Peru is one of the only Latin American countries that has not yet suffered the economic recession. Quite the contrary, due to its strong mining industry, the country is currently witnessing an economic and construction boom. In its majority, this boom is only seen in the upper brackets of society (classes A y B), leaving some of the most necessitated areas untouched, and as a result accentuating the existing social gap…

The case of Lima is not different from the rest of the country. There is a multi-racial, multi-cultural, multi-linguistic population that is unfortunately not recognized in the formal social and political structures, and as such relies on a large percentage of informality.

The Peruvian coast is a desert crossed by 52 rivers flowing with water from the Andes. Lima is situated less than 100km from the Andes, on the banks of the Rímac River, near its mouth in the Pacific Ocean. Originally cultivated by the Incas, the land on which the city is built is relatively flat. With regards to Lima’s urbanization, the desert like city remained relatively the same until the 20th century. The city has grown both north and south, taking in the small valleys of the Chillón and Lurín Rivers.  In summary, the Peruvian capital developed around three nucleus: the city center located on the side of the river Rimac, the port, and the Balneareos, which consisted of smaller developments on the southern coast line following the train tracks to Chorrillos. Similar to a “connect the dots”, the city grew by filling in the gaps.

Lima's urban growth, source: DESCO

In the later part of the 20th century, new developments and extensions (in orange) to the city began to take place to the North and Eastern areas. The majority of these extensions were illegal settlements.Towards the east, pueblos jóvenes developed in the gentle slopes at the foothills of the Andes; these are now climbing towards the higher parts of the hills, with greater slope and worse living conditions. Towards the west, Lima merges into the city of Callao. Because of the desert land between the rivers to the north and south, the land has been cheap, becoming a sort of land bank for low-income housing that the state has used since 1960s. “This phenomenon, as well as the informal urbanization process, which reached its apogee from the 1960s, explains the low density of the city, and its large extension.” (UDP City slum research, case study Lima). Today, Lima’s urbanization has over 270 square km that began as informal settlements. There are more than 2000 “pueblos jóvenes” or “young towns” (also called “asentamientos humanos” or “barriadas”) with 3.5 million people, out of a total city population of 8.5 million, living in them!

Lima's "pueblos jóvenes", source: DESCO

Worthy of mention, located along the highway Panamericana Norte, the Northern areas, once informal, have now “formalized” (with paved streets, public lighting and basic services) and have become sub-centers for the city managing a surprisingly large flow of money. As a result, the private sectors are greatly investing in the area, creating new commerce, malls, banks, supermarkets, etc. Although these areas have consolidated in what regards private space (housing, commerce, and offices), they are still unplanned and chaotic, lacking basic livability factors. To illustrate, the only interventions dealing public space are actually provided by private sector (the interventions are quite minimal and mostly regards beautification tactics such a small fountain or bench outside a commercial space, etc).

During my visit, I focused on the well know “sites and services” project from the 1970s Villa el Salvador, took a glance at a Northern settlement to the North (Ventanilla), and visited a couple of the older and more established  “pueblos jóvenes” to the East in San Juan de Lubrigancho.

2 thoughts on “Lima, Peru

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