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ARQ (Santiago)

versión On-line ISSN 0717-6996

ARQ (Santiago)  no.104 Santiago abr. 2020 


October Cities

Ciudades de Octubre


The city we see is the result of a series of laws, regulations, and decrees that, overlapped in time and space, make up the possibilities and impossibilities of land use and abuse. Seen this way, the fact that Santiago is an unequal city is not a natural phenomenon, but something designed through laws and decrees. Through some examples, the urban effects of this legal design are shown here.

Palabras clave: laws; urban planning; Instagram; uprootings; essay

The impression of stability, of unity and coherence with which one spoke of Santiago - e.g., ‘oasis’ or ‘miracle country’ - concealed folds that are now finally revealed to its inhabitants. Neither Chile nor its cities can be understood with the naked eye or from a single perspective, nor blindly trusting in the certainties of state leaders or in the image projected abroad. This perfect place in the south of the world, this strangely forced utopia, can no longer do anything but to show its imperfections, like any of the neighboring countries from which it has so hard tried to keep its distance. And both the capital and the rest of the cities have now uncovered their layers. As a product of the laws, decrees, and regulations that were applied on a large scale, Santiago unravels to us the multiplicity of cities that comprise it.

A sense of urgency gave birth to Ciudades de Octubre. The mobilizations and the irreparable crisis of political-institutional representation demanded some kind of reaction. As a group, we shared common concerns, research, and classes where the history of the city was at the center. In this way, we realized that these stories had not yet crossed the barrier of academic research. To give legibility to these interests, we started on Instagram, a ‘wall’ that has its own possibilities, logics, scales, diagrams, and scope of dissemination. A medium that, while forcing reflection on architecture and its representation, questions the existing gap between universities and the rest of the world. Much of these problems have fueled academic research but have not appeared with the same agility outside.

The City of Ruins

Figure 1 a. Ciudades de Octubre. Lo Hermida: Part I. On Monday, November 11, dwellers (pobladores) from Lo Hermida used land occupation as a form to protest towards the State’s unfulfilled promises. Repression came soon after. The población (slum) was sieged by the police, also leaving injured people, evictions, illegal home raids, and random imprisonments. First aid stations were surrounded and attacked by policemen. Tension materializes in the wall. That land occupation was nothing but a response. A tool to break the wall and make the institutions react. Walls are made to divide. They protect power, sovereignty. But its protectiveness is as fragile as the wall itself. An image easy to break. People was seen as the problem. The wall divided and excluded them. The written premises reflect that violence. The wall’s fracture is part of a 50-year struggle. 

The tactics used by the dictatorship to re-order Santiago left in place ways of tackling and accepting illegitimate violence (evident in a large part of the media and institutions in recent times). The city was broken into pieces. More or less palpable, the fragments of that past-city are still found in the present, although covered in a long silence that makes them difficult to recognize. A human and material omission. Of course, because before beginning to dismantle-move-uproot, the dictatorship had to silence the laws, had to make them ‘disappear.’

The fragment is a component of the urban fabric that we inescapably inherited. The search for each fragment, each with its own stories, sheds light on the changes that were implemented to deconstruct the social fabric. In some cases (especially the first ones), the absence of law had to be accompanied by decrees - using the force of law - to comply with the order and cleansing strategies of Santiago’s districts, following the geopolitical ideas of the dictatorship. The previous trials for uprooting, the so-called Operaciones Confraternidad, were in charge of demolishing and relocating.

The Nueva Matucana slum was a case widely covered by the opposition press in the late 1970s. Here, homeownership titles were ignored through a variety of techniques and legal omissions: making purchase and sale commitments, organizing massive signatures, disappearing documentation from the municipality to hinder procedures, or even pricing properties at a lower price. These strategies were put forward in favor of something that is already more familiar: the benefit of private parties over the detriment of the public good. Behind the uprooting was pressure from a private company. From Nueva Matucana, only photos and press releases remain. After the displacement, the solutions were violently disconnected from reality: a house for more than one family group in exchange for the lost house; the use of bathrooms and ‘living rooms as bedrooms,’ an austerity idea of i nterior design (“Be the designer of your own home”). In order to omit, new housing programs had to be installed and the remains of what was there before were hidden, removed or silenced.

