INTERVIEW | Marco Negrón, architect

"The Mission Housing is a blend of deceit and manipulation"

"Being brutally honest, I have to say that what is being done today is basically replicating the David Tower throughout all of Caracas" "It is more about an electoral strategy; more than an actual home, what is on offer is the hope to one day have one"

Marco Negrón: "The city is being deceived by an alleged solution that will ultimately bring about more deterioration and disarticulation" (Handout photo)
Saturday February 16, 2013  12:00 AM
Two years after the government launched its stellar program, Marco Negrón, a Doctorate in Urban Planning, Professor at the Central University of Venezuela and consultant for the Metropolitan Urban Planning Institute, goes against the flow and labels the Mission Housing Venezuela "a big scam."

-How do you explain to someone who lost his or her shanty home in a natural catastrophe and received an apartment in bustling Libertador Avenue in exchange that it is all a scam?

-I am talking about deceit at a social, not individual, level. That person will obviously be forever thankful to the government unless an earthquake, for example, takes place and things turn out worse than they should because seismic standards were hastily overlooked. The city, as a whole, is being conned. It is being told that a problem is being solved, but what is really happening is deterioration and disarticulation as a result of many buildings being erected without services being improved. Some 225 new buildings surround the military base of Fuerte Tiuna, southwest Caracas, but not a single road project is being developed, and all inhabitants are forced to commute on the already congested Valle-Coche highway. In addition, those are low-quality edifications without public spaces.

-Maybe those housing complexes are being criticized from a middle-class standpoint because, after all, those homes despite their limitations are better than a shanty dwelling...

-But a city must be built based precisely on that standpoint! The issue nowadays is that the homes being built are, I have to be brutally honest, similar to replicating the David Tower throughout the capital city. People have forgotten the great downtown example of El Silencio, which is a large-scale reproduction of the patio of a colonial house, except that it is a collective patio for the masses. All those buildings being made nowadays lack even the smallest patio.

-Many claim that such a boost in construction activities has never before been seen in the capital city...

-That is because 10 years elapsed with hardly anything being built at all, and the contrast is now far too big. A significant effort has been made, taking into account what was done over the first 10 years. It is a huge increase (the budget allocated is twice the national budget of Guatemala) because the Mission Housing Venezuela is an electoral strategy and, as such, is meant to make waves specifically in the capital. A total of 30,749 homes are being built in the capital city from a total of 200,000 targeted for the Mission, including those built by the state and the private sector. But if we take a look at houses per 1,000 people, roughly 3.5 homes have been built per every 100,000 persons in other areas of the country between 2011 and 2012. Those figures are similar to the ones from 1989 to 1998, which was the worst period for development as opposed to the 70's and 80's.

-But, they talk about nearly 200,000 homes in 2012 alone, and that is way more than 3.5 homes per 100,000 people...

-Be wary of those figures because statistical manipulation is being used to say they have reached those targets. Over 89,000 of those homes (45%) were not built by the state or the private sector; they were developed by the so-called popular sector. This means replacing shanty homes with brick houses, not with new units, and that has never before been included statistically. They are made by the population in generally unsuitable urban spaces, without proper utilities and in high-risk zones in most cases. And now, they say that 61.3% of homes will be built by the popular sector this year.

-Is that not an achievement on its own? They could now claim that the "people" make their own homes.

-The main builders here have always been the people themselves, regardless of the quality of those structures. But it is shameless to plug it as an achievement of housing policies; no government had ever done that before. And no, it is no achievement of any kind: shantytowns are subject to very high risks, and this is now being consolidated. How could you deem it an achievement to turn a shanty house into a home if that home itself continues to be on unstable land or in a shantytown lacking proper care and utilities?

-And why did the rehabilitation program aimed at shantytowns at the beginning of Chavez's government fall through?

-A military vision of compulsory relocation was implemented, attempting to build cities out of nowhere. But simply look at all the water and transportation issues that Ciudad Caribia already has with only 5% of its theoretical population. This model is no longer used because it has failed throughout the world.

-Is it a sustainable model?

-Not for the long term. The Mission Housing Venezuela is an electoral operation and what it offers is hope, like the lottery: few win, but every one thinks he or she could win. It will remain in place as long as elections are on the horizon, but not beyond that. Ideally, the state would not have to give homes away but rather create conditions so that everyone may access a home and address the issues that the people themselves cannot: roads, public spaces and utilities.

Translated by Félix Rojas Alva
The end of a cycle

Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Brazil on March 13 to demand the ouster of embattled President Dilma Rousseff, carrying banners expressing anger at bribery scandals and economic woes. A banner read "We don't want a new Venezuela in Brazil."

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