The innovative MetroCable inaugurated this year in the San Agustin neighborhood of Caracas will be part of a New York Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) exhibit focusing on extraordinary projects to improve social conditions.
It stretches high across the Caracas skyline, over one of the city’s oldest and poorest neighborhoods, San Agustin. The incredible vision of the high-tech cable cars gliding over the tin rooftops of a primarily Afro-Venezuelan community is a sign of Caracas’ great contradictions.
Gorgeous green, plush mountains surround a city plagued by boring block buildings and no urban design. The chaotic and congested capital of one of the world’s largest oil-producing countries has possibly the best climate year round – an eternal spring. Days are sprinkled with tropical sunshine and the occasional spurt of rain. The climate is sheltered by the mountains, so it’s not too hot during the day and just chilly enough in the evening for a light jacket.
But the oil-induced economy and rampant corruption created dramatic divisions in wealth throughout the twentieth century, and the mass disparity between the rich and the poor is evidenced by the stark shacks freckled on the hillsides of Caracas, surrounding the wealthier luxury high-rise condominiums and quintas protected by electric fences, gated communities and large concrete walls to keep outsiders (the poor) from seeing their stolen riches.
The government of Hugo Chavez has been struggling for ten years to eradicate poverty, suceeding in reducing extreme poverty by 50% as of 2009 and implementing free educational, health and job services nationwide. But crime rates have soared in Caracas, despite government initiatives to build new police forces, implement community-based neighborhood watch programs and address crime at its social roots by allieviating the ailments of poverty. There is still much work to be done.
The innovative MetroCable transport system inaugurated earlier this year is an attempt to reduce some of the daily difficulties that make life arduous for those that live in the poor, hillside communities. It’s a dream come true for the majority working class and poor community of San Agustin, one of the oldest and compact neighborhoods in Caracas.
Like other poorer areas in the Venezuelan capital, San Agustin runs steeply and dangerously up the mountainside, making transport by vehicle difficult and often impossible. Some areas are only accesible via unstable stairs built into the city’s towering hills. For some senior citizens and the disabled, leaving the neighborhood was only a rare possibility when sufficient help and support was available.
But now, all that has changed. The hardships of accessing a steep mountainside community have been relieved by the Venezuelan government’s innovative new MetroCable car system.
A combination of Austrian, Brazilian and French technology, the whole system cost the government over $262 million USD. More than 36,000 people are benefiting daily from the unusual transport that has been integrated with the Caracas Metro, the city’s underground public transportation system.
Operating daily from 6am to 10pm, the Metrocable costs each user .50 bolivars (approximately 10 cents) roundtrip. Its 50 cars operate continuously from morning to night, carrying community members traditionally excluded from prior governments’ policies.
The system itself is run by residents of San Agustin who underwent training during the last 2 years with the Caracas Metro. During its construction, community members were also employed to work as carpenters, builders and assistants. “The idea is that the community itself not only uses the MetroCable, but also identify with it as their own. They built it, they run it, they use it, so they will take care of it”, said Victor Matute, president of the Caracas Metro, during the inauguration in January.
“These public works will liberate the people”, declared President Hugo Chavez during the inaugural ceremony for the new transport system. The objective is to benefit a historically excluded part of the population. “Poverty is a heavy weight that lashes us like a whip every hour of every day. We will not rest until there is social justice in Venezuela”, declared Chavez.
In recognition of its extraordinary image and impact on the San Agustin community, the Caracas MetroCable was selected to be part of the exhibit, “Small Scale, Big Change: New Architectures of Social Engagement”, a major exhibition organized by the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. The exhibit will explore contemporary architecture as a powerful means for improving social conditions, focusing on 11 noteworthy built or under-construction projects in underserved communities around the world.
The exhibition will be on view from October 3, 2010, through January 3, 2011. Concentrating on a group of architects who confront inequality by using the tools of design, Small Scale, Big Change will examine the ways these architects engage with local, social, economic, and political circumstances to develop positive architectural interventions that begin with an understanding of and deference to a community.