These operations sough to atomize and divide any focus of resistance towards the neoliberal logic of Pinochet and his military junta. It is for this reason that the city of ruins is deeply related to bound and gag strategies, silences that became material remains. October 2019 perhaps made it necessary to recover them. The marks of neoliberal planning, of the demolition of certain areas of Santiago, made the pressure points burst. It is not difficult to find parallels to the case of Nueva Matucana, even after the return to democracy. Among them, Villa San Luis has suffered this ‘legal’ enforcement for decades and La Pintana still faces a segregation that was built on these mechanisms.

The City With No Limits

Figure 2 a-h. Ciudades de Octubre. Lo Hermida: Part II. Within the context of a housing crisis, the first land occupations appeared in Lo Hermida in 1958. By the 70s, the number of occupations settlements increased to 11. Besides the concrete need of housing, these were a way of putting pressure on authority. The State’s response was “Operación Sitio” (Site Operation), which created Lo Hermida población 1 and 2 in 1970. i. The solutions provided to the dwellers were empty, 9×18-meter plots. j. After the coup d’ètat of 1973, the Pinochet dictatorship would suppress any attempt of land occupation. Lo Hermida would become a symbol of resistance and struggle against the regime. k-l. “Lo Hermida: Hunger Zone”; “Seven slums benefitted from sanitary units”; “plumbing works in Lo Hermida sector by the PoJH (Occupational Program for Heads of Households) of Ñuñoa.” m. “Lo Hermida: Hunger Zone.” “Sanitary units.” “Plumbing.” “Lo Hermida”. n-ñ. As from the 80s, electricity, drinking water and the sanitary units would arrive. Property titles would be regularized, tying their brand-new owners to debt. o. The housing shortage persists to this day, and Lo Hermida waits for a solution again. p. Housing organizations, consisting mostly of single mother families, demand the right to a decent housing in the districts they live in. q-r. During the last few months they were negotiating a piece of land in the vineyard (next to Lo Hermida) (“Cousiño Macul Vineyard”) but real estate pressures prevented it. s. “Cousiño Family starts its biggest real estate investment of US$ 300 million in Peñalolen” t-v. On September 5, 2019, housing organizations were told there was no budget. The promise was broken once again. 

Promulgated at the end of the 70s, the Decree-Law 420 was the document that liberated the urban limit of Santiago. From then on, the city could be infinite. “If the land is not a scarce good, why limit it?” thought their ideologists. In this newly expanded territory, the rules of the game were liberalized, and the State was set free from its responsibilities. The result was as expected and is still visible today: large extensions of housing (single-family houses or apartment towers) in the periphery, without transportation, public spaces, green areas and minimal social infrastructure. Endless extensions of precarious housing, where the inhabitants self-managed their own ways and solutions. Small businesses, dirt sports fields, water collected from nearby springs, pit toilets, long distances to get to the first transportation point bearing signs of a city built on a sum of private lots, atomized, devoid of a collective project.

Figure 3 a. Lo Hermida is one out of many. b. 366 informal settlements in 1974. 270+ poblaciones in 1982. 17 new districts. 150.000+ uprooted people. c. Large areas of population without minimum standards of transportation and social infrastructure to serve its citizens. d. “Living room by day and bedroom by night.” e. “200 trips to the new home”. f. “40 arrested in frustrated land occupation.” g. “No more sorrow.” h. Lo Hermida illustrates the historic struggle for housing and urban land... i. an access which has been made impossible by the (de)regulatory framework that Pinochet’s regime left in the hands of the market... j. Part of social responsibilities that belongs to the State. 

Before the coup, the city had grown not based on a univocal image, but through a superposition of different plans and policies, the development of which included from the beginning the occupation of land along with reactive policies to the housing crisis. Our history shows that previous governments had initiatives that understood the city as a territorial and collective problem. Exemplary cases were the CORVI (Housing Corporation), the CORMU (Urban Improvement Corporation), and the SCEE (Society for the Construction of Educational Establishments). However, towards the end of the 70s, through different decrees, operations, and programs, concepts and legal frameworks were advanced and installed to prepare the main legal vehicle for this new city vision: the National Policy for Urban Development (PnDU) of 1979. Decree-Law No. 519 (of 1974) and No. 1088 (of 1975), established the modus operandi to displace the population. The first decree affirmed that it was not appropriate for residents to resort to “public charity, but, on the contrary, to credits in materials and the indispensable technical assistance that allows them to get out, through their own effort and work, of these conditions of subhuman life.”

