The city government of San Salvador under the direction of its mayor Nayib Bukele has been recovering the public spaces in the city's historic center, and doing so without violence, protests or force. In an area of more than 20 city blocks, the informal street vendors have removed their stalls to other locations, freeing up the streets and sidewalks around cultural and historic buildings and plazas.
In recent decades, the city's historic center near the National Palace, the Metropolitan Cathedral, the National Theater and other important buildings has been the swarming center of the informal economy. Thousands of informal vendors have set up make shift stalls where they hawk everything from mangoes to make-up, from pirated DVDs to piñatas. The stalls are built on the sidewalks and into the streets, blocking access and obstructing the view of historic architecture. Traffic congestion in the area is extreme at all hours of the day.
For years, San Salvador's mayors have tried to re-order the chaos which is central San Salvador. Their efforts regularly consisted of evicting informal street merchants and ripping down their stalls, actions which were usually met with riots b;y the displaced vendors. For example, the prior mayor from ARENA, Norman Quijano took this approach:
Since June , the mayor has ordered the forced eviction of 1,053 hawkers, as part of an attempt to regulate street vending in a city where more than 16,000 street vendors hawk their wares, occupying many streets and plazas.
Several of the evictions, which form part of what the metropolitan police has dubbed "Operation Thunder", have ended in pitched battles, with dozens of people arrested or injured.And after these battles between vendors and the municipal police, things returned to the status quo with the stalls rebuilt, and the vendors still in place.
But San Salvador's current mayor Nayib Bukele has a different, smarter approach. and it seems to be succeeding. Instead of police in riot gear, we see pictures of municipal workers carefully assisting vendors in dismantling their stalls and transferring them to a new location. Street merchants interviewed on local TV express their willingness to go along with the plans of the local government.
The mayor's office describes the vision for the historic center:
This project will be implemented in stages: the first will be an intervention for 23 of the most important blocks in the area, including reordering of informal trade, diversion and management of public passenger transport, removal of overhead wiring and installation of underground wiring, reconstruction of sites of cultural and historical interest, remodeling squares, patching streets, a video surveillance system, building centers of small shops and markets, cleaning streets and sidewalks, installation of pedestrian zones, among others.
This first stage will achieve this so that in one year, one will see significant changes significant at the heart of the Salvadoran capital, leading many to revisit its streets and cultural heritage sites, and will bring to light the history of all Salvadorans, of which we should be proud .
This video from ContraPunto [in Spanish] tells the story of San Salvador's historic center from its glory days, through its decline, to the current efforts of Nayib Bukele.
These are important steps for the quality of life in the capital city.