Did you just liberate people from decades of colonial oppression and want to make a good first impression? Here’s my guide to help you build the next great South American destination! During Phase 2 of our travels, we spent a significant portion of our time in large South American cities. We stayed in Quito (the capital of Ecuador), Bogotá (the capital of Colombia), Lima (the capital of Perú), and Buenos Aires (the capital of Argentina). The city centers are big and dense, while the larger metropolitan areas have populations up to 13 million (Buenos Aires)! Other major cities we visited include Riobamba and Guayaquil in Ecuador, and Cuzco in Perú. Given that these countries all share common history, being colonized then liberated from the Spanish Empire by Simón Bolívar and/or José de San Martín, it is no surprise that all these cities have similar design features.
Plazas and the Old Town
To build a South American Metropolis, one must start with a colonial city. Nowadays, the cities are much bigger and have been built around the old colonial town. The centers of the old town tend to be a large plaza or park, surrounded by a massive cathedral and government buildings. In Lima, the central Plaza de Armas has the Catedral de Lima on one side, the Presidential Palace on another, and the Municipal Palace on a third. In the center of Quito’s old town, the Presidential Palace, old Archbishop’s Palace, Quito Metropolitan Municipality, and Catedral Metropolitana de Quito surround the central plaza which has a massive monument to independence in the center. Be sure to put a giant monument dedicated to independence in the middle of your plaza. A statue of Simón Bolívar on a horse is a classic.
Now you have a city with housing and historical significance, you need streets. In South America, the street names tend to fall under 5 categories. The first option for naming your streets is to choose another country. You could have Canada Avenue or Paraguay Street. In Quito, we saw Calle Haiti, Calle Guatemala, and Calle Venezuela.
Your second option is to use another country ‘s city. For example, in Buenos Aires, we saw Riobamba street (Riobamba, Ecuador) and Avenida Córdoba (Córdoba, Spain). Quito has Calle New York, Calle Buenos Aires, and Calle Asunción.
Your third option is important historical dates. The massive 16-lane thoroughfare in Buenos Aires was named Avenida 9 de Julio after their independence day which is celebrated every year on July 9th. In Quito, we stayed near Calle 9 de Octubre which is the date that the Ecuadorian city of Guayaquil gained independence.
A fourth choice is historically significant people. Almost every South American city has a street named after General Simón Bolivar. A majority of the streets in Lima are named after people such as generals, presidents, politicians, journalists, actors, and other people of note. Another common appearance is saints. San Diego, San Felipe, Santa Anita, San Miguel, San Martín, etc.
A final option is a concept. Lima has Calle Independencia, Quito has Calle Progreso, and Buenos Aires has Avenida Libertad. The concepts tend to be positive, reflecting the country’s aspirations and values.
Congratulations on building and naming your city’s streets! Now, how are your citizens going to get from place to place? Cars are expensive, and your city is now far too big for everyone to walk everywhere. Why not install some public transportation?
First, you’ll want a metro system. Unlike in the US, where “metro” often means subway, “metro” in South America means an extensive bus system. Buses are a very important means of transportation throughout South America. They are fast, reliable, and the infrastructure is well-maintained. Bogotá, Lima, and Buenos Aires all had extremely strong bus systems. On the highways and throughout the cities, buses had a dedicated lane, meaning they are not slowed down when there is traffic. The lane is also available to government vehicles and emergency vehicles like ambulances. In Lima, we took a food tour and used the metro. It was cheap, easy to use, stations were well-labeled, and the stations even had attendants helping direct traffic and answer questions like “which line do I take to get to the old town?”. The buses get pretty crowded at times, as with any public transportation system.
You might not want to bother with a subway. The only city we visited that had an underground train system was Buenos Aires. When we took it, it was virtually empty. When trying to pay, we realized that you needed to register on the government website to get a subway card, and there wasn’t an option to get a single-use ticket. Luckily, the guy manning the turnstiles was nice enough to just let us through. We walked through the empty hallways, down the empty stairs, and onto the empty platform. The stops on the subway were just named after the streets they stopped at, so we had to google which stop to get off at. The cars were typical subway cars but were almost completely empty. Only a couple of people got on and off in the six or so stops we passed. Given that the bus system is cheap, intuitive, reliable, and fast, a subway system is completely optional in your metropolis.
Ending with taxis, those are easy. Just make sure to add space in the airport for taxis. Every South American city we visited had plenty of taxis. They tended to be the stereotypical bright yellow and were reasonably priced. There are Ubers in most of the major cities, but the taxi drivers are more numerous and have more of a voice, making Uber illegal in cities like Bogotá and Lima.
These are just some of the similarities I observed when we visited the large cities of South America. Be sure to take these into account if you want your beautiful metropolis to fit in. Happy Building!