Looking Again At Tegucigalpa, Seeing Why Place Matters

Starting in 1997 I got to know the entire country of Honduras over two years while working on a sustainable tourism development project for the government. I spent more time in Tegucigalpa than anywhere else because my monthly meetings with the Ministry of Tourism were held there. While poverty was visible, the city had a charm, unique in Central America, based on its particular history. At the time I also had many students from Honduras, most from Tegucigalpa, so it was more than a workplace for me. When hurricane Mitch descended on Central America in 1998, nowhere was more devastated than Tegucigalpa; by the time my project ended in 1999 I could not picture how or if the city would recover. I have not been back since, but continued to wonder. Nando Castillo has given me part of the answer, and I thank him for the clarity of his presentation on Medium, which I recommend taking five minutes to read:

Why Place Matters, Part I.

Can our cities evolve into the places we truly need?

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Image: Fuad Azzad Ham

At Raíz Capital our mission is sustainable urban revitalization. Our vision is for Tegucigalpa, a community with a neglected urban core, to become the creative capital of Central America and regain its glory as a prosperous city. We are still a ways from realizing it, but this is the story of how we found that vision and began to make it come true.

When our company set out to revitalize Tegucigalpa’s Centro Histórico — known as El Centro — we conducted research to find a focus for our efforts, a theme that could be a starting point to a shared vision with the community. We listened to the community, to identify the challenges it faced and find the solutions within.

At the time, Hondurans were going through one of the worst identity crises in our history. We were branded the most dangerous country in the world. Due to the manner of international press coverage this was disproportionately more demoralizing than being second or third, considering that the margins of violence separating one country from the other were razor thin. Add systemic corruption and lack of opportunity and we were faced with an unprecedented exodus of young people from Honduras. They were looking elsewhere for their future.

We asked young Capitalinos to articulate their pain. How were we going to convince them to return to El Centro, a neglected and undervalued area, when they were fleeing the country out of despair?

Our research included interviews, workshops, and surveys, which indicated that a subset of the capital’s largely young population felt disenfranchised in a unique way. This subset, who we defined as creatives and entrepreneurs, are part of a segment of GDP now known in Latin America as the “orange economy”. It includes those involved in design, tech startups, gastronomy, music, beaux arts, performing arts, and crafts, among other disciplines.

The problems voiced repeatedly by this group can be summarized in three powerful pain points: (A) a state of fragmentation, of feeling separated from each other; (B) a desire to share their vocational or professional aspirations with kindred souls; and (C) a yearning to be a part of something meaningful, bigger than themselves, especially in light of their profound disappointment in how their own community had behaved itself so far…

Read the whole article here.

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