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“This used to look green,” says Gabriela García, a resident of the Lurín district, wistfully from the top of a hill located in the Pachacámac archaeological complex, about 30 kilometers south of Lima. On this morning with a blinking sun, the panorama that can be seen when looking down is an archipelago of farmlands, warehouses, factories, lines of roads.
In the distance you can see a tractor that seems to flatten the ground. “Surely you do not have authorization, because anything happens here,” says Garcia, somewhat embarrassed. The machine raises a dust that makes the scene more ugly, although to the right you can see some beaches and the open, blue and endless sea, where a couple of beautiful islands emerge nailed to the horizon.
How green was my basin
What can be seen, while the sun already discharges some more determined rays, is the lower part of the Lurín river valley, which from the upper parts of this central area of the country forms a basin strewn with mountains, tributaries and numerous towns. Its final stretch is there, where that tractor swarms, and where you can also see the last arm of water that reaches the ocean.
It could be one more still life of the many that there are on this predated planet. But it happens that that muddy river, which seems to be reaching its last station exhausted, and those parceled fields that in one sector look cut by an intruding metal warehouse, are almost the last reserves of green that Lima, a misty city of more than nine million souls.
International standards recommend that cities have at least 10 square meters of green areas per inhabitant to make life more breathable. The capital of Peru, however, has an average of just three. What’s more: Lurín, the district that bears the name of the same river and the valley where these fields are located, has only 1.12 square meters per neighbor.
Cities must have at least 10 square meters of green areas per inhabitant. Lima has just three
“Lima is one of the metropolitan cities with the least amount of public green per inhabitant. We are nestled in a desert and we have very few parks, ”says Anna Zuchetti, director of Suburbs, an organization that promotes sustainable projects. It is the second most populated desert city in the world after Cairo, according to the UN.
Even so, On March 11, the councilors of the Municipality of Metropolitan Lima approved a Comprehensive Zoning Readjustment (RIZ) that would affect some 500 of the nearly 2,000 agricultural hectares in the lower part of this valley, which has a total of 7,000 in which there are also hills, a peculiar ecosystem that turns green only with seasonal humidity.
There are also cultivated fields and various species of trees that, hundreds of years ago, when the Incas had dominated other cultures of these lands, were more frequent. When the Sanctuary of Pachacámac was not in danger and was rather an important ceremonial center. Not like today when, if the RIZ continues, it could be surrounded by buildings or shopping centers.
The reasons for continuing to build buildings in Lima are acceptable: the population is growing, it needs services. Entrenched in this real problem, 22 councilors of the Lima municipality gave the green light to this RIZ, although, according to García, it would not favor the construction of housing for low-income families and would rather feed “the speculators of urban and rural land.”
The green and the urban
If such a change in zoning is not stopped, for example, from this archaeological peak where centuries ago the god Pachacámac (“the one who animates the world”, in Quechua language) was worshiped, buildings or even shopping centers would be seen. Not only would you appreciate the neighboring polo field that today coexists with this site, but perhaps a luxurious shopping center or buildings overlooking the sea.
Because what the RIZ does is change some vital coordinates. It proposes that the coastal zone, where the river faces the coastline, goes from being a “recreational housing zone” and of “medium residential density and zonal commerce” to zones enabled for “metropolitan commerce”. In other words, it would encourage large stores and huge buildings on the edge of the beaches.
In the style of Copacabana or Marbella, let’s say, without taking into account that the entire Peruvian coastline is vulnerable to tsunamis, something about which the College of Architects of Lima has warned. In a statement, the institution specifies that it is an area of ”very high risk of disasters due to the danger of tsunamis and the effects of global climate change.” That is, to get within range of the wave.
The architect Liliana Miranda, who lives on a small beach in front of the sea in the district of Lurín, is outraged by this possibility. “With this spectacular view [las dos hermosas islas se divisan desde su balcón]”, He explains,“ there is a big real estate business involved ”. It is not done, he adds, for a “social housing” project, as argued in favor of the RIZ.
