San José de Chamanga: A Multi-actor Reconstruction Process

San José de Chamanga in the province of Esmeraldas is a village located on the Pacific Coast of Ecuador. The earthquake of 7.8 which took place on April 16 of 2016 had major consequences on the lives of people and their living settlements. The toll in human lives in the country was more than 650 people and vast numbers of buildings and infrastructures were destroyed. As Chamanga was already a village lacking of basic infrastructure, such as potable water or sewage system, the earthquake exacerbated the already poor conditions to an emergency requiring immediate action.

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This emergency drew attention from social, governmental, non-profit or private institutions, volunteers and academia, as well as other actors with various interests and motivations, willing to assist in one way or another in the reconstruction process.

Apart from addressing basic infrastructure, the people’s most urgent need was the attaining some sort of normalization of their daily lives by recuperating or re-inventing their habitat and with the swift construction of new houses. However the process has been slow and approaches to new housing raise many questions regarding respect of local identities, social ties and management of the sensitive issue of the relocation of people living within the limits of risk zones for tsunami and liquefaction, according to geotechnical terrain studies.

Coordination became a major challenge.

With these issues unresolved, Chamanga’s recuperation masterplan has been underway, divided into different parcels, for which different actors are responsible. These include the reconstruction of the main access road, mass housing development, schools, a park as main public space, the main pier reconstruction and extension, recovery of the manglar ecosystem,  small playground for kids and several other projects referring to connectivity between the pier and the rest of the community.

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Our team, consisting of three Ecuadorian & two Greek students, under the guidelines of two professors from both countries and an American sociologist with experience on participatory design process methodologies, was responsible for the design of the community’s main public space of Chamanga. This space was allocated at the area deemed inappropriate for buildings, as high-risk for tsunami and liquefaction zones. The process followed was based on a participatory methodology with us taking part in two of the four on-site workshops realized from May til the end of September. The first two were about the overall masterplan and the last two about the public space identity and functions.

After the first workshop that took place in the community of Chamanga, we became aware of the main aspects pertaining to the meaning and use of the public space based on the community’s own perceptions, as well as the variety of activities and uses to be included in the space. Apart from the guidelines obtained, our basic concern was to incorporate the existing housing and respect people’s existing property that exists on-site. One main adopted concept, taking into account the time needed for the relocation of people living on the future-park’s space, but also taking into account aspects of the sustainability of the project was time-phasing.

Our main focus was on designing a process based on principles of “Zoning” and “Phasing“, the outcome of which would fulfill the various expressed social & spatial needs and expectations. At the same time to design a transitional space, which would incorporate all possible economic or social future states.

However, the park of Chamanga is still a fragment of the overall masterplan. Making sense of the various bits and pieces of planning and coordinating the different actors working for Chamanga’s needs remains a major task which was revealed during the “Tejiendo Chamanga” (‘Weaving Chamanga _ A Post-Disaster, Multi-Actor Design Process) event that was hosted by PUCE inviting all actors at the same place.

The future of Chamanga and the outcome of the experiment we were a part of remains to be seen.

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