Walking past a mall here in Lima last weekend, I got to thinking about Peru’s economic boom.
It wasn’t one of Lima’s emblematic malls, however. No matter how scenic the view is from the Tony Roma’s in Larcomar or how perfectly Jockey Plaza’s Boulevard mimics an upscale California mall, they cannot serve as barometers for the country. Every country in Latin America has some affluent neighborhoods, with the fancy stores and nightclubs to cater to the upper class. What few countries have done, however, is to create a large, stable middle class.
Which brings me to my walk past Plaza Norte. If you haven’t been to Plaza Norte, it is a large mall with 100 stores, several department stores, Lima’s best bus terminal, and one of the best movie theaters in town. It’s all located in Independenica, deep in the heart of what was once called the Cono Norte.
Independencia was settled in the 1960s through land invasions, and for the next several decades it welcomed a stream of migrants, mainly from the highlands, seeking to escape poverty and violence. Independencia, and the areas around it, were for years considered slums, an impoverished area dominated by informality.
Today, Independencia still looks a bit rough around the edges. It’s the kind of neighborhood where passing motorists usually roll up their windows and lock their doors. Yet rising above its streets, there is this shrine to modern consumerism.
I am not a huge fan of malls, but they serve well as a symbol of economic growth. For a mall to survive, it needs local shoppers with stable, disposable income and access to credit. Miraflores and Monterrico have had them for a long time, and Lima Norte has them now.
Plaza Norte was built in 2009 and has grown for the past two-and-a-half-years. Stop by on the weekend, and you will see that it is as full as any mall in Lima. The shoppers come from throughout Lima Norte; neighborhoods like Los Olivos, Comas and Puente Piedra that have little caché, but account for 39% of Lima’s economic activity. Plaza Norte is not alone, either; just in the immediate surrounding area, you will also find Mega Plaza and Real Plaza.
When looking for evidence of Peru’s progress towards status as a “first world” country, we should not focus on the number of millionaires or the beach houses in Asia or even the temples of high gastronomy. Every country, no matter how poor, has its pockets of affluence. Instead, we should be talking about Peru’s success in cutting the poverty rate (which has already been nearly halved), bringing clean water, electricity and good roads to communities that have never had them, and growing a middle class like the one that shops at Plaza Norte. If Peru is to become a first world country, it will have to continue this process.
Peru’s economic growth can be seen at a mall in Lima Norte.