The regeneration project of Las Peñas and Cerro Santa Ana is Guayquil’s golden boy. It is showcased on almost every book and magazine relating to the city’s “rebirth” and beaufication.
The neighborhood of Las Peñas, at the foot of the Santa Ana hill near Guayaquil’s waterfront, is one of city’s oldest neighborhoods. After a couple of fires and the extensive growth of the city, the area was slowly abandoned, and neglected. Although originally not an informal neighborhood, dwellers in Las Peñas resorted to informality as a means to live.
In 2000, the “Malecón 2000” resulted in the upgrading of Las Peñas. The most influential move in the transformation of the foothills, involved the simple action of painting the facades of houses. The houses’ exteriors were transformed with striking colors on the surface, still leaving some of the interiors in the same deplorable and unsafe states. Nevertheless, as Las Peñas regained its identity and the attention of the city, dwellers established informal businesses in the corners of their homes. Small cafes, bars, cigarette shops sprung up, and a local economy seemed to thrive. After speaking to some of the residents, there seems to have been somewhat of a “participatory” process, in which residents where summoned, told what was going to happen and given the opportunity to participate in a series of workshops to start their own business, to learn how to treat tourists, etc.
It is interesting to note that the “regeneration” is relatively a linear one, extending through 2 paths (that move up to the lighthouse and church sitting at the top of the hill), and only going from 3 to 5 houses deep. There are arched gates as well as guards that control these “entrances”. Apart from the 2 or 3 houses that get the benefit of being painted (something the government does every year), it is a very clear contrast to original condition and city that lies beyond.
A couple of years ago, the municipality developed a large mix use residential and commercial center, called Puerto Santa Ana, adjacent to Las Peñas. During my walk, and after interviewing some people (residents as well as government officials), I learned that a new residential and business development (a private development yet supported by the government), “La Ciudad en el Rio” (the City in the River), was also being planned (view the billboard image). The adjacency of these new development, as well as the unquestionable rise of property values, and implementation of “formal taxes”, makes one wonder how long the cycle will take for the original dwellers to be forced to leave. Beauregard, identifies “gentrifiable” areas as usually being areas in which prior occupants can be easily displaced, as they are unable and unwilling to resist, they cannot afford maintenance, and lack political power. Residents of Las Peñas seem to unfortunately fit in this category. Interestingly enough, after 2 years of being on the market, there are only a couple of occupants in the Puerto Santa Ana (or as I like to call it Miami gone Ecuador), and although unbuilt, only half of the units have been reserved in the Ciudad en el Rio.
Needless, to say, there are other signs of gentrification, as most of the houses in the bottom of the hill, as well as some residences in the center of the Cerro Santa Ana, who have bought out some of the original residents and have made some new upscale developments.