Walking in Quito: urban imaginaries of the historical city centre
Piñeiros Carrera, Estefanía Daniela
This research seeks to understand how local residents, merchants and artisans in the city centre of Quito experience, think of and value their everyday place, the historical centre of Quito, henceforth HCQ. This thesis begins with the assumption that there is a general imaginary of the HCQ, which is strongly linked to the configuration of Ecuadorian national identity and official discourse of heritage which prioritizes material heritage and dominant forms of memories. This general imaginary defines how the city centre is perceived by the broader public and guides its urban planning and management while overlooking everyday heterogeneous spatial relations, social struggles and local memories that configure a different city. This general imaginary guides an essentialist approach to urban culture and displaces contemporary inhabitants and spatial practices. Research on the historic city centre of Quito acknowledges that people who reside or regularly go to the historic centre build a different relationship with it and hint at an everyday relationship with the urban that changes how the historical city centre is perceived. However, such research does not shed light on what kind of current spatial daily practices and relationships generate other forms of understanding and imagining the historical centre. Moreover, the study of urban imaginaries in cultural and communication studies has been limited to researching the imaginary as an abstract entity that is already given and is approached mainly as a text. In response, based on an anthropological approach to the imaginary, this thesis treats the imaginary as an outcome of a social and spatial process instead of understanding it as a finished product. By exploring walking as a form of place-making and an embodied encounter with the urban condition, this thesis aims to understand urban subjectivities from the ground up and foreground alternate urban imaginaries. I grounded the methodology based on an ethnographic approach to urban imaginaries, which allowed me to treat imaginaries as the outcome of individual and shared material and social practices. During a 12-month ethnographic fieldwork in Quito (2018 – 2019), I followed ten walks organized by four neighbourhood collectives in the city centre of Quito and conducted and documented sixteen personal walks. Mapping exercises conducted with inhabitants complemented the data I gathered during the walks, as did a creative practice comprising the photographs included in this thesis, an audiovisual installation, a video and three photographic series. Drawing on human geography and urban anthropology, this thesis explores the residents, merchants, artisans and the researcher’s experiential, affective, corporal and symbolic relationship with the city centre of Quito. I unpack this spatial relationship in five chapters throughout the thesis, where subjects like heritage, memory, popular culture, ruins, renovation are discussed and refined. This thesis finds that the experiences of contemporary communities and their evaluation of historical environments challenge the official narrative of the HCQ by affording greater value to intangible and communal spatial practices—that nurture a sense of belonging and foster socio-economic relations in public space—than to the tangible aspects of place. Alternative uses and meanings of the past and the material encounter with urban space sheds light onto ruination and renovation processes in historical city centres and open a debate around heritage, conservation and renovation. Furthermore, an experimental aesthetic approach to ruins, viewpoints, and launderettes as part of the creative practice during the fieldwork highlights textures, sounds, and smells meant to stimulate memory and imagination to enrich further an alternative knowledge of t Quito’s city centre. Finally, concerning the production of urban space. A more dynamic and inclusive understanding of the historical centre that considers the need and spatial practices of the contemporary inhabitants can complement the current—mainly descriptive and technical — institutional and official approaches to urban life.