The re-development of La Balanza cultural neighborhood

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Main actors

Community / Citizen Group

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Project area

Neighborhood or district

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Ongoing since 2001

An urban redevelopment programme showcasing art, street life and design has transformed the low-income neighbourhood of La Balanza into a vibrant precinct with strong community engagement.

In 2002, the first Festival Internacional de Teatro de Calles Abiertas (Fiteca) was held in La Balanza, a district in Lima, Peru.  Six years later, capitalizing on its success, local organizations launched a new artistic movement, Fitekantropus, to help residents to appropriate their city in creative ways. As a result, La Balanza is transforming into a lively neighbourhood where residents interact with their environment. To achieve this, the local community conducted a participatory process to reimagine and redesign physical space. This process increased communication between residents and is building an inclusive collective through social experimentation.

During its implementation, different groups have joined the project. For example, the CITIO collective, a group of architecture students from the National University of Engineering in Lima (UNI), have initiated "Community Sundays" as a series of gatherings that offer theater workshops, conferences and other activities to residents. The transformation of the San Martíndining room into a space for community activities has further contributed to the renewal of La Balanza’s social fabric. Over time, the re-development of La Balanza has gained strong support from neighbours, volunteers and academics. The Fitekantropus project has received media exposure in many Peruvian cities and internationally, and is today acknowledged as a successful community development model. 

Sustainable Development Goals

End poverty in all its forms everywhere
Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation
Reduce inequality within and among countries
Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels

City to City Barcelona FAD Award

This project was awarded the 'City to City Barcelona FAD Award' in 2016.

Lima, Peru

Size and population development
In 2014, the National Institute for Statistics and Information (Instituto Nacional de Estadistica e Informatica) reported that the population of Lima was 8,852,000 people with a density of 3,008.8 inhabitants per square kilometre (7,793/sq mi). Of the city's population 48.7% are men and 51.3% are women and the annual growth rate was stated as 1.57%. According to INEI, the age distribution in Lima was: 24.3% between 0 and 14, 27.2% between 15 and 29, 22.5% between 30 and 44, 15.4% between 45 and 59, 10.6% above 60.

Population composition
Lima’s population features a complex mix of racial and ethnic groups. Mestizos of mixed European (mostly Spanish and Italians) and Amerindian ancestry are the largest ethnic group. European Peruvians are the second largest group. Many are of Spanish, Italian or German descent and others groups are French, British, and Croatian. The minorities include Amerindians (mostly Aymara and Quechua) and Afro-Peruvians, whose African ancestors were initially brought to the region as slaves. Asians, especially of Chinese and Japanese descent, came mostly in the 19th and early 20th centuries as did jews of European descent and people of the Middle East.

Main functions
Lima is the capital and the largest city of Peru. It is located in the valleys of the Chillón, Rímac and Lurín rivers, in the central coastal part of the country, overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Together with the seaport of Callao, it forms a contiguous urban area known as the Lima Metropolitan Area. Lima is the most populous metropolitan area of Peru and the second-largest city in the Americas behind São Paulo and before Mexico City. Lima is home to one of the oldest higher-learning institutions in the Americas - The National University of San Marcos was founded on May 12, 1551 during the Spanish colonial regime.

Main industries / business
Lima is Peru’s industrial and financial centre and has been identified as one of the world’s fastest growing economies in the 21st century. It accounts for more than two thirds of Peru's industrial production and most of its tertiary sector. The Metropolitan area leads industrial development, largely due to the quantity and quality of the available workforce, transport and other infrastructure. Products include textiles, clothing, food, chemicals, fish, leather and oil derivatives are manufactured and/or processed. Lima has the largest export industry in South America and is a regional hub for the cargo industry. The main export goods are commodities: oil, steel, silver, zinc, cotton, sugar and coffee.

Sources for city budget
National and City goverments taxation revenue.

Political structure
Lima is the capital city of the Republic of Peru and Lima province and hosts three branches of Government: 1) The Executive branch is headquartered in the Government Palace, and all ministries are located in the city. 2) The Legislative branch is headquartered in the Legislative Palace and is home to the Congress of the Republic of Peru. 3) The Judicial branch is headquartered in the Palace of Justice and is home to the Supreme Court of Peru.

