Ocupa Tu Calle is a social movement in Lima, Peru that joins individual citizens together in order to identify empty spaces in their neighborhood and utilize them to serve a public need in the form of small public spaces (termed ‘parklets’ or ‘pocket parks’).
Problems and Purpose
Lima is a sprawling urban center home to millions, and many neighborhoods within the city (especially low-income and marginalized communities) have little to no public spaces. To address this, Ocupa Tu Calle was created as a social movement facilitated by multiple parent organizations but carried out through action by the general public. At its inception it was designed to act as a statement piece; a public installation as a way to show the government that open public spaces both are needed and easy to create. It was not originally intended to turn into a long-lasting social movement, but the clear need and subsequent support for the first few projects made it difficult for the movement not to transform into this.
Background History and Context
According to the World Health Organization a city should offer roughly “9 square meters of green space per person,” however Lima only offers an average of 2.6 meters (Maskrey, 2017). Adding to these abysmal numbers is the fact that some of Lima’s wealthier neighborhoods offer over 20 meters of green spaces per person, more than double the suggested amount (Maskrey, 2017). It is this stark disparity that led the creators of the Ocupa Tu Calle movement to mobilize and actively work to address the underlying issue.
Ocupa Tu Calle began in late 2014/early 2015 after Lima hosted the United Nations Climate Change Conference of Parties (COP) in December 2014. The COP is designed to initiate a meeting of global leaders so that they can come together and discuss large-scale climate change matters (i.e. UN documents and treaties, measures taken by participating members, progress in realizing convention goals) (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, 2018). Although the COP is a large-scale meeting designed to address global goals, it often has a sort of ‘trickle down’ affect, especially on the residents of the city it is being hosted in. This is exactly the impact COP20 had on Lima, demonstrated perfectly by the Ocupa Tu Calle movement. Since their conception they have been able to occupy 21 different spaces around the city and turn them into public areas ("Intervenciones", 2018). They work in conjunction with a handful of organizations and have grown significantly in influence over the years.
Organizers of the movement felt that utilizing a deliberative public process would both help the sustainability of the projects by creating buy-in among community members so they feel obligated to care for the interventions, and would likely lead to a ripple effect in which regular citizens feel empowered to take the creation of their environment into their own hands. It also helps to make the work of the movement more relevant and useful by pinpointing exactly what residents would like to see before an intervention is implemented. This is the first movement of its type in the Lima area as far as I can tell, although public spaces have existed in Lima for decades.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
The project is the brainchild of multiple organizations in the Lima area, such as Lima Como Vamos (Lima How Are We Going), Fundacion Avina, UN-Habitat, Porticus, and other groups committed to the fostering of civil society within the country (“Ocupa Tu Calle” Initiative Goes Live, n.d.).
Participant Recruitment and Selection
Essentially any resident of a Lima neighborhood can get involved with the movement by filling out a volunteer form on the Ocupa Tu Calle website. Involvement with this movement takes many different forms, from donating money or resources, to contributing information about possible intervention locations, to helping assemble the new spaces, and more. The movement is relatively visible in and around Lima neighborhoods, and seems to be spread through word of mouth, branding on these public spaces, and partnerships with local institutions (i.e. local universities). They also utilize the social media sites/applications Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to help spread their message.
Methods and Tools Used
The participation methods the movement uses can be categorized as both participatory urban planning and collaborative planning, both of which rely on group decision-making and the delegation of responsibility to community stakeholders.
The movement relies on stakeholders (primarily locals) in their target neighborhoods to identify potential spaces for intervention. Once a workable space has been identified Ocupa Tu Calle sends representatives to the site in order to see its layout and measurements and to determine the potential use. The organization also surveys local citizens who would—theoretically—get the most use out of the parklets in order to determine what the most appropriate use for the space is (i.e. a set of benches and table vs. a children’s playground). After this, preliminary designs are created and then presented to stakeholders, and efforts are made to acquire the necessary resources to complete approved projects. Once an intervention is implemented, Ocupa Tu Calle conducts a follow up study to assess differences in the use of the space and uses this information to make any improvements needed. (“Ocupa Tu Calle,” 2018). Citizens’ local knowledge—knowledge about their specific situation and surrounding environment—is crucial to the continued success of the movement, as these perspectives and experiences are some of the most crucial resources in the entire process. This method is consistent with John Dewey and Elizabeth Anderson’s models of democracy, detailed in Anderson’s “The Epistemology of Democracy” (2006).
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
Engagement typically begins with an online application, which an individual or a group can submit on the Ocupa Tu Calle website. Then, core members of the movement and partner organizations will travel to the site and initiate the process through face-to-face discussion with locals in the immediate vicinity. Then, public deliberation takes place—these events are typically hosted on the potential site of the intervention—in which residents hear potential designs and then discuss and debate the concepts presented to them. These events are typically used as a sounding board for the movement directors, so they can ensure the intervention they identified from the answers given on the initial survey is properly meeting the expectations of those it will serve.
When first suggested, Ocupa Tu Calle initiatives are often met with apprehension by local government officials and civilians alike (this was especially true during the first few years the organization existed). People are uncertain about what forms this will take in their communities, or perhaps do not see the pressing need, and government officials are nervous that this is a ploy to call out their failures.