Figure 4 Subdivision -pobladores - owners - camps - allegados - radicaciones (settlements) - dictatorship. k-n. 366 informal settlements in 1974. 270+ poblaciones in 1982. 17 new districts in 1981. 150.000+ uprooted people. Bottom. “camps - allegados - radicaciones - erradicaciones (uprootings) - land occupations - sanitary units - Operaciones Confraternidad - Operaciones Sitio - urban limit.” 

To legitimize the city without limits, the withdrawal of State intervention was endorsed, and zoning and construction regulations were made more flexible. To this lawless city - which still required various legal frameworks to produce itself - was added the consolidation of private property. The regularization of property titles also required legal acts and processes, such as Decree-Law No. 2,833, which simplified and accelerated the process of transferring titles from State agencies to natural persons: an apotheosis of the logic of private property. The individual plot (with or without a house), inherited from Operación Sitio in the mid-60s, became the city’s minimum building unit. In 1979, a new housing policy was promoted, making the fundamental transformation of housing evident: it was no longer a right but a commodity, no longer a project of collective living but rather a solution for individual existence.

Figura 5 a. Ciudades de Octubre. Erradicaciones. b. Housing politics. The erradicación and radicación (uprooting and settlement) program moved 30.000 families to the outskirts of the city. Erradicación: a movement of certain population groups across the city in order to provide a housing solution for them. This housing solution is in a different place from where they originally lived. Radicación: legalization of informal settlements of the city in order to provide their inhabitants housing on the same place they already live. c. “Housing is a necessity good.” President Frei, 1964-1970. “Housing is an inalienable right and it is the State’s obligation to provide housing for its people. Housing must be non-profit.” President Allende, 1970-1973. “Housing is no longer a gift from the State”. General Pinochet, 1973-1990. d. Operaciones Confraternidad, developed in 1976, 1978, and 1979, were the model or pilot operation of what would become the erradicación and radicación program. Symbolically, each family received a medal as a key chain of their new house. e-i. Pilot model. Military medal. One’s own house keys. Exchange currency. 1918 key chains. j. “The key chain will be delivered to the brand-new owners, containing the keys that will open them the doors of a true future as human beings.” k. Erradicaciones were part of a territorial antiseptic strategy that aimed at hiding poverty on the city fringes instead of solving it, and in doing so, it redefined the marginality imaginary. 5 districts received the 75 percent of the total population movements: La Pintana, Puente Alto, La Granja, San Bernardo, and Peñalolén. l-n. Solutions delivered. Operation Site. 9×18-meter plots. Property titles. Sanitary units. Dwellings. ñ. HaPPy oWnEr! the official press, and the opposition press show opposite stories, two sides of the same coin. The first population displacements were highly controlled and carefully designed to build a positive image of the program. o-w. “Operación Confraternidad: no more sorrow.” 

Those stories from the past and the current despair in Santiago are indeed closely related. The city is part of the problem: its territorial segregation has made our population invisible by hiding stories in folds, behind walls, and in the distance. The disarticulation of public education, the status of public health, the privatization of all aspects of citizens’ daily life has come from the most carefully articulated platforms of power. A paradox that needs to be deciphered to explain the turning point of a ruined model that is becoming evident not only in Chile but throughout the world. This is not only the crisis of an economic model but also of the cities it generated.

Figure 6 a. Ciudades de Octubre. Erradicaciones III: La Pintana. b. San Ramón, La Granja, La Pintana, were one district: La Granja. c. Since Operación Confraternidad III, this land became the destiny of the most ‘problematic’ cases of previous uprootings. d. “When the sun was rising, a long line of trucks was parked next to the camp, while its inhabitants dismantled their emergency huts... The camp disappeared under the backhoe... while the dwellers already live the experience of inhabiting what is their own.” (El Cabildo, 1983). e-ñ. (Uprooting of camp dwellers in the metropolitan area. La Granja 1975-1985). La Granja received slum dwellers from 15 comunas. La Granja, San Bernardo, La Cisterna, Santiago, Quinta Normal, Renca, Conchalí, Pudahuel, Las Condes. o. The land was organized under Pinochet’s geopolitics, which had at its base the homogenization of population and the arrangement of the city according to land value. p. Thus, slums similar to the 9×18 formula were built. ad. Uprootings meant a strategy change from densification to expansion policies. ae. PnDU 1979. National Policy for Urban Development. “The land is not a scarce good, thus the urban limits must be eliminated.” ak. 77,5% of La Pintana is outside the urban limits of 1964. al-at. In 1981 the limits of La Pintana were fixed. Thus, configuring an island at the border of the city, destined to receive the uprooted. 

