‪Harnessing Indigenous Andean Placemaking – “The Minga” – for the New Urban Agenda

The success of the Placemaking movement has expanded its reach and popularity around the World. Participatory planning processes and collaborative creation of better cities and towns have revolutionized the way we experience public spaces in countries as diverse as Ecuador, Lebanon or Australia. The legacy of visionaries like William “Holly” Whyte has inspired young entrepreneurs, urbanists and activists from Mexico to Chile and made Latin America one of the most interesting areas to realize the power of Public Space.

During the Habitat III conference that took place in Quito, we were able to strengthen the network and learn from the innovative approaches that enrich the movement from Sweden to the United States. The conversation was open, enticing and engaging. As Placemaking moved to the center of the New Urban Agenda, for some of us that week was a journey of discovery. As I dug deep into the reasons for the absence of a landmark contribution from my country to the global dialogue, a few notable findings emerged.

The quantity and quality of events and the high level talks that went on motivated a search for the missing piece of the puzzle. Turns out Placemaking had been a part of Andean culture for centuries and we didn’t even know it. If we harness the lessons from history, our contribution could be enormous. The creative economy, the diversity of the movement and urban development strategies would benefit.

The Minga, or as I like to call it, Ancestral Placemaking, has been in practice in the Andean highlands of Ecuador, Peru, Colombia and Bolivia for hundreds of years. It is a voluntary, collaborative effort in which townspeople of all ages and genders contribute with their work, their motivation, their knowledge or their wit to finish a project of collective interest. Whether it’s a new irrigation waterway, a road, a fence or a corral, everyone partakes of the festive event. It is based on trust and all contributions are received with gratitude, regardless of their size. Contemporary iterations of this time-honored tradition have brought different and more complex forms of adherence. For example, better-off tradespeople in the community often contribute with monetary contributions.

Mingas are still the preferred strategy for completing small works in rural communities. In later years, urban neighborhoods with strong presence of immigrants from the countryside have also recurred to this practice. In some cases, the Minga has been the counterpart component that communities contribute with when local government provides financing for projects with a requisite of thrift.

Conventions so ingrained in the collective are easy to repurpose to focus on the creation of great places. The methodological components of a Placemaking initiative are mostly present in the Minga. My Eureka! Moment came with the realization that this was the missing piece on the question of Ecuadorian contribution to the global dialogue on Urbanism. Quito, Ecuador and South America have a lot to say and this sort of discovery presages a very successful implementation of the principles of good public space.

Concepts of community engagement are dear to Latin American cultures. A history of shared values and strong cultural markers aligned with the principles of Placemaking could ease its introduction and match it with an update of the language of the Minga to better serve the changing needs of public space in the 21st Century. Great contributions to implement the New Urban Agenda need not be in the form of megaprojects or grand schemes requiring sanctioning at government level. Massive changes can come from harnessing the power of little actions and age-old traditions.

The Minga can be a way to introduce Latin America to Placemaking. In this way, the Minga can be a tool for leveraging our cultural traditions to build better cities from the ground up. Let’s get started!
Read the original post in the Project for Public Spaces Blog. 

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