Friday, August 5, 2011

La Rambla, then and now

Strolling along the rambla, 1930s
The rambla of Montevideo functions as an emblem for the city, a place to congregate, an extended promenade, a sports track, and a connector for diverse neighbourhoods. For the visitor arriving from the airport, the winding route along the rambla offers a scenic, impressive entrance to the city.   The 22 kilometre stretch of coastal avenue extending from the port in Ciudad Vieja to the suburb of Carrasco is the subject of an exhibition of archival photos presented at El Centro Municipal de Fotografia, Sala CMDF.

Installation of photos at CMDF

The construction of the rambla was initiated by the municipal government of Montevideo in 1922 and took over eight years to complete.  The economic boom of that time period made the visionary project feasible, while the steady stream of working-class immigrants arriving at the port provided a ready and willing labour force.  Montevideo was promoted as the "Switzerland of South America" and "Athens of the River Plate", and politicians wanted to take advantage of the natural attributes of the waterfront and make the coastline accessible for recreation and transportation.

Land was appropriated to provide space for the public project.  The red-light district "El Bajo" was completely eliminated in the process, a social consequence undoubtedly foreseen and approved by city council.   By displacing bordellos, dance halls and cafes from prime land, the seedier elements of Montevideo were forced to move to less-visible areas of the city.  Creating the rambla meant radical surgery; a big facelift for a rundown riverfront.

Construction of the rambla, c. 1925

Lots of manual labour was required

The finished plaza in  front of the Parque Hotel c.1935
Some urban spaces are just awkward, unfavourable places in spite of  fancy design features and updated architectural elements.   Those unsuccessful city squares and walkways - though well-intended - end up being perpetually vacant, or serving as a magnet for undesirable activity. The rambla, in contrast, maintains its reputation as a vibrant, safe, well-used part of Montevideo, embraced and enjoyed by all sectors of society.  It is a public treasure that has become an integral part of the collective experience.

The wide sidewalk allows for multi-purpose use

Beach volleyball courts at Playa Ramirez, set against the city skyline
The plaza is now used as a skateboard area

A place to be active,  or sit and watch the parade.  The Parque Hotel from 1910 is in the background.

An unobstructed view of the water is essential to the concept of the promenade

A contemplative place

The rambla is a popular spot for fishing

Sunday morning pastime

The rambla allows access to the beach for joggers

Enjoying yerba mate with friends



Night, with fireworks

"Under the seeming disorder of the old city, wherever the old city is working successfully, is a marvelous order for maintaining the safety of the streets and the freedom of the city. It is a complex order. Its essence is intricacy of sidewalk use, bringing with it a constant succession of eyes. This order is all composed of movement and change, and although it is life, not art, we may fancifully call it the art form of the city and liken it to the dance — not to a simple-minded precision dance with everyone kicking up at the same time, twirling in unison and bowing off en masse, but to an intricate ballet in which the individual dancers and ensembles all have distinctive parts which miraculously reinforce each other and compose an orderly whole. The ballet of the good city sidewalk never repeats itself from place to place, and in any once place is always replete with new improvisations." 
           — Jane Jacobs (The Death and Life of Great American Cities)

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this view of Montevideo that I could never have imagined, not having visited there (yet). Pura vida! - Casey