An oasis in the chaos of Guayaquil, are the urban renewal projects Malecon2000, Las Peñas and Santa Ana; at the shore of the river, and the border of the city center.
The Malecon provides a walkway, with entertainment options, such as children parks, a movie theater, and lots of bars and restaurants, gardens and simply open spaces to walk or sit down and enjoy the view of the river. Day and night the citizens stroll around, protected by the safety guards, and the pedestrian only zone.
Walking up to the north of the city, the Malecon ends in the neighborhood Las Peñas, colorful houses circling around a hill, with on top a picturesque lighthouse. Once a desolate and even dangerous neighborhood, the municipality decided to organize a make-over, handing out buckets of colorful paint, and setting up safety guards at every corner, transforming the site into a pleasant walking area, in between of the picturesque houses and bars.
Vulnerable on Top
On top of the hill, the view out of the lighthouse is astonishing and shows the real nature of the city: a wide spread sprawl around and on the hills, unnecessary to explain that the least wealthy families would live on the most vulnerable spots, on top of the hillsides, or close to the river, where landslides and flooding are a real treat.
Watching a suburb on the hill in front, I wonder how to turn sustainability concepts in reality. ‘If that is really necessary,’ he asks me, ‘changing anything to this kind of neighborhoods. They might be happy with the live they have, maybe, they don’t want any change.’
I consider his question, watch the little houses without windows, the narrow streets and stairs that connect them and the steepness of the hill they lend into. For sure, these people might be happy and not willing to change, he has a point. Who am I to judge one’s lifestyle or house.
Nevertheless, they have the right to improve some aspects of their personal life, which are immediately connected to their housing conditions. First of all, the less wealthy people tend to live in the less secure areas of the city, both in terms of security, as in terms of environmental vulnerability. On top of that, in an expanding city these people will be forced to move into even more vulnerable areas, as prices rise in other areas.
Secondly, the housing conditions might affect their health, in terms of moisture, and for some countries in this continent, in terms of would stoves. Used for cooking and heating, they emit fumes inside the houses, bad ventilation and non-closed fires turn the house into a smoky surrounding. Inhaled by its inhabitants, wood stoves cause every year premature deaths and cancers in these areas, a health issue where more wealthy families with improved stove infrastructure don’t have to cope with.
And this are only two of the direct consequences of this type of city expansion. Ofcourse people can live where they want to, but is this where and how they want to live?
On the Other Side – City Segregation
The back of Las Peñas leads to another pedestrian area along the riverside, however the fancier one. The Screw marks the skyline, an imposing building in the shape of a screw, with colorful LEDs is owned by one of the richest Ecuadorians, who even candidate himself several times for the presidency of the country, however failed as many times to be elected as well. This part of the Malecon is totally different than the other side of Las Peñas. The other side looks more popular, vulgar even, whereas this side looks more upper-class with fancy restaurants and lighting.
Even more remarkable on the other side are the many recycling points, every 50 meters you can dump your waste separated, however a quick look and questionnaire around appoints that they are not used at all as recycling points.
The Children are the Future
A difficult matter admits the Secretary of Environment, when I ask him about the recycling habits of his citizens. There is no culture or of recycling, yet, however, the municipality tries to teach it. That’s why they have the children, he says, all his hope is with them.
On the Malecon is the recycling school, where the Secretariat tries to bring all its children to teach about recycling and nature; however, they are not allowed to work with the public schools – thanks to the national government -, so they are restricted to work with the kids of the private schools. He emphasizes that the programs and the school still reach a lot of children, however, I guess, not enough.
Because again – I feel like repeating too much, however it can never be said enough – a decent environmental policy cannot forgo its citizens. No matter how many recycling points the municipality provides, no matter how much programs they organize, if the citizens are not aware or involved, they become useless, a part of the décor instead of the play.
Many Ecuadorians I speak have actually no clue about sustainability, and mostly in Guayaquil the topic is answered by laughter. Regardless if the city is real sustainable, this reaction shows that there is no awareness, nor will, nor capacity to act.
The Strategy of the Citizens
So involving the citizens, walking the talk, and making sure that the municipality’s Cantonal Environmental Strategy [EAC – Estrategia Ambiental Cantonal] which exists exact on the day of the interview 1 year – however the initiatives existed before, this program simply unites, and structures the various initiative – turns into reality is the biggest challenge of all.
‘We celebrated this anniversary with a lot of media attention and publicity,’ says the secretary of environment, ‘Because we’ve figured out that people have to be involved in a more active way. The strategy should be the strategy of the 3 million inhabitants of Guayaquil, not of the city, nor the mayor, nor the companies.’
One organization that faced the challenge and takes steps in the awakening of the environmental consciousness of its citizens, both in Ecuador and abroad, is SAMBITO, Soluciones Ambientales Totales, an Ecuadorian organization that works on sustainable projects.
In 2013 they organized a concourse to recognize the most sustainable project in Ecuador. Besides the enthousiast and plenty Ecuadorian inscriptions, they received some foreign inscriptions as well. Soon they realized that there was a huge need to communicate, share and open up the experiences and knowledge of this kind of initiatives.
After a sabbatical, they decided to open up the concourse for whole Latin America: The Green Latin American Prices [Premios LAtinoeamérica Verde] were born and in 2018 they are already running for the 5thedition.
You can read the Dutch / Flemish article here.