Background Valparaíso Case

Valparaíso (“Valpo” locally) is a port city about 70 miles/110 km northwest of Santiago. It is the third largest metropolitan area in the country and is widely considered to be an educational center commune (administrative subdivision) with four large universities and several vocational schools. In the first half of the twentieth century, Valparaíso suffered a significant economic downturn due to decreased shipping traffic following the opening of the Panama Canal, which worsened in the second half of the twentieth century as wealthy families left the city. Since the turn of the century, however, it has experienced an artistic and cultural resurgence. Valparaíso, is now known as a beautiful artist community city on the water.

On April 12, 2014, just two weeks after an 8.2-magnitude earthquake in northern Chile killed 5 people and destroyed 2,635 houses, a fire in Valparaíso killed 15 people, seriously injured 10, destroyed 2,500 houses, and left 11,000 homeless. This disaster has been called the “Great Fire of Valparaíso” and President Michelle Bachalet declared the commune a disaster zone. Immediately following the fire, the state declared constitutional exception, which gave the Chilean Army control of the city for several days.

At least six power outages during the blaze impeded efforts to extinguish it and also gave thieves opportunities to loot abandoned houses. Some reports suggested that the extent of the damage was due in part to political failures (e.g. reliance on unpaid volunteer fire fighters, insufficient equipment, lack of running water for hoses, etc.). Residents have since begun rebuilding, with varied support from the international community (e.g. the American Jewish Committee, a nonprofit based in New York, raised $2,800 through Indiegogo in May for home rebuilding efforts). Less direct but larger in scale, the College of Architects of Valparaíso has submitted a proposal for a new urban plan that includes redirecting local streams, creating a metropolitan park, and other reformative components that clearly support the notion of disaster as economic opportunity.

The struggle of Valparaíso post-fire seems to derive from competing visions for a future state of the city. Divergent views on what is a successful recovery abound. Statistics point to a continuing downward spiral. Many have not returned after evacuating. Entire housing projects have been devastated. Many neighborhoods have not even begun to recover while others have been quick to organize and reconstruct.

Valparaíso Workshop

The Valparaíso City-to-City workshop will jump into the complexity of planning post fire in Valparaíso along side its Chilean counter parts. Global Cityscope students seek to learn: How does a post-disaster city grapple with its ideas of identity, what it is, who it represents, and how it projects its sense of self to residences, businesses, tourists, and to the outside world? In considering its people, how do city planners think about who lives where and why? At the same time, how can city planners celebrate a city’s history and its culture and how can these elements be woven into reconstruction?

City-to-City students will work on real projects through the Spring Semester that could possibly lead to internships. Students will be exposed to planning activists, geographers, artists, city designers, policy makers, non-profit groups. Students will travel from Cambridge to Valparaíso over Spring Break to meet, consult with and present findings to and with their alumni clients. 

As part of our Chile Spring Workshop in Valparaíso, we will use history, social and political science, technical tools including GIS, digital media, on-the-ground field experience to explore the complexity of the city to reveal and propose solutions for its many problems. Each student will work within a small group, interacting with faculty, teaching assistants and Chilean students where s/he will participate in the following activities:

  • Map stakeholders
  • Evaluate current mitigation planning problems, solutions and successes.
  • Identify, interview and survey stakeholders in a planning environment.
  • Work with on-the-ground planners to select an appropriate tool to inform the project team. Tools may include Geographic Information Systems (GIS), GPS planning techniques, cell phones to survey, among other techniques.
  • Be exposed through the use of multi-media materials, conversations, readings and planners to the disaster, the people, the processes and the projects that planners are developing.
  • Shadow a planner exercise — working on the ground and in the field, each student will be assigned to a planning agency for the day. The student will work on day-to-day tasks, learning what it means to be a planner in the field.