Administrative structure
The city is subdivided into 43 districts. The Metropolitan Municipality has authority over the entire city, while each district has its own local government. Unlike the rest of the country, the Metropolitan Municipality, although a provincial municipality, acts as and has functions similar to a regional government, as it does not belong to any of the 25 regions of Peru.

Peru endures problems of socioeconomic inequality, social exclusion, discrimination and poverty. The city of Lima is home to one-third of the country's population and the number of its residents increased tenfold between 1940 and 2007. Subsequently, housing and employment have become pressing needs that the administration is unable to properly address. As a result, many informal settlements have developed in peripheral areas of the city; the neighbourhood of La Balanza consists of 27 such settlements, housing 20,565 people (2016). The absence of public regulation has also created space for the organisation of self-management groups. The groups enable particular forms of social and urban fabric to emerge, which in turn produce unique neighborhood morphologies.

La Balanza residents have come together to not only solve problems related to the satisfaction of their basic needs, they have formed theater groups to find means of expression and collective development. This collective artistic process gave birth to FITECA, the International Festival of Theater in Open Streets, celebrated every year since 2002 in the Tahuantinsuyo Park of La Balanza. This festival has transformed residents’ perception of art, culture and participatory urbanism. Commencing in 2007, the Fitekantropus program intends to widen the scope of the FITECA theatre festival and to grow from a cultural event taking place annually to a comprehensive development project for the whole neighbourhood.

In 2007, together with artists and residents, the collective CITIO-Transdisciplinar City, made up of professionals and students of the Faculty of Architecture and Urbanism at the National Engineering University of Lima, proposed the Fitekantropus project. The initiative introduces a novel approach that promotes an integral and complementary relationship between residents and their environment.

The objectives of the program are pursued through the strategic planting of "seed projects". These seeds are irrigated with social processes, academic events and space appropriation actions that consolidate the collective management of the environment.

Initially, prefeasibility studies are conducted for each project and then they are further developed through design assemblies, where the participants come together to define the formal and functional guidelines of each project. This process led to the elaboration of an "Integral Urban Program of Cultural Districts", which defines a development strategy for La Balanza based on four objectives:

  1. Strengthen the centrality of the Tahuantinsuyo park
  2. Integrate informal settlements that are socially and spatially fragmented
  3. Formalize and promote the use of public spaces
  4. Consolidate a comprehensive urban system

Seed projects already implemented in La Balanza neighbourhood, include:

  • the physical upgrade of the San Martín dining room and its conversion into a communal space. In 2009, some members of the ETSAM Basic Housing Cooperation group (HaB-ETSAM), together with the National Engineering University and CITIO, recommended the transformation of the community dining room, within the framework of a comprehensive development strategy for the whole neighbourhood. In December 2011, the project was approved with funding of 33,000€ provided by the Polytechnic University of Madrid. The refurbishment was successfully completed in 2014. The dining room has been one of the most successful projects of the redevelopment programme and has significantly improved the social cohesion of the community.
  • the FITECA Culture Walk was initiated in 2008 and executed by the Comas District Municipality and local residents.
  • the activation of small public spaces through the "Community Sundays" events.

In 2009 the City of Lima approached CITIO to develop the Paseo de la Cultura Fiteca project. Through participatory decision making, an entire avenue of La Balanza was transformed into green spaces for creation and recreation, culture and collective memory. The residents took an active part in the process, and in 2011 the project was recognized by the government of Peru as a successful example for other urban projects to emulate.

Partners and stake-holders of the Fitekantropus programme include:


- CITIO - Transdisciplinary City (2007-2015) 

- CCC - Coordinator of City under Construction (2016-2017)

Local partners:

- La Gran Marcha de los Muñecones

- Dining Room San Martín del Once

- Tahuantinsuyo Park Committee, CUPA (Comité Unión Parte Alta)

- Vaso de Leche

- IE 370 Virgen de la Puerta

- Citizen Security Committee

- Garden of the 3rd Age

- Residents of La Balanza.

Municipal and National partners:

- Municipal District of Comas

- Faculty of Architecture, Urbanism and Arts of the National Engineering University (FAUA-UNI)

- International National Forum (NGO)

International partners:

- HabEtsam / UPM (Polytechnic University of Madrid)

- University of Alicante

- Hirikiten (architecture studio from the Basque Country)

The project is funded through the financial contributions of international partners along with support from local residents, community organisations and business.

