Learning to Walk in Arequipa, Peru

Over the summer I had the opportunity to visit Arequipa, Peru’s southern-most major city, and see first hand all the work that the city and regional governments have done to make the city more pedestrian friendly. So far, Arequipa has completed one major project, the pedestrianization of Mercaderes, the main commercial drag in the heart of the city. This street was once jam packed with cars, many of which were old and belched out dirty fumes that darkened the air.

Now, the street is remarkably clean and quiet. It’s a pleasant place to stroll, go shopping, and people watch. I talked with a few pedestrians and merchants whose stores lined the street and they all agreed that Mercaderes was much improved without the car traffic. Some even suggested that more streets in the city should ban cars and become more like Mercaderes.

In fact, the city is planning to do exactly that. Its goal is to connect several of the more important streets in the city’s historic downtown, a UNESCO world heritage site, by making them pedestrian only. It also plans to replace the city’s chaotic transit system of small vans and buses with a bus rapid transit system that has fixed stops and bus-exclusive lanes. If the transit project goes through, it will be a boon for city residents and will dramatically improve the quality of life for people who live in Arequipa.

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  • Mauricio Huaco

    Indeed, a truly pioneering iniciative to introduce not only a new concept in urban public space but also a new way of living. However, this effort could end useless when two important factors are kept aside. One has to do with encompassing this otherwise isolated project as part of the new transport system of Arequipa, viewed from an integrated point of view. Accesibility and mobility are to be planned together. The other issue has to do with timing and contituency. Since these kind of projects are large both in costs and time, it is importan for Arequipenians to make sure the following authorities will keep the main idea as much intact as possible, no matter political or skin color. Sadly, each new local goverment make sure their agenda is brand new making contuinity of large projects almost a chimera.
    As a landscape architect and sustainable transport supporter, Arequipa´s Mercaderes Pedestrian Street has become an inflection point in considering humanization of public open space as an achievable and tangible goal.
    I am glad that this project aimed to make cities more livable places has become tangible amid a such conservative society. Furthermore, economic boost among retailers along Mercaderes Street is a strong indicator that must be kept in mind for future pedestrianization projects expansion city-wide. Proper shading has to be introduced since Arequipa holds one of the highest UV radiation levels. We want people to walk, but only if a healthy and safe environment is available.

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