Downtown revitalization in San Salvador

Detta är en Master-uppsats från Blekinge Tekniska Högskola/Sektionen för planering och mediedesign; Blekinge Tekniska Högskola/Sektionen för planering och mediedesign


The aim of this master’s thesis in spatial planning is to research the conditions in the historic city centre of San Salvador and make a strategy and urban design proposal for the area, but also to investigate the relationship between economic development, public institutions and the public space in this area. The research has been done through literature studies on El Salvador and formal/informal economy, onsite inventory, studies of good examples and interviews with people in the area. In the analysis of the area we investigate four topics; Functionality, Economy, Sustainability and Place Qualities. To do this we use concepts concerning city life and form from Jane Jacobs, Jan Gehl and sustainability concepts from The Natural Step. The urban design proposals have been created through sketching, discussing and testing in threedimensional modelling. The republic of El Salvador is located on the pacific coast of Central America and it is the smallest country in the region. It has a population of 6,2 million and the capital San Salvador which is located in the middle of the country is the demographic and economic centre with 1,5-2 million inhabitants in the metropolitan area. The country was in civil war between 1980 and 1992, when the left wing guerrilla was fighting the military government for the people’s right to the land. The historic city centre has a grid structure and contains many historically important places and monuments, like the national palace and theatre. The grid structure is several hundred years old but because the city is located in a region that is frequently struck by earthquakes the area has been rebuilt several times. One of the main problems is the extensive street vending in the public space. These informal markets are competing with the formal economy in the area and one of the consequences is that there are no longer any investments made into the built structure. Together with other causes, such as extensive regulations on what can be changed or built in the area, it causes the historic centre to deteriorate while investors are choosing more peripheral areas of the city to invest in. Most of the down town is commercial space and 90 % of the buses pass through this area. It is not a pedestrian friendly city and people who can afford a car will choose driving before the public transport. An alternative development for the public transportation has been made by the Leon Sol Arquitectos office. It suggests a network of faster and more efficient busses in a Bus Rapid Transit model. In the core of the down town there is a concentration of plazas which together with the historic buildings makes it a unique part of the city. In the interviews conducted people expressed that the city centre was disorganized and neglected, few people had public space as their favourite place down town. The street vending is a part of the informal economy, which consists of economic activity that occurs outside the government registered formal economy. The informal economies are growing in developing countries. We found a good example on how to develop the public space in the neighboring municipality of Santa Tecla. There a stable political majority and more economic funds made it possible to renovate an old building to create a cultural centre and at the same time renovate the public space connecting it with another public building. This resulted in a very nice public space with good prerequisites for restaurants and shops. The analysis is divided into four topics; functionality, economy, sustainability and place qualities. In the functionality analysis we find that the city centre could be functioning better when it comes to traffic and street environment, the street vending together with too many buses is causing chaotic and crowded streets. The public space is also worn down and badly maintained in many places. In the economy analysis we conclude that the informal economy is making it unattractive for the formal economy causing the built structure to deteriorate due to lack of maintenance. In our sustainability analysis we find that the street vending as an informal economic activity is hindering people to meet their human needs of participation, leisure and protection. But the area has good prerequisites for people to lead a lifestyle without fossil fuels extracted from the earth’s crust, due to the location and accessibility to public transport. A more efficient use of the existing structure could make the area contribute to less land being degraded through human activities elsewhere. The qualities of this area are, as mentioned earlier, unique for San Salvador. No other part of the city has such a walkable structure with so many plazas and historic buildings. Despite this the environment is not good enough for people to do optional activities. Our conclusion is that the street environment needs to be improved when it comes to the traffic, the street vending and the quality of the physical structure. This will also give the formal economy of the area a new chance to grow and improve the economical willingness to take care of the built structure. The street vendors need to be provided new places or alternative employment and to be incorporated into the formal economy. Measurements like this may be difficult to implement because of political instability, criminal gangs, corruption and lack of economic means. The studies and analyses resulted in a general strategy, recommendations and urban design proposals. We recommend a strategy similar to the Santa Tecla example, the municipality need to make the area attractive to people to make it attractive for investments and development of the formal economy in the area. To achieve this the street vendors need to be moved and be provided an alternative location, the streets and plazas need to be renovated and in combination with the renovation and activation of public buildings. The traffic situation should be improved through implementation of a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system. The recuperated and renovated public space also needs to be maintained through policing, cleaning and reparations. This strategy is the basis for the individual design proposals. The proposals aim to provide suggestions on what the public spaces in the city centre could look like. Each proposal has a distinct character and serves different purposes to create diversity in the area. Julia’s proposals transforms Plaza San Martin to a plaza integrated with a bus station for a new BRT bus line, develops Plaza Barrios through a monumental pavement and makes Parque Libertad more accessible for recreation. Elisabet is proposing to develop Calle Arce into a pedestrian street with organized street vending, making Hula Hula into a centre for the street vendors and suggesting a transformation of Plaza Morazan to better cooperate with the theatre.

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