Fundación Valparaíso in "Tripchile" magazine
“Valparaiso is by far and away the most interesting city that Chile has – architecturally, historically, urbanistically and on many other levels”, Temkin says.
Fundación Valparaíso. Revitalizes the City
Arriving in Valparaiso in the early 1990s, Temkin says that the unique atmosphere of his new hometown struck him immediately. Winding passageways and clanking, wooden elevators lead visitors round a city steeped with the influences of the British, German and Italian immigrants who settled in the city from the early nineteenth century onwards.
“They built the city and left their heritage here,” Temkins explains, “Valparaiso is by far and away the most interesting city that Chile has – architecturally, historically, urbanistically and on many other levels.”
And beyond the city´s physical setting and architecture, Temkin argues that the place with a special atmosphere, a product of its history, people, culture and art, that weaves a maudlin spell over visitors and causes many to put down permanent roots.
“Valparaiso emanates an invisible narcotic that unless you live here is difficult to explain,” he says.
But finding the city on the brink of collapse following decades of economic decline and neglect, the poet set himself the goal of raising its profile, both at home and abroad.
So eight years ago, Temkin founded the Valparaiso Foundation www.fundacionvalparaiso.cl.
The aim, he says, was to develop the city’s cultural and tourist potential, taking on projects “that fall between the responsibilities of the private and public sectors and try to fill in the blanks.”
One of the not-for-profit organisation’s early landmark projects was the repainting of twenty-three traditional houses on Cerro Bellavista by design students from a local university.
The foundation is now involved in thirty or so projects, “a remarkable number for such a small organisation,” covering heritage, culture, education and tourism.
For instance, the Bicentennial Walks booklet -also available online at www.senderobicentenario.cl- sets out fifteen fascinating paths for visitors to follow, guiding them round the nooks and crannies of historic Valparaiso, pointing out important landmarks and buildings, the events that happenedthere and the people who lived in them.
Or Opera at the Sea www.operaenelmar.cl, a summer opera festival, based around the Deutsche Haus, a nineteenth century theatre in the heart of UNESCO’s World Heritage district. Just three years old, Temkin believes the festival could soon rival the Frutillar music week as Chile’s largest classical music event.
At its headquarters, in a renovated multi-storey house on Bellavista hill, the foundation also provides space for a small number of craft workers and runs the El Gato Tuerto (The One-Eyed Cat), today one of the city´s best-known restaurants.
The organisation, with Temkin at the helm, is widely credited with helping to turn around opinion about Valparaiso and its future development, not just among foreign visitors but with Chileans themselves, especially among Santiago-based opinion formers and decision makers.
“Ten or eleven years ago, Valparaiso was looked down upon and underestimated by many Chileans,” he notes. The fact that santiaguinos today make up the majority visitors to the foundation is a source of pride to Temkin.
A remarkably important Pacific port in the late nineteenth century, the city went into rapid decline with the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914. Its loss of position as Chile´s main port in the 1990s threatened to put the final nails in the coffin. But a number of projects and campaigners, Temkins among them, helped raise the profile of Valparaiso´s historic and cultural potential.
The city´s cause was taken up by the government of former President Ricardo Lagos, who Temkin praises for making unique subsidies and tax breaks available for the restoration of Valparaiso´s historic centre. The president also moved the offices of the Culture Ministry to the port and officially decreed Valparaiso Chile´s City of Culture. Lagos´s intervention was also crucial for the city´s successful bid for UNESCO World Heritage status, granted in 2004.
Before that, “many Chileans did not believe that the application for World Heritage was for real, they thought it was a bluff,” Temkin admits.
Now exciting times now lie ahead. A loan from the Inter-American Development Bank has made US$75 million available to City Hall for the redevelopment of historic Cerro Concepción district covered by the UNESCO status. Private money is also coming into the city. The hills ring with the sound of construction work as once rundown houses are renovated into apartments and small hotels with stunning views across the bay.
“The government now sees that this is a gold mine that can be exploited,” notes Temkin. Encouraging more tourists and more investment in the city could have a significant impact in one of Chile´s most economically depressed regions.
But Temkin and others are concerned that care is taken to preserve the Valparaiso´s unique heritage and not to see the city transformed into a giant theme park.
Plans by one of the country´s big supermarket chains to open a branch just meters from the historic De La Matriz church has raised howls of protest from locals although the company has promised to design the new store in harmony with the historic architecture that will surround it.
But despite such hiccups, Temkin is confident that Valparaiso´s best days are ahead of it.
“Everyone knows the city is on the verge of something big –all the elements are there – the question is just when,” the poet gleams.