The city of Constitución, on the coast of Chile’s wine-growing Maule Region, was among the worst affected by the 8.8 magnitude earthquake that rocked the country on February 27, 2010.
In fact, the quake was so strongly felt in the port city that Constitución moved an entire 10 feet (3 mt) west, and the subsequent tsunami left devastation in its wake.
But now, two years on, local residents stand as an inspiration for the rebuilding of cities after natural disasters, and a model for how to engage citizens in town-planning and urban renewal around the world.
In a recent interview with Dan Hill of the Finnish technology and culture website Brickstarter, Rodrigo Araya of Tironi Asociados, explained how he helped orchestrate the reconstruction of the city. . . in just 90 days.
“This speed is unheard of in itself, but perhaps an understandable ambition given the circumstances. But then the project team raised the bar—or knocked the bar into space—by pivoting the entire master plan process upon citizen participation, with co-design as the organising principle,” Hill writes.
And though it may be the most spectacular example, the reconstruction of Constitución is not the first time that Tironi Asociados has engaged local communities in urban design – over the last decade the strategic communications has shifted its focus toward coordinating citizen participation strategies, now actually facilitating hands on participation.
That said, its involvement in Constitución arose from fortuitous circumstances; the company had been employed by forestry business Arauco, one of the primary employers in Constitución, before the earthquake, in an effort to obtain a sustainable forestry certificate.
When the earthquake hit Arauco, Tironi Asociados switched its attention to the reconstruction and orchestrated a citizen-based reconstruction effort.
The core initiative driving the effort were “hybrid forums,” where members of industry, government, and the community met in sometimes heated debates in a small building in the city center.
Also on hand at the public debates were teams of communications specialists, who coordinated and interpreted what was being said by locals. Meanwhile, the architects behind the city’s reconstruction were also present, making “live” adjustments to their plans, based on the direction of the discussion.