Thursday, January 31, 2013

A Metropolitan Santiago

One of the things that has surprised me, even though I knew before arriving, is that Santiago is HUGE! It is compared to the sprawling LA, while over in Argentina, Buenos Aires is the tall San Francisco of the Southern Cone.  (A problematic comparison because there are actually many more differences, but helpful to realize how big Santiago is.)  There are numerous comunas, or "neighborhoods."  However, these are more than neighborhoods, because they are like little cities inside of the larger Santiago.  Each comuna has its own municipality with a mayor, fire department, police, etc.  An interesting consequence of this is that the cultures and public services of neighboring comunas can vary greatly depending on tax dollars (pesos), especially the quality of elementary education.

I am living in Nuñoa, a quaint, upper middle class comuna that is fairly centrally located.  There are well-paved streets, nice gardens, a plaza and central park, and bike lanes in between the street and the sidewalk.  People can safely walk their dogs, jog, etc. into the warm evenings.

Plaza and municipal building in Nuñoa

Streets of Nuñoa

Church off the Nuñoa Plaza

Downtown is very developed and western.  There are pedestrian streets that are completely closed to cars, with small trees and various vendors or performers. Small things remind me of other parts of Latin America, like stray dogs and less-manucured parks.  But otherwise, I could have been in parts of Barcelona!

The transportation system is also very modern (a city this large needs a good one).  The metro and the bus, called la micro, all cost 590 pesos per ride, which is about $1.  This seems cheap compared to the DC Metro and the BART, but the public trans is privatized here, and is expensive relative to other Latin American systems (so I hear). 

Murals in a metro station near my house

Another really fun thing about the buses is that they are a stage for public performances.  On most buses, you'll see someone or a group of people playing and instrument and singing.  This is like the US, BUT they don't ask for money.  They do it as a public entertainment service, for fun.  It seems like Chileans in general really value music, and being able to play an instrument.  Many of the people on my program have said that their host siblings are in bands.  Hopefully I'll see some great live music while I'm here!

An old abandoned building and graffiti downtown

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