The City of Walls

Displacements from slums and villas followed a ‘walled city’ scheme where poverty was expelled to the outskirts. This was the materialization of the territorial administration change, the first task that the dictatorship focused on. Its hypothesis was double: on the one hand, the welfare state apparatus was seen as an excessive, inefficient and politicized bureaucracy, as opposed to the pragmatic and hierarchical ideals of the military pyramids. On the other hand, the rhetoric of the ‘internal enemy’ required not only modifying state policies but also evaluating and reformulating the exercise of power to ensure the total eradication of the threats of an ‘internal war.’ In this sense, the clearing of central areas of the city fulfilled two functions: hiding poverty and dismantling camps and combative populations, pushing them towards the periphery.

Figure 7 a. Ciudades de Octubre. Erradicaciones II: Nueva Matucana. b. Nueva Matucana was an iconic slum within the uprooting process. Formed in the 40s from land occupations on the side of Mapocho river, it accomplished to be regularized and get property titles under Frei’s government (891 owners). c. The population displacements were carried out in 1978, under the authorities’ double speech: to put an end to the unhealthy conditions in which they lived, but also to transform the area in an industrial zone. (Indus Lever industries has acquisition intentions). d. “Everyone signs, or no one does.” The owners made clear the importance of social unity and all the legal violations they had suffered. e-k. (“Nueva Matucana: a special uprooting”; “forgotten slum dwellers exist”; “They never asked our opinion”). Retention of public registry of homeownership titles. Pressure to sign unread deeds of sale. Unrecognized valuation of the properties as in 1978 (from $151.903 to $19136 in 1979). House demolitions. Random and minimum payments. Where did the right to property go in the uprooting process? l. “Dwellers are legitimate owners of their plots, and no one can take that away. They could be physically transferred from one place to another, but their right remains. An uprooting that does not consider that reality, works against the right to property.” Sergio Wilson. “Do you care for legality? What do you prefer, to be displaced after or before the decree is promulgated, that I pay you with a bounced check o with money? This is a special uprooting.” General Garay, Solidaridad magazine, 1979. m. The houses of Nueva Matucana were dismantled. The slum dwellers received money for their properties, but, at the same time, they were bound to pay for a new house, randomly assigned. That house, as the contract puts it, would cost them 70% more than their real value (Hoy magazine). n. Along with legal problems, there were cases in which “owned houses” did not adjust to what they were promised when signing. “I lived 30 years on my own in Nueva Matucana, I want to keep living that way!... I have that right, I’m an owner! I didn’t know the other lady, not even by sight.” “We can’t afford the luxury of giving a whole house to only one person, that’s why we have these collectives.” (Hoy magazine, 1979). ñ-r. (Uprooting of dwellers from the metropolitan area. Nueva Matucana 1978-1979). Solutions divided the slum into 5 comunas: Renca, Pudahuel, Maipú, La Florida and San Bernardo. 

Such a military approach, a direct debtor of geopolitical theories of war, understood the territory as a new area of i ntervention. Far from being a mere instrumental change, the administrative reform was seen as a ‘technical’ way of solving social problems that the previous and failed ‘ideological way’ could not solve. Soon enough, in December of 1973, the National Commission for Administrative Reform (CONARA) would be created. It would take two more years, with the publication of the document “Chile: Towards a New Destination” - a title that already stated its pompous aspirations - to formally present the intentions that accompanied these changes. Starting on a regional, provincial and municipal scale, the administrative reform of the Santiago metropolitan area would be the closure of an extensive process that determined new lines, authorities, and powers. Along with them, a discourse of modernity and efficiency was imposed, delegitimizing the previous regulations, yet, at the same time, specified the relations of control and government of the territory. The administrative reform would erect invisible new walls for a city and a country whose walls had already been bombed by Hawker Hunter aircraft.

