For those unfamiliar with Valparaíso, allow me to inform you: this city is a treasure. The UNESCO World Heritage site and cultural capital of Chile is defined by its winding paths, happily graffitied streets, antiquated funiculars, and – above all – its colorful, tightly-packed hills. And because of its precarious density, the city was brought to its knees by vicious forest fires this past weekend, fires which quickly spread and consumed 2,500 acres, displacing over 12,500 people whose homes were destroyed.
The hills where the fires hit hardest are similar to Brazilian favelas – inhabited by informal residents who have little to no access to infrastructure and who constructed their homes themselves, illegally, and – as the fires have proven – rather perilously.
The response of the Chilean government so far has been to suggest bulldozing and building again in “a more orderly manner.” To do so, the government has intimated that it will expropriate land and relocate citizens to safer sites.
However, residents have already begun resisting this potential outcome. As ArchDaily correspondent Nicolás Valencia reported from Cerro Ramaditas (one of the hillside communities most devastated by the fire), many have refused to leave for fear that their land be taken from them; those that have gone, have left markers “cordoning off what they consider theirs with pieces of wood or metal cans.”
It’s a troubling dilemma: evict victims from the only home they’ve ever known or relegate them to lives at risk of future catastrophe. But could there be another way?