The Ghetto of the Future, Santiago Centro
Santiago is plagued by building developers like Senerman, Paz/Fromovich, and multiple others, who are in the final phases of a construction boom in Santiago centro. Within the last month the city actually had the sense to freeze further permits for high-rise construction in the historical center of the city. The downtown, specifically between Rosas to the North, the Norte-Sur to the West, and Agustinas to the South, is filled with bland 25 story apartment buildings, yet the roads still suck, there are few services (although grocery retailers like Ekono are looking to be the urban market of choice by revamping their look and squeezing into neighborhoods of future high density,) and as we have seen, the metro is already packed.
While in general I am a fan of population density, sharing space with neighbors, elevator interactions, packed sidewalks and all the corresponding commerce, this density does not seem to be planned.
Instead it seems like an extension of the preexisting business mentality in Chile, Make your money and run. The buildings have no architectural shine, except for one, of concrete pillars and glass, near Compañia with San Martin, and seem to prioritize low-cost building design, techniques and materials, not to mention the 28-40 square meters of space of the apartmentes themselves. The pilot apartments have specially made small beds and furnishings that give the visual impression of more space.
I have walked the corridors, taken the elevators, eaten from the counters in “American” kitchens and looked outside of the windows of one of these apartments. It was a frightful experience. It was claustrophobic and dark, with plastic wood-like flooring, thin walls. Just like in población, or a cheap motel, you hear your neighbors having sex.
Ostensibly signs of financial and personal independence the woman who I knew who purchased these apartments were succesful journalists or lawyers in the government and bought them with their own money. But as you rise the elevator, or duck your head while walking through the narrower than normal hallway with lowered ceilings, there is dread which trails close behind the displayed pride of your host. And that dread is confirmed upon entering apartments where the living space allows you a good two steps before hitting furniture, like a sofa. To the left is the kitchen, with a work space of probably a couple feet in either direction. The bedroom is almost entirely occupied by the double bed. Its cramped and embarrassing position is the only one that is possible. In one case of shunning a woman who lived in one of these apartments I was personally embarrassed for my “cesgo” or blindness and tracked her down unsuccesfully. But frankly, it means a lot to me how people choose to live, and if they can’t see how much of a scam these apartments are to me, then it is an indicator of their personal qualities.
These apartments are illusions, because the real sign of good living, as it were, according to me, is space and quality. Neither are in evidence in these apartments.
But, I think that quickly, these first time apartment owners, who in many cases have purchased these properties, “en verde,” or before construction is completed, will vacate or sell as the true qualities of these constructions are revealed. Or, as they say in Spanish, “mostrarán su hilacha,” as what happened in a new building in Providencia where the dry wall ceiling crashed down upon a child’s bed. The baby was not present at the time of the incident. They will then seek out better quality and more space, hopefully renovating the historical neighborhoods and their dilapidated century old housing which once housed Santiago’s elite.
Then, rental values for these sub-par apartments will go down, attracting another “type” of rentor, with less income and less capacity to infuse cash, life and economic development into the neighborhood. This idea was confirmed in a chance conversation with a young Chilean architect I am on shaky ground with that last statement, but I foresee a change to the original demographic desired by developers which will result in a devaluation of apartment values in this area.
This article in the New York Times about the rapid expansion of the Brazilian housing market is technical, yet may provide an understanding of how the future market in Chilean housing finance and property values proceed. But, as is the case in Chile, quality of new housing is not an issue immediately addressed. Money is made hand over fist.