Plaza 2 de Mayo in the historic center of Peru’s capital shows us how public and private entities can work together on urban renewal.
At first, urban renewal might seem too grand of a term to use when talking about Plaza 2 de Mayo (Dos de Mayo) in Centro Lima. However, when we look at the various factors that are coming together, we see that that’s exactly what’s happening. It shows how the public and private sectors can work together to make improvements happen in developing cities.
Plaza 2 de Mayo is one of Centro Lima’s most important transportation nodes;, a connection/transfer point for combis and buses as well as a major traffic circle. It also has a large central area that has been frequently used during political campaigns for rallies and other social gatherings. Finally, small businesses fill the historic buildings surrounding the plaza.
It’s the kind of place that gets an urban planner’s mind going: multiple valuable city elements, sometimes conflicting, gathered together but lacking a unified vision.
How can they be integrated? How can a traffic circle filled with noise and contamination be a more friendly place for hanging out and checking out the guitar you want to buy, or participating in a social or political rally? Can they coexist?
The past week, the Municipality of Lima began working on a series of small but important projects in the plaza. These include a new bike lane which will unite with the one that already exists along Avenida Colonial and wider sidewalks as well as pedestrian crossing lanes.
Other changes include the improvement of traffic lights, tactile paving to assist the visually impaired, and additional green spaces. The public bathrooms in the plaza will also be removed, favoring the plaza’s transport uses over its social potential.
These are basic transport and service improvements that we expect from the public sector, nothing truly special. That’s where the private sector comes in.
In June, real estate company Arte Express bought one of the damaged historic buildings in the plaza with plans to renovate and rent as office spaces. The building was half destroyed in a fire in 2014 and has been left that way since. It has remained an ugly aesthetic mark on an already chaotic traffic node until now if Arte Express goes through with their plans.
In fact, Arte Express has ambitious goals to transform not just one building, but all the historic mansions surrounding the plaza.
“With this first purchase begins the recovery of this square because the idea is that change will occur in all the buildings.” said Arte Express CEO Fernando Palazuelos.
So while the Municipality of Lima will be focusing on making the street friendlier to walkers and bikers, the private sector initiative of Arte Express will be looking to renovate the historic buildings.
It appears we have ourselves the beginnings of an urban renewal project in Plaza 2 de Mayo.
The hope is that if change can occur at such an important central transport node, the positive developments will attract more private and public investment. In theory, the benefits will then extend to the surrounding avenues and connect with other major plazas in Centro Lima such as San Martín.
However, the Municipality of Lima must be aware of the long-term possibility of losing some of what is good about the plaza if the value increases. For example, one of the plaza’s most charming elements is the collection of small music shops that should be acknowledged and could be integrated into the long-term vision.
Plaza 2 de Mayo is an ideal case study for students of urban planning, a career still in its infancy in modern Peru.
Dominated by architects and engineers, planning departments in Peru’s municipalities are only recently beginning to apply concepts such as connectivity and urban design through a social rather than strictly technical lens. Peru’s economic and social crisis of the 80’s followed by the political corruption of the 90’s negatively impacted the planning field in many ways.
This is not to say quality territorial planning has never existed in the Andean country. Many pre-Columbian civilizations were extraordinary planners of both urban and rural environments and modern Peru has much to learn from them. However, that is a topic for another day.