Trains in Latin America and the Caribbean almost disappeared along with neo-liberalism during the 1990s. Today, passenger trains only run in some parts of the region. Only a few cities managed to bring back the commuter train to the city, such as San José in Costa Rica. After decades after shutting down the passenger train service, the city brought the train back to work. However, the few remaining railway lines are mostly used for private freight trains. This development of the last decades has lