Reconstruye: building back integrated cities
JAN 21, 2015

Earthquakes cause distress and uncertainty, however such unexpected events can also wake-up and trigger unpredicted social processes which otherwise remain hidden, creating opportunities for positive change. In February 2010, one of the biggest earthquakes and tsunamis in history (Richter 8.8), hit the most populated region of Chile affecting most of the population, destroying infrastructure, houses and in some cases complete villages. Following the earthquake, solidarity and support networks emerged at different levels, including a mixed group of professionals and students organised under the name of Reconstruye (“Rebuild”), offering technical and political support to some affected areas. 

In the aftermath of the earthquake, the Reconstruye team and the affected communities we were working with recognised that if people are not able to respond well to a diversity of possible threats, not only natural but social as well, such as evictions, social and economic networks risk being constantly fragmented, increasing people’s vulnerability.

We started working with a specific group of neighbours affected by the earthquake who used to live in a central area of the city of Talca, but didn’t own their houses. The “committee of the landless” is a network of mostly woman, renting or sharing houses, who knew that despite having access to special post-earthquake subsidies, the compensation wouldn’t be enough to allow them to stay in their home area, as the land value had become too high, and inevitably be pushed to the periphery of the city.

In this context, Reconstruye started working with this committee, other NGOS, communities and local authorities on a housing project for 20 affected families part of the “committee of the landless”. Working together, we developed a proposal for a “Mixed-Income Housing project” called Los Maitenes, a 4-storey building with 20 units for the affected families, plus 18 commercial units for middle class families from the area. By combining diverse sources of finance and pooling subsidies, including a cross subsidy from the commercial units, the funds for the project were noticeably higher than the basic housing subsidy, enough to buy the land and allow the affected families to stay in the city centre, and integrate with different social groups.

To reconcile living in a different housing typology, it was important to build a relationship of trust with the affected people. Obtaining the land, required a technical perspective and agreement between the affected families. The resultwas more than sharing land, but feeling power as a community in their commitment and capacity to shape their future and their city and the investors for the commercial units. Official government standards constrained the unit design, however the affected families participated in the overall planning process: the committee organised a system to assign the units in a just and collaborative way, and to set the rules for future coexistence. The result was more than sharing land, but feeling power as a community in their commitment and capacity to shape their future and their city. In exchanging their experiences with other affected areas, the Los Maitenes story became an innovative solution for different social groups to share the benefits of well-located land. | Camila Cociña

To learn more about Reconstruye and their projects, visit their website or write an email to Camila, at camila.cocina@gmail.com