On March 8, 1981, the Decree with Force of Law 1-3260 would configure - on paper - the 32 new municipalities of Santiago, replacing the original 17.This subdivision would consolidate the new orderthat the ‘eradication’ program had suggested a couple of years earlier (while they were still being carried out en masse). The search for social homogenization was openly recognized by conara as a subdivision criterion. The subdivision lines suggested a conscious vocation of concentration and cleansing in certain districts, increasing the unequal conditions of the fragments and consolidating a scheme of ‘rich’ and ‘poor’ municipalities. As eminently political limits, municipal frontiers became active determinants to organize the population in the territory. Whether they contained combative neighborhoods (Pedro Aguirre Cerda, Lo Espejo); created districts mainly made up of defined social groups (La Pintana); had similar urban fabrics (Cerro Navia); or served to clean other municipalities, displacing informal settlements (Macul and Peñalolén with Ñuñoa), the geopolitical partitions of the militarized city meant a state of permanent urban quarantine.

The Chilean October transformed Santiago into a new city of walls. Through vindicating messages, written on public facades or the welded corrugated steel sheets protecting stores from looting, those interventions filled the physical walls of the city - in theory empty - with discourse. Those walls, however, have been used for decades on the outskirts of Santiago to charge the city with messages. Like the Berlin Wall, the wall that separated Lo Hermida from the neighboring Viña Cousiño had become a canvas of 2 kilometers long, denouncing injustices, urban inequality, and access to housing. But the same wall also portrayed the organization of the inhabitants, their common imagery, and their collective yearnings. The apparatus built to separate them from what they were fighting for - on the other side there were tens of hectares of available urban land - was simultaneously the apparatus to record their dreams.

Figure 8 a. Ciudades de Octubre. Subdivision. b. After the coup d’ètat, in 1973 conara was created. Its purpose was to design new administrative divisions for the country. ‘Comisión Nacional para la Reforma Administrativa’ (National Commission for Administrative Reform) (CONARA). c. “The territorial arrangement distinguishes areas of high socioeconomic homogeneity in terms of their population, which will ease policy adoption and program implementation, more precisely calibrated, to solve the problems of each sector.” CONARA , 1981. d. As the final stage of a reform that covered all scales of territory, CONARA subdivided the city of Santiago into 32 districts, which duplicated the existing municipalities, while also directly appointed new mayors. e. The Decree with force of law 1-3260, was published in the Official Journal on March 17, 1981. It established 17 new districts in the province of Santiago and described its new limits. f. The administrative subdivision encapsulated the city in small, 150,000-inhabitant units, a manageable size for a municipal authority. However, it was done with a conscious aim of concentration and communal depuration that confined poverty in socially homogeneous enclosures. g. The small units determined the organizational capabilities of the population. As a geopolitical operation, they limited conflicts to their corresponding comunal scale, preventing them from escalating to a city or country level. h. It was an unequal distribution that consolidated a city of the rich and a city of the poor. 


On the morning of November 11, 2019, a group of dwellers collapsed the wall of Lo Hermida. This was the starting point of Ciudades de Octubre. After the government-imposed curfew, the virtual walls played a parallel role to that of the street and its physical walls. The pressure that was contained and released, shed new light on the ruins that had originated the city that was now being denounced on graffitied walls. Not only that: the material loss of the previous city responded to joint visions. Its contradictions and successive logics are constantly being overwritten. A wall within the city without limits is built to separate its inhabitants from the center. The same wall is destroyed, mirroring the violence that that silence had left in the past ruins.

The tearing of the wall of Lo Hermida is related to the fracturing of all the city walls, such as the threat of demolition of the last housing blocks of Villa San Luis. These walls materialize the arrangement of laws, decrees and legal disputes, imposed years ago. This abstraction of laws - paper - opposed to its effect on the urban fabric, has left us, most of all, with representation problems. How do the tools provided by the discipline communicate the effects of paper in the city? There is still a gap between academic reconstructions and the notion of context that is owed to city dwellers. There is irony in using this medium to tell this story, but, just like the protest messages made invisible walls appear, we hope that narrating and talking on every possible platform about these ruins and their limits, will deepen the understanding among those who are permanently trapped by walls.


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