On the other hand, the green lands of the lower part of the valley – those that we see as surviving from the Pachacámac Sanctuary would go from being “low-density residential” to “medium-density residential”. In other words, more cement and fewer fields. A land use almost unleashed, which would end the last green valley of Lima.
Due to social, political and institutional pressure – the Ministries of Environment, Culture and Housing are also opposed – on March 25, the mayor of Lima, Jorge Muñoz, decided to suspend the effects of the ordinance that started the RIZ. He argued that it was necessary to “clarify any technical questions” and “listen to the actors involved for the benefit of the population.”
The citizens of Lurín and other neighboring districts who oppose it – such as Pachacámac, which bears the name of the archaeological site – breathed. Also Denisse Pozzi-Escot, director of the museum located in this pre-Hispanic sanctuary, who is very alert about the impact that the RIZ could cause in the buffer zone of this place, which keeps an ancestral history.
There are other ways
And probably also breathed the few birds that still swarm the almost dying Quilcay wetland, a remnant of the huge wetland that ran from that area to Chorrillos, a district already located in Metropolitan Lima. Incredibly, a part of it is now within the premises of a company called Century City, where a large shopping center would be built.
At the moment, and due to the controversy, the works are paralyzed, but the damage has already been done. With a brief foray through the place, it is verified that this wetland is almost dry, and that a small channel of water that leaves this sort of occupied territory barely survives and that, when it reaches the sea, gives shelter to a few birds typical of this ecosystem.
The architect Miranda recalls that, precisely, this presence of wetlands makes any construction that is built in front of the beach more vulnerable, because the ground is soft, fragile in the face of a seismic movement and, even more so, in the face of a tsunami. In the surroundings, in addition, the fields are patched: over there a farm field, a farm, little houses.
Also a small church, which is close to an old road and a beach where there are some restaurants today almost empty due to the pandemic. A neighbor tells that there is not much work in the area, that before there were more agricultural fields, and that now it is not easy to find fish in the sea, because it seems that the prevailing disorder also ended up impacting him.
Towards the end of the nineties, the Environmental Consulting and Advisory Office (OACA), then led by Zuchetti, carried out the Valle Verde Program, which made efforts to turn this place into an ecological-tourist garden and an archaeological-cultural park. Well, in addition to the Pachacámac Sanctuary, there are 300 more archaeological sites throughout the basin.
The program was maintained for several years and managed to neutralize a greater advance of the urban grip on this ecosystem, but it had to endure the continuous changes in the municipalities of Lima and Lurín, where successive ordinances turned the land into a variable commodity. Today the proposal is to turn this garlic valley into a rural and cultural metropolitan park.
All this despite the fact that there is no absence of alternatives. After touring the different corners of the valley, you will reach Macropolis, a gigantic industrial complex of 1,400 hectares nailed in the driest part of the Lurín district, where each company can have a lot of up to 1,000 square meters. With facilities and all services.
From the top of the archaeological sanctuary you can see the sea, with its two beautiful islands that are popularly called “La Ballena”, when in reality they are the islands of La Viuda and Pachacámac. Turning into the valley, the orchards in danger of extinction appear again, the invading factories and, towards the bottom, the towns of Lurín and Pachacámac.
At the last minute, the architect Eusebio Cabrera, manager of Urban Development of the Municipality of Lima, has declared that the RIZ has been suspended, although there are previous zoning that can no longer be modified. And that in recent years there has been “the interference of activities that have changed the use and have atomized the size of the plots.”
This is what a large part of Lima would expect, as can be seen, since its other valleys, those of the Chillón and Rímac rivers, are almost entirely invaded by cement. Only in Lurín does the hope seem to beat that it will not become a more unbridled and unbreathable mega city that does not respect its fields or its ancestors.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.