, specific cities grow, multiplying distances by dint of proximity. It is the rich narrative offered by the book The Caracas Urban Process 1300-2020 AD, by Iraida Vargas Arenas and Mario Sanoja Obediente, inhabitants and witnesses of their object of study.

The pyramid city

To such a society, such a city. Our mind inhabits the structures of the language and our body the grammar of the town. Each social class corresponds to a place, a means of transport, a building. The habitat codes the inhabitant. With its urban stratification and its relative durability, the city preaches to us an order that wants to be perpetual and that nevertheless changes our lives and with our lives. The original egalitarian community corresponds to the large construction that houses everyone or the handful of huts that do not reflect differences in rank. The divided town corresponds to the society divided into castes and social classes. The center, with its main square and its cathedral, for the locals and the privileged. The periphery, with progressively dispossessed parishes, for shore whites, slaves, pardos: later for marginalities that will crowd together without security or public services, without everything that makes the city desirable. Ultimately, this topography of privilege is reversed. The privileged will migrate to the periphery of the urbanizations, El Paraíso, El Country Club, Prados del Este, El Cafetal, La Lagunita, country estates surrounded by gardens, with tree-lined paths. The center will be for offices, shops and pensions; finally, for the demolishing pickax that will destroy the architectural memory and make way for the skyscrapers of commerce and bureaucracy. For the marginalized, the new shores: mountain slopes, hills, ravines, industrial zones, neighborhoods in articulo mortis. To each topography, a stratification and a culture.

The mock city

Since the European invasion, our cities play simulacrum, the failed mimesis of the hegemonic centers. Living in a copy is equating yourself to the dominator. To remind the dominant is to equate him. Within the rational grid of blocks and lots, the rubbings of the Mediterranean mansion were installed, with its rooms grouped around the internal courtyards, the failed replicas of the cathedral, the convent, and the fortress. Applying makeup that prestigious hegemonic fashion we tried to decorate the capital with a baroque hairpiece, an anemic neoclassicism, an affected romanticism of boulevards and neo-gothic temples, a cheesy Iberian historicism, a modernity adulterated by Miami kitsch, finally, with Chinese or Iranian prefabs for popular housing. Perhaps the most genuine has been the improvised architecture of the hills, the putative daughter of precariousness, as well as the scream of graffiti, a privileged manifesto of the ephemeral.

The changeable city

Like our existence, the city is a succession of constraints that only intermittently do we try to lay down a plan. Our original localities were a direct reflection of their original communities: egalitarian, supportive. The European invasion tried to subject them to the grid prescribed in the Laws of the Indies. Almost three centuries passed before the Guzman decoration, the fluvial utopianism of Ramiro Navas or the urbanism of Maurice Rotival tried to organize them in some scheme. Just in the middle of the last century an attempt was made to submit them to a regulatory plan that distinguishes according to the functions: commercial, industrial, residential, low, medium or high economic level. José Ignacio Cabrujas spoke of a camp country, of a society where nothing was fully or permanently founded. Such a situation, if any, was transitory. Most of the cities of the Spanish invaders were founded on immemorial indigenous settlements. In a century after the invasion, almost all the cities that concentrate our demography were formally created, and after half a millennium they continue to be our reference points, with some exceptional town abandoned by malaria or a village hastily erected around it. of a novel mining operation.

The cosmopolitan city

Public income is distributed in Caracas: the illusion that proximity guarantees participation in it acted as a powerful magnet since oil filled the coffers. Caracas became a Mecca for all pilgrimages. First of the peasant exodus, then that of the Europeans fleeing the War or the Post-World War, later of the fugitives from the dictatorships of the Southern Cone; always, in the relief of the displaced of the sister republics. The harvest of visitors comes from all over the Caribbean and nearby countries. Each group finds itself in a favorite niche. Wandering through the center of Caracas in the fifties was to listen to a polyphony of accents and languages. Still the neighborhoods proclaim their origin with the music that reverberates from their loudspeakers. We old Caracas are the ones who feel the furthest away from so many transmutations. Caracas is the city of those who have come from elsewhere. From the hand of Iraida Vargas Arenas and Mario Sanoja Obediente, locals and strangers, we visit it with the emotion of someone who rediscovers their own being, their place in the world.

 

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