Restoring Guatemala – One Avenue at a Time (Revue Magazine)

When you live in Antigua you’re used to strolling down cobbled streets without overt concerns for your safety, but life in Guatemala City is a different story. Even in some of the safest zones you still worry about personal security and, at times, prefer to stay inside rather than venture out, which is why the restoration of downtown La Sexta has made such a difference to one section of the capital.

Last year, the Municipality of Guatemala City undertook a project to conserve and revitalise the city’s heritage, and it started with la Sexta Avenida, Zone 1: the backbone of el centro histórico.

Historically, la Sexta was the fashion capital of Guatemala – the place to see and be seen – with shops selling luxury goods and the latest in European trends. However, after decades of neglect it endured a long downward spiral and became a chaotic jumble filled with street vendors, oversized billboards and congested traffic.

But now the tidess are turning.

After encouraging various businesses such as Pollo Campero and McDonalds to invest in the recuperation project, the Municipality has transformed the crowded mess into a vibrant avenue – safe for pedestrians to wander down.

The restoration team started by relocating dozens of street vendors who used to clutter the sidewalks selling pirate DVDs and designer knock-offs. They then spent a year cleaning (and widening) the pavements, putting up new artwork and taking down old signs that covered every inch of the buildings. The emphasis on orderliness is now so strict that not even presidential candidates are allowed to decorate the avenue with their campaign propaganda.

Today the street, which has been renamed Paseo de la Sexta, runs from Plaza la Constitución (central park) to 18 Calle and is mainly pedestrianized with only the Transmetro and a handful of cars allowed through. Regularly patrolled by uniformed police officers on bicycles, it’s a safe haven for Guatemalans to shop once again, socialise in coffee shops and admire the public art that adorns each side of the walkway.

The avenue has fast become a popular place to socialise both during the day and night. Some city dwellers have even described the transformation as “another world” and say the radical changes have injected life into the capital and given the people access to a cleaner and safer place to visit.

However, despite the marked improvements, a small number of locals lament the changes and believe that the Municipality has stripped la Sexta of its identity. Once a symbol of the 1980s fighting between the army and the people, they say these poignant marks from the clashes 30yrs ago have been removed and the important years of yesterday now lie forgotten.

The municipality plans to continue restoring over one hundred historic monuments around the city, and still has further plans for la Sexta. These include opening up art galleries, book stores and restoring an old movie theatre in the recently transformed public space.

It may only be a small change, to a small avenue, in a city filled with problems, but it’s a start at improving the quality of life for the people who live in the surrounding areas.

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