  • The Polytechnic University of Madrid has financed two stages of the project: 30,000€ for 2012-2014, and 16,000€ for 2016-2017.
  • Through the architecture studio Hirikiten, the project team secured financing from the City Councils of Eibar 5,000€, and Errentería 13,000€, for 2016, and 20,000€ for 2017.
  • The University of Alicante has provided 1,000€ in total, together with the Generalitat Valenciana.
  • Between 2014 and 2015, National Forum International has contributed approximately 7,500€ towards the project development of the community center, 4,500€ in education and training for the dining room staff, and 5,500€ for equipment for the dining room.
  • In 2016 The Municipality of Comas contributed equipment, personnel for labor, and 4,500€ for the development of construction training workshops.

CITIO and CCC have provided many hours of voluntary work since 2007.

Residents have provided meals, materials, transportation and volunteered time.

The re-development of La Balanza uses existing urban dynamics to transform public space through recreational and cultural activities. The programme content is inclusive and experimental, activities are designed to encourage community participation and improve the neighbourhood’s social and urban fabric.

The La Balanza re-development project involves cultural groups, community organizations, universities, civil society institutions and volunteers to work towards a common long-term vision. Due to continuing efforts, the neighbourhood has established itself as a space for research and development of innovative projects. As part of the Fitekantropus program, urban renewal projects have created new opportunities for the cultural development of the community and the residents of La Balanza have participated in the concept and design process.

The municipality of Comas has become involved in the Fitekantropus program and provided official recognition for activities carried out in the neighbourhood. The informal settlements of La Balanza are now known as “Cultural Districts”.

An Integral Urban Program of Cultural Districts (guidelines) has been developed and is updated regularly.

The project has received positive media coverage and academic recognition and considered a model for collaborative urban re-development that can be replicated in other cities.

In 2016, the project won 2nd prize in the CAF prize for urban development and social inclusion and was also awarded the City to City Barcelona FAD Award.

A major challenge is to ensure the sustainability of the Fitekantropus program as there are no financial profits made from the projects. External funding is primarily used to finance construction works, so team members cannot rely on the project to guarantee personal income.

The strategy has been developed in a participatory way, residents collaborate on a series of seed projects to solve environmental, urban and social problems of the neighborhood. The revitalization of strategic public spaces in the neighbourhood helps build a sense of ownership and empowerment among community members.

The Fitekantropus program has been guided by a series of theoretical principles, which are:

  • Participatory design and self-construction as a form of political, social and cultural self-management of the area.
  • Development of working mechanisms by consensus and / or agreements between all the main stake holders involved.
  • Culture can be used as a tool for urban planning and for the development of citizen initiatives.
  • The community can provide ideas and exchange knowledge.
  • Use social management of the environment as a strategy to empower residents that have traditionally been excluded from participating.

The team learned how to work in the informal city. This project’s approach represents a conceptual turn: the community participates alongside a team of professionals and students, in a transformative process that at the same time adjusts to existing urban dynamics. The 10 years’ experience gained in La Balanza has been useful to other projects implemented in the city of Lima: the lessons learned from the Fitekantropus project have been applied, for example, in the Barrio Mío programme, co-ordinated by the Metropolitan Municipality of Lima. More recently, two projects - Barrio Seguro, developed by the Ministry of the Interior and Culture Points, developed by the Ministry of Culture – are being brought together and modelled upon Fitekantropus. The success of Fitekantropus illustrates how community-driver practices of horizontal design and work can integrate the expertise of architects and urbanists to produce meaningful change.

- City-to-City Barcelona FAD Award:

- Proyecto FITEKANTROPUS, Mejora y adecuación participativa del ambiente urbano en el “Barrio Cultural de La Balanza", Distrito de Comas, Lima, Javier Vera Cubas.

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City-to-City Barcelona FAD Award
Barcelona (área metropolitana), Spain

City-to-City Barcelona FAD Award

Institution | Urban Award

Javier Vera Cubas
Madrid, Spain

Javier Vera Cubas

Individual | Architect

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