The organization reports that these interventions can sometimes bring controversy, but usually that controversy leads to long-overdue conversations about the lack of public spaces and the needs of citizens in Lima. It often manages to pull neighbors in and get them involved, and this experience often influences them to continue raising their voice up even outside of the project.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
Lima is a large metropolitan city in a developing country, and as such still has ground to make up when it comes to providing for its citizens (as any city does). Despite initial apprehension from many, coordinator Belen Desmaison reports that “after the project has been completed, people are surveyed about the project and they often show satisfaction with the results,” meaning that these interventions have some degree of effectiveness (Gerard H, 2016). The organization reports that these interventions can sometimes bring controversy, but usually that controversy leads to long-overdue conversations about the lack of public spaces and the needs of citizens in Lima. It often manages to pull neighbors in and get them involved, and this experience often influences them to continue raising their voice up even outside of the project.
Within the past decade the city has seen a rise in grassroots social movements like Ocupa Tu Calle, and many of these movements have gone on to influence local governance and policy. In recent years elected officials have been working on creating greater protections for public spaces and on formulating laws that take into account public opinions about the need for increased public services in the city. The biggest evidence that Ocupa Tu Calle has had some hand in influencing this uptick in political favor is the fact that “[s]everal members of Peru’s Congress...have been requesting comments from [the organization] and engaged citizens” (Rogers, 2017).
By far Ocupa Tu Calle’s greatest impact has taken place in the social sphere. It has served to further engage citizens from all ends of the socioeconomic spectrum due to the organization’s requirement for citizen input to determine where these spaces will be placed and what use they will serve (Fernandez, 2018). It has helped to continue fostering higher levels of citizen participation in the city, which serves to hold elected officials accountable and helps continue Lima’s growth into a metropolitan area that takes care of all of residents.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
Why Ocupa Tu Calle seems to be flourishing, it is important to note that there are very real kinks in the process that have not yet been fully worked out. It was not always this way, however; at its conception people where quite apprehensive—How would it work? Who would pay for it? Is it a waste of time and energy? Even now things often seem grim the first few weeks after an intervention is implemented: many may not know why the development is there or what it is for, and this lack of knowledge and buy- in can lead to a presence of carelessness. People feel no obligation to care for the space because they do not see it as their own, and this can lead to littering and even destruction of the property (Rogers, 2017). Once the larger community comes to realize how beneficial the intervention is, this behavior typically subsides (especially if it garners the support of a larger group or local business).
As far as I can tell, there has been no formal, overarching evaluation of the movement and its interventions—there is only a follow up assessment of each individual intervention after it has existed for some time. Regardless, Ocupa Tu Calle is still a very active social movement that continues to yield results through the creation of small public spaces throughout Lima neighborhoods. It has helped support the idea that citizens can create a significant impact in their own cities through grassroots movements and shows that often the most effective organizations are not the ones with the most funding or highest-level supporters, but the ones who rely on the citizens affected to make key decisions. The movement has also emphasized the impact one small action can have—Ocupa Tu Calle’s first creation was only intended to last a week or so in order to raise awareness about this issue, but as we can see it has lasted for over three years and one project has multiplied into 21. Overall the actions of Ocupa Tu Calle have helped turn small-scale interventions into a citywide movement, both bettering Lima and improving communal welfare.
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Anderson, E. (2006). The epistemology of democracy.
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Conference of the Parties (COP) | UNFCCC. (2018). Retrieved from https://unfccc.int/process/bodies/supreme-bodies/conference-of-the-parties-cop
Fernandez, A. (2018). Ocupa Tu Calle. Retrieved from https://www.globalinnovationexchange.org/innovation/ocupa-tu-calle
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H., Gerard. (2016). Low-cost urban interventions in Lima | UrbanizeHub. Retrieved from http://urbanizehub.com/low-cost-urban-interventions-lima/
Intervenciones. (2018). Retrieved from https://ocupatucalle.org/intervenciones/#s=1
Maskrey, N. (2017). Unequal distribution of green public spaces in Lima (Part 1). Retrieved from https://urbanpoliticalecologyblog.wordpress.com/2017/11/15/green-public-spaces-in-lima- part-1/
Ocupa Tu Calle. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.globalinnovationexchange.org/innovation/ocupa-tu-calle
Ocupa Tu Calle Homepage. Retrieved from https://ocupatucalle.org/
“Ocupa tu Calle” (Occupy Your Street) initiative goes live - Fundación Avina. Retrieved from http://www.avina.net/avina/en/ver-impactos/implementan-estrategia-ocupa-tu-calle/
Ocupa Tu Calle: Tools for the empowerment of citizens and the recovery of public spaces. (2018). Retrieved from http://wuf9.org/programme/side-events/ocupa-tu-calle- tools-for-the-empowerment-of-citizens-and-the-recovery-of-public-spaces/
Rogers, K. (2017). In Peru, a grassroots organization gives public spaces back to citizens. Retrieved from https://www.devex.com/news/in-peru-a-grassroots-organization-gives- public-spaces-back-to-citizens-89780
Lead Image: Ocupa Tu Calle/Global Innovation Exchange https://goo.gl/rKmnxF
The original submission of this case entry was written by Bailey Fohr, a Master of Public Service candidate at the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service. The views expressed in the current version are those of the authors, editors, or cited sources, and are not necessarily those of the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service.