I got my first in-depth look into Guatemalan municipal operations the other day, accompanying a group of engineers, architects and planners that were taking measurements for a road-widening project while conducting an on-site Q & A session with local residents. There were some pretty interesting contrasts to U.S. infrastructure development.
(First, a recap: as a Municipal Development Volunteer(to-be) for Peace Corps Guatemala, it’s likely that I’ll be working in the equivalent of a U.S. county planning office until November 2012. Right now I’m still in training, and have been for about a month. Over the next seven weeks, I’ll continue living and working in my present community, then I’ll receive my official assignment to a new community and municipal office on October 29th, which is where I’ll spend the following two years.)
(Yes I’m excited)
At any rate, the road-widening project piqued my interest because torrential rains of late have flooded local streets (and numerous parts of Guatemala), exposing some pretty serious drainage issues. I asked to accompany my co-workers, and listenedas they ran a roadside meeting with local property owners, discussing project design and procedure.
The big idea is to widen the existing (unpaved) road to 4.5 meters, providing just enough clearance to allow a couple of cars to pass one another. In addition, project managers want to include another meter for sidewalks on each side, ensuring drier pedestrians during the rainy season and providing de facto “parking spaces” for car-owning residents (just drive one side of your car up there). However:
- Road width will be variable.
Because of insufficient planning in the past, existing structures dictate both the current and future shape of the road (it’s a bit of a zig-zag)
- Only some parts of the road will have sidewalks.
Each resident will approve or deny a sidewalk in front of their property, as the convenience will require their own generosity. What I mean by “generosity” is…..
- The Municipality isn’t paying for the land it needs in this project.
Instead, they are bartering for it. In exchange for the 4.5 meters necessary for the project, the Municipality is going to provide property owners with service hookups to the existing wastewater and potable water pipes at cost. Hence……
- Neighbors will essentially determine their own road design.
When a particular stretch of road between two properties doesn’t measure up to 4.5 meters, one or both property owners will have to yield some of their property. That is the bottom line necessitated by the project. However, with structures like paved driveways and concrete walls, only one neighbor can actually yield their property, which might contain coffee bushes, maize plantings, or just an overgrown stretch of jungle. Regardless, it wouldn’t seem fair if only certain property owners had to give up land. So in the interest of fairness, the non-yielding property owner must pay (or compensate) his neighbor for exactly one half of the property contributed. Therein, it is up to each set of neighbors to decide whether they want to provide (or pay for) the land necessary to give themselves with a stretch of sidewalk….
I hope that makes sense – it took me a few hours of listening and numerous questions before I figured it out.
At any rate, I think construction is about to start any day now – apparently, the funding comes from a national source requiring work to commence within 8 days of receipt…. which will be pretty soon. My hope is that theroad design will improve stormwater drainage for my community, as the runoff from numerous mountainsides flows over impermeable streets w/o stormdrains, which results in some ankle-deep rivers in the middle of town...
Here's a few girls that asked me to take their picture during a recent storm...