By Liam Higgins
What will the restored San Francisco Plaza look and feel like when it reopens next month? Will it become a mecca for tourists or a hangout for transients? How will its traditional role as a commercial center change to accommodate a busy schedule of cultural events? These are the issues that Cuenca’s cultural affairs office hopes to define in guidelines it is currently developing.
“In recent history, the plaza has been a commercial market place,” says Andrea Malquin, who is working on a “manual of good use” for the plaza. “When it reopens, it will retain this characteristic but will also be a center for cultural events, a place for performances and exhibitions.”
She adds that the addition of public events marks a return to the use of the plaza in the 17th and 18th centuries. “Although it served as a market from the beginning, it was also a civic center that saw a wide range of activities, including political debates and concerts. Our plan is to restore this multi-purpose forum.”
According to Malquin and Pablo Barzallo, director of Cuenca’s Historical and Patrimonial Areas Committee, special efforts are being made to maintain the new plaza as an area attractive to both tourists and residents, which means increasing security and enforcing regulations against informal vendors.
Another issue being addressed is the problem of transients, many of them alcoholics and drug addicts, who hung out and often spent the night at the old plaza. “We are aware of this and other social problems of the plaza and they cannot be ignored,” says Barzallo. “We will work with social services agency to help people who need assistance but we will also ensure that the plaza is a safe and healthy place for everyone who visits.”
Barzallo pointed to the renovation of Parque de la Madre as a project that returned a once dangerous area to “healthy public use.”
Although the final plan will not be released for several weeks, Malquin says establishing a new cultural venue for Cuenca is a primary objective. “We envision operas and orchestra concerts and other performance art in the plaza as well as a variety of exhibitions,” she says. “The Calle del Artista, which is an extension of the plaza, will have an ongoing agenda of exhibits and performances that we hope will attract tourists and citizens.”
Calle del Artista, or street of the artist, is a one-block section of Padre Aguirre between Presidente Cordova and Juan Jaramillo, at the plaza’s southeast corner. Work on it was completed in September.
The inauguration of the renovated plaza will be in November, Barzallo says. “Work on the project is almost complete and the vendors will begin moving in next month.”