Monday, October 21, 2013

Paved Roads = Progress?

In the three short months that I've been living in Arbolito, I have already seen physical changes taking place in our neighborhood. The most notable of all, roads are getting paved. Probably about a month ago now, some heavy machinery began to make it's way into Arbolito. In no tim, we saw many streets begin to get torn up and leveled out and slowly but surely, pavement was laid. And this wasn't just happening in Arbolito, on my way to Manos the streets were being re-done and in 28 de agosto we have seen the main street which Manos is on get paved which was still so shocking to see even weeks after it happened. Why all of the road works you ask? Two words: election season.

When the trucks first showed up there was plenty of chisme (gossip) floating around about where they were going to pave, how long it would take, etc. When we would ask neighbors about it they would all say the same thing: mayoral elections are coming up in February and the mayor wants to be re-elected. The funniest part of this for me is driving down the road and seeing huge amounts of propaganda painted on the sides of buildings: "Que buen alcalde," "What a good mayor," "repaving this street/this neighborhood, etc." Don't get me wrong, I know this same kind of pre-election road works happen in the U.S. but the blatant "I did that" publicity still strikes me as funny.

Anyways, the paving of the roads is something that has had me thinking a lot and that we have discussed a bit amongst our community. Some would consider paved roads a sign of progress and to some extent, I would agree. In that context, it raises a lot of questions as to how Arbolito will grow and change from here and even what this means for the presence of organizations like Rostro in this community. Certainly I think that the road work is positive in some respects - big things like less dust to be breathing in resulting in improved health situations to the smaller things like getting to see kids riding their bikes down a smoothly paved street on a Friday afternoon reminded me of the smaller joys a paved road can bring.

On the other hand, I sometimes fear that the paved streets will allow people to overlook the other needs of this community. One day while talking about the road work with a neighbor she mentioned the fact that there have been pipes laid for running water for a couple of years but that the water has never been connected leaving Arbolito without running water. Thinking about this, the logical thing to do while they've already ripped up the streets would be to connect the water before paving. Instead, they've ripped up the roads, paved, and maybe in a few years if/when they decide to connect the water, they will rip up the nicely paved roads and have to do it all over again. So, in this respect, I struggle to see the paved roads as a surefire sign of progress.

For all of the positive things it does bring along, I also fear that the problems are simply being paved over, as though they are trying to placate the community with a minor work instead of addressing major issues. Will the paved roads make an outsider think that Arbolito is developed, overshadowing the other less visible struggles of this community? And if so, what repercussions will that have? Furthermore, is this really progress? And if it is, in what way and who for? These are the questions I am left pondering.

This is the view from the end of our street, how most of the roads here looked before paving.
Where the pavement ends. Just after our street, the pavement has ended although it looks like they may continue to pave beyond that.
Newly paved road in front of the church (just at the end of our street). Please also take the time to admire our newly painted church! 

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