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Public vs. private landscapes in Santiago

We continue our series of blog posts from our Runstad Center Affiliate Fellows class of 2015, who recently traveled to Santiago, Chile, and Rio de Janeiro and Curitiba, Brazil. Recently, Thaisa Way explored the important role of public spaces in social housing.  Here, she continues her exploration of the public realm with a look at the yards and courtyards of Santiago.

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In a second scale of the public realm was the semi-private spaces of yards and courtyards. These spaces were found in university buildings such as the UDP School of Architecture where an interior courtyard beckoned one into the building from the street, and in the spaces between the social housing in one of the poorest neighborhoods in northeast Santiago. In the case of the former, the open-air courtyard and the access provided to a roof garden integrates out of door spaces for all in the community. These spaces were used for maker spaces, messy spaces, and socializing spaces. Of course this is easier in the climate of Santiago than a place like Seattle, but nonetheless the importance of finding ways to incorporate safe and welcoming out of door spaces in our buildings and neighborhoods seems worth the creative efforts it requires. It was the courtyards in the social housing that were a real source of inspiration- here in a community of extremely “efficient” housing, about 300 -600 sq feet per family, the out of door shared spaces provided a living room for the immediate families. In one that we visited roses, geraniums, and jasmine grew in neatly defined flower beds while the primary area was a swept yard, clean and welcoming. Talking with a resident it was obvious the courtyard was a source of pride and joy. It was not big, and it was shared with 12 households and yet it was a place where in the midst of a zone where gang fights were common and trash piles up on the streets, this clear, swept, flowered landscape was a respite and a shared resource.

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A similar need for diverse out of door spaces throughout Santiago was met in multiple ways throughout the city creating a remarkable urban landscape. Along the now polluted river of Mapucho, there is a river promenade often expanding to become a full fledged park with playgrounds, fountains, and benches. On the ancient volcanic hills parks were built that allow one to see the city from above- some very formally such as San Cristobal, others more informally such as Castillo Hildago and St. Lucia. Eating out of doors is common throughout the city- whether on a terrace or spilling onto the sidewalk or picnicking in the park- drinking was allowed or at least tolerated as well making for a dynamic public comprised of young, old, active, contemplative, boisterous, and romantic. When the bicyclists and runners took over many of the broad streets on a Sunday morning, the old city could be experienced as a broad and generous urban landscape. Tree lined avenues marked the major boulevards while a diversity of street trees, flower boxes, and hedges added life and vitality to the smaller streets and pedestrian paths. On the latter, it was the generosity of the pedestrian spaces that also nurtured the public realm – whether the closed streets (what we call the pedestrian malls) or the passageways or the plazas, these landscapes encouraged the sharing city. Santiago was an impressive urban landscape – generally vibrant and yes messy, yes chaotic, and yes green and alive with a public realm just as dynamic.

Social Housing and the Public Realm

We continue our series of blog posts from our Runstad Center Affiliate Fellows class of 2015, who recently traveled to Santiago, Chile, and Rio de Janeiro and Curitiba, Brazil.  Here, Thaisa Way explores the important role of public spaces in social housing. 

As a landscape and urban historian, I was thrilled to serve this year as a 2015 Runstad Affiliate Fellow. This trip to Chile and Brazil l has offered the opportunity to explore the design, use, and changes in public landscapes as integral contributors to the urban landscape. I have tried to pay close attention to the ways in which the public realm is fostered or challenged by the spatial character of public landscapes from the street to the plaza, from the park to the courtyard, from the front stoop to the park bench.


When discussing social housing in most cities, more often than not the focus is on the architecture of the building, perhaps the quality of construction, and the amenities of the living areas, from electricity to internet. What works and doesn’t work is evaluated within these parameters of analysis. However, if one visits social housing as we did in Santiago Chile, the role of the public realm becomes critically evident. The public realm of streets and sidewalks as out of door shared spaces are the common living areas for many in the community. They are where informal economies happen, where socializing is enjoyed, and where community is built, over time and space. The quality of the space determines whether the space fosters community or deters it- by offering safe spaces, by responding and meeting the needs of community members, and by offering diversity of experience.

They can often determine whether a community can come together. And yet it is this same space that is often of least interest to those developing social housing. In the community we visited, I was glad to see that at least some basic infrastructure was provided from curbed sidewalks to minimal set back at corners to allow for small gatherings. Small parks were also defined on the ground although the amenities were few. In downtown Santiago the infrastructure was more robust- with wide sidewalks, many plazas, and a fair number of public gardens and parks- almost every one with a playground for children carefully and thoughtfully integrated into the space. There is space for vendors and other public events to occur and on Sunday our last day, I had the delight to see many of the main boulevards shut down to cars and taken over by bicycle riders and runners of all ages. The houses and apartments in Chile are small for those in the lower income levels as well as the middle class – an important point being that Chile may be the first country in America to house 100% of its residents – thus the public realm is important – as space to breathe and space for community.

Dining out in a new city

We continue our series of blog posts from our Runstad Center Affiliate Fellows class of 2015, who recently traveled to Santiago, Chile, and Rio de Janeiro and Curitiba, Brazil.  Here, Maiko Winkler-Chin shares her love of good food – and what our dining spots say about the cities we live in, especially to those who visit. 

People who know me would expect me to bring up food, as it’s a very important thing for me!  During our travels, our days fell into a predictable pattern – learning, walking, eating, repeat. We are not big foodies, but we often discussed how and why – besides good food – we enjoyed eating at different places.

Here’s my rundown of memorable spots (and some tasty treats).

In Chile, our preference was eating outdoors – and we did it all the time, for almost every meal. It was a great way to reflect and absorb what we were learning, as well as try some local food and drink and watch the locals navigate their own city. Memorable spots….

First day in Santiago, a bit delirious... at Cafe Mundo, Plaza Manuel Rodriguez
First day in Santiago, a bit delirious… at Cafe Mundo, Plaza Manuel Rodriguez

Outside a small cafe next to a very well-used park near Santiago’s University District. We sat there drinking beers and snacking on pizza, reflecting on lessons of the day, comparing park layout and users in what we were seeing and what we normally see back in Seattle.

Enticed to explore a cobblestone alley that ran off a major boulevard (the primary east/west axis in Santiago), we found restaurants spilling into public space. Clarification – it was like an alley, if our alleys had sidewalks on both sides and trees. Whatever it’s called, it was really nice! While we were eating Italian food and ceviche, we heard a Maori haka – live entertainment! – and later learned that there was an exhibit at a nearby cultural center.

Cafe Lastarria
Cafe Lastarria

A courtyard tucked in between buildings – we walked thru a historic building to enter this place full of different food establishments. I could call it a food court, but it felt way nicer and more fun that that. We had lunch, and looked around at the variety of buildings – some historic, some modern, all one or two stories – surrounding this square, with the upper floors of the nearby University of Chile, its red roof peaking into view. (at the intersection of Calle Pio Nono and Calle Bellevista)

Not the beloved Mosqueto, but an example of a "like an alley" area
Not the beloved Mosqueto, but an example of a “like an alley” area

My favorite place of all – Cafe Mosqueto – more for its coffee than its design, outside along yet another alley-like passage – clearly they know how to use their alleys in Chile! The building was set back from the street, and the patio area in front was separated from the sidewalk by concrete planters; I don’t remember any covering in the front patio area, but I do remember enjoying the best cafe latte and good people watching. The street out front was “for residents only”, a quiet narrow alley that had a different surface than the main streets in the area. In fact, we snacked a few times on these narrow streets with different surfaces, and they were all quite lovely.

We were in Santiago in the fall, it was still very warm, and I wonder if they eat outside as often in the winter. We all wondered – could we have more outdoor seating in Seattle? Could we adjust to eating outside in colder, rainier weather? Would we? It was such a nice addition to the street life, I was in a real city. It did have its downsides – there was that seagull incident – but overall, I would take that chance again for that experience. And I am now looking for Chilean Carmenere – look beyond the Malbec, this variety is delicious!

In Brazil, there didn’t seem to be as many outdoor places – there was this place we went to twice because it was good and close by to where we were staying. It was pouring rain, but we ate under the awning, which had a thick hanging clear liner to keep the rain out. The place was packed, as the neighborhood was out watching their Botafogo neighborhood football team playing their adjacent neighborhood’s team on TV, drinking choppe of beer and eating roast pig. It also rained when we ate at a lovely Italian restaurant on Copacabana beach. There was an awning that I could tuck up under, so dinner saved. (La Fiorentina, Leme)

Manolo Restaurant and Bar - good place for a choppe
Manolo Restaurant and Bar – good place for a choppe

Kilo buffets were common. Grab a plate and pick up whatever you like – salads, roast meat, pasta entrees, rice and beans – and you pay by the fraction of the kilo. This should not be confused with the all-you-can-eat-meat places, more correctly called a churrascaria, where you often pay a flat fee. Good idea, but not one we could do too often. Nothing really notable here from a built environment sense, but it was definitely a place where people came together.

The place that led us to some long conversation – perhaps because it was raining so hard that we didn’t want to leave – was tucked behind an apartment entry and tattoo shop, with an entrance off something like an alley. BarBaran Ucrania is – as you can guess – a bar serving the sizable Ukrainian community in Curitiba, and the only place open at 4 pm on a rainy Saturday afternoon. Adults said hello to those they knew, grabbed drinks and snacks (fried balls of Portuguese salt cod or mashed potato/ham-like substance), and watched the football games being broadcast. Kids were there – some came in (with no adult) for ice cream treats, some sat with their parents at the bar, and some hung out in the corner with their teen friends. Great community vibe, and we reflected on how different US rules are about alcohol.

Photo from their Fb page to give you a feel....
Photo from their Fb page to give you a feel….

Wondering what ideas Seattle’s eating spots say about us as a city to our visitors…

AP Hurd to address Carbon Accountability at CoreNet luncheon

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A Runstad Center faculty member and Affiliate Fellow, AP Hurd, is speaking at the monthly CoreNet luncheon.  AP is President and Chief Development Officer of Touchstone as well as the author of The Carbon Efficient City, which shows how regional economies can be aligned with practices that drive carbon efficiency.

Governor Jay Inslee’s recent signature legislation, the Carbon Pollution Accountability Act, is merely one example of state and national legislation aimed at curbing carbon emissions through economic controls.  As concerns about global climate change increase, new policies that put a price on carbon emissions will impact corporate business strategies.  AP Hurd will lead a discussion exploring the implications of new carbon accountability policies on the corporate real estate industry.

Register by clicking here.   We’re proud to have one of our own leading this important conversation!

Valparaiso Wires and Walls

We continue our series of blog posts from our Runstad Center Affiliate Fellows class of 2015, who have just returned from their travels to Santiago, Chile, and Rio de Janeiro and Curitiba, Brazil.

Valparaiso, a UNESCO heritage site and former thriving port 2 hours west of Santiago. The quantity and arrangement of the electric wires were a stunning representation of the state of infrastructure in this historic city. And the murals were delightful. Can we get more murals in Seattle?

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Quilicura Social Housing

As Maiko mentioned in an earlier post, our friend Sole took us to some visit social housing constructed in the 1990s where we visited a non-profit and we spoke with one of the long term residents – VERY INTERESTING. Sole volunteered for this organization and lived there when she was a student.


The social housing in Quilicura is arranged in groups of 36 units. Each unit is about 300 square feet with a kitchen, bedroom, bath and living space. The first floor units expand the building to get larger floor area but effectively eliminate windows on two sides of the unit.


Thaisa and Sole discuss the differences between apartment blocks. All owner-occupied apartments are bought with vouchers provided by the Federal government. The neighbors’ units are not as nice – they haven’t put in gardens, paved their yard or installed high-quality fences. Note the barbed wire on the top of the fence. This neighborhood is considered dangerous at night.


Custom garden at Quilicura housing landing. This group of units is all owned by people who knew each other before. They have created a nice character and the place is well maintained.

Making introductions

We continue our series of blog posts from our Runstad Center Affiliate Fellows class of 2015, who have just returned from their travels to Santiago, Chile, and Rio de Janeiro and Curitiba, Brazil.  Here, Thaisa Way introduces her fellow Fellow, filmmaker Jose Carlos Teixiera.

Two days into our trip we welcomed our film artist Jose Carlos Teixiera, whom I met at the MacDowell Colony a couple of years ago. He is creative, thoughtful, insightful, and funny – and speaks both Spanish and Portuguese – so a wonderful addition to our team. When in the middle of a planning meeting I realized I knew someone who could offer all these skills and I jumped at the opportunity. I was delighted when he agreed to join us – in the middle of his semester at Case Western.


Jose joined us a couple of days after we arrived in Santiago as he had to teach earlier in the week. From the minute he arrived, we had him in a meeting with the Minister of Housing in Santiago. He rolled with the meeting, then enjoyed a beer and food and a museum of memory, a house that Pinochet used to hold and torture some of the earlier dissidents. It was a rather dramatic introduction to the trip. Since then Jose has steadfastly filmed our travels while learning the language of planners, designers, real estate folks, and developers – and doing it all with grace and humor.

It is great to have Jose with us – and I suspect we will all learn from the film that he creates – can’t wait!

Quality vs. Quantity

This is the fifth in a series of blog posts from our Runstad Center Affiliate Fellows class of 2015, who have just returned from their travels to Santiago, Chile, and Rio de Janeiro and Curitiba, Brazil.


Hi there! I’m Maiko, and I’m a Runstad Affiliate Fellow. Welcome to my introductory blog. Yes, I haven’t done this before. I come from a community development background, and that’s the lens by which I see things. I feel extremely lucky to have this opportunity to travel and learn with my fellow Fellows. You learn much when you’re traveling with people, you know?

Enough about me, on to Santiago de Chile!

If you’re reading this, chances are that you’ve already read Kate Simonen‘s Segregated Santiago piece. That comment – that Santiago is a very segregated city, with strong concerns around income inequality – came up repeatedly amongst almost everyone with which we spoke. Head’s up, it’ll come up again near the end of this piece.

Another comment that came up with everyone: quantity versus quality in affordable housing. In fact, these same bits came up with such frequency that for a second, I started thinking that somehow everyone we spoke with had the same talking points… wow, perhaps they had to recite these phrases to be able to work in Santiago as an architect / urban designer / planner! Granted, we were on a tight schedule and talked with people who were all well educated, with most, if not all, living and studying in the US. They were roughly close in age – early 40s to perhaps upper 50s. We had, we think, met them all through one person.

My theory was blown when we went to dinner with a couple who were family friends one of us travelers. They are also well educated, but they worked in public health and public policy. And they said the same exact things. So perhaps that’s a sign that as a country, they are much more unified in their beliefs? This great couple also asked us how could we just talk about the housing without seeing it?  They fixed that for us – that’s Kate’s next blog….

Chile has been working towards the provision of housing for its residents (citizens or not) as a major policy since 1973, the year Gen. Pinochet gained control of the country in a coup over the communist Allende government. In case you ever wondered about it, Chileans knew that the coup was about to happen, and that our government wanted it enough to pay for it. We heard that  families lived in fear for the 15+ years Pinochet was president, as well as the 8 years after the transition to democracy when Pinochet was still Commander in Chief of the military. We heard that for the well-off, children were told early not to speak with anyone outside the house, especially about contingency plans – if the living room curtains were closed, Dad was to not come home and plans were put into action. We heard that if you were not well off, you witnessed military guards coming into your neighborhood and shooting your blue collar neighbors to death because they were on strike. Regardless of class, it seems that almost everyone feared the night. Having people tell me that my country caused strong and undeniable internalized feelings of guilt and shame.

Back to housing…. because of the work I do in Seattle, I was extremely interested in affordable housing in Chile. At the start of Pinochet’s rule, 25% of Chileans were not housed well – no one used the term homeless, so I **think** they may have been homeless or not not living in sanitary conditions. That number has decreased to under 3%.

If the goal is shelter, sounds like huge progress. The original goal, though, wasn’t shelter. The original goal was to stimulate the banking and construction industries as it seems they were pretty dormant under the previous communist government. It was one of the signs to the US, and the developed world, that this dictatorship had kickstarted the economy and was doing something good for its people… and maybe the US and others would be generally okay because the country would not be a “falling domino” to communists, had Chicago-educated Chileans running this capitalist society….and maybe we could overlook human rights violations.

Families were given vouchers to buy their unit, with the cost to the families dependent on their ability to pay; the first families to receive these vouchers could pay something, and had to borrow funds from (as well as place their savings into) the newly privatized banks. Later adjustments in this policy – and it seems that Chileans tweak their policies with some regularity  – allowed families with no funds to purchase as well.

This kicked off the QUANTITY phase… And although it appears to have been that stimulus those industries needed at the time, there were a host of other issues that have arisen. Chileans know and recognize this, and now the general theme is QUALITY. And some of these issues and challenges sound familiar.

•    these new units were in locations often far away from where families were living, putting them literally hours away from their communities and employment. By putting a class of people together, it made it easier for the Pinochet government to keep track of “those people”. Over time, it concentrated poverty and Chileans acknowledge that these social problems – drug dealing, sexual abuse, domestic violence to name a few that came up – are not good for the country.

•    the quality of the units were not consistent over time. Some builders did shoddy work, and consumer protections and rights aren’t well understood. The free market was not balanced by government.

•    having a roof over one’s head is not enough – that people need sidewalks, green space, schools, and good transportation to be good Chileans. When newer communities are built, these other key elements must be included in the development.

•    proximity to a wider range of incomes is important in order to break down income segregation. In the urban environment, income inequality is of concern. In our conversations, our hosts reflected nostalgically on having their bicycle repair guy live nearby or discussing how you really couldn’t tell their adult children’s upperclass upbringing through their clothes and lifestyle. The government is exploring what, when explained to me, was inclusionary zoning. Very specifically, we discussed a housing project where they were allowing increased density if the developer would add affordable units. The government received development proposals placing market rate units in a 6 story building, with the affordable units in a neighboring 4 story unit (4 story units do not require an elevator and are thus cheaper). They have not outrightly accepted or denied the proposals as they are considering the implications.

In my mind, housing is a means to an ends – it is used as a tool for a bigger policy. As we fly from Santiago to Rio de Janeiro, I’m noodling with what is it that Seattlites want to achieve through housing. I know we say a lot of the same things I’ve heard in Chile – but do we really believe it? And if we do, what price are we individually wiling to pay for that belief? I appreciate their willingness to admit shortcomings of their policies, the need for adjustments, and this desire to move their country forward. Can we do the same?

Barrio Bellavista

This is the fourth in a series of blog posts from our Runstad Center Affiliate Fellows class of 2015, who have just returned from their travels to Santiago, Chile, and Rio de Janeiro and Curitiba, Brazil.

Barrio Bellavista: an artistic neighborhood where we had a great Chilean dinner and conversation with Ernesto and Sole, family friends, who shared many great insights into life in Santiago (including the fact that some university professors do want to live in the ‘yellow zone’ marked on the map from the earlier post).

Juxtaposition of building scales in Bella Vista
Juxtaposition of building scales in Bella Vista


Wonderful experience hearing first hand from Santiago residents about politics and food. We don’t really know why there is writing all over the walls. But we added to them! Go Hawks! Runstad! UW!

Can’t you see?

“What makes the plaza live?”

This is the third in a series of blog posts from our Runstad Center Affiliate Fellows class of 2015, who have just returned from their travels to Santiago, Chile, and Rio de Janeiro and Curitiba, Brazil.

plaza life

It’s a hot afternoon. We arrived in Santiago this morning. After walking over three miles – did we tell you that it’s hot out? – the Runstad Fellows sit and have a cold drink at the edge of a plaza in the University District of Santiago, and identify aspects of the plaza that give it life:

  • Playgrounds, benches and grass are mixed together and thus ages and uses are mixed.
  • Three streets bound the plaza. One busy, two calm.
  • One side of plaza bound by buildings… including the café.
  • Apartments are small and young adults live at home. The plaza is the family room.
  • A wide range of behavior is accepted: sleeping, kissing, drinking beer, biking, talking…
  • Wild dogs wander and so do police.
  • It’s a hot day, and not everyone has air conditioning…