Social and Spatial Segregation Chile

Social and spatial segregation as a result of a misunderstood infrastructure development policy. The case of Santiago, Chile

Gonzalo Oroz

Until the end of the 70´s, Chile was placed in the midfield of the development scale among South American countries. After radical introduction of neo-liberal market economy measures under Pinochet´s dictatorship, the macroeconomic growth of Chile stressed an unstoppable demand for new roads and motorways (highways), specially in the over-urbanized area surrounding the capital city.

As early as the late 80´s, just after the re-introduction of democracy, private investors made great demands on the government/state (estado) to build and improve the road infrastructure in order to enhance the booming economy and to maximize profits. The Chilean government and its agency (ministry) for infrastructure was unable to accomplish such a task, specially considering many other pressing demands with direct social impact such as hospitals, local roads in far and isolated regions. The solution was a logical one for the private sector, well accustomed to free market oriented mechanisms; to privatize the planning, the construction and the running of major motorways in central Chile.

After composing the new “Law and Regulations of Public Works Concessions“ in the early 90´s, the government was able to relieve itself of such a burden, at least in the metropolitan area of Santiago. After about five years of building, managing and running the new highways, the strategic move towards privatisation of the roads seem to be an excellent business for both the state (government) and the private investors. 

The dark side of this mechanism brought to a head existing social and spatial segregation in the metropolitan area of Santiago. Particularly the inequity of many design solutions; road trench splitting whole neighborhoods in poor city districts, underground solutions through upper class districts, are only a tiny sample of the result of lack of proper city planning and obsequiousness of the government to the private sector (investors). In spite of the evident social and planning disaster that this kind of urban development causes to the urban tissue, there is apparently no major discussion either in the academic world or among the citizens of Santiago.

The present work aims to analyze the relationship between rapid economic growth, privatisation of public works and social segregation by exploring the case study of Santiago’s recent developments in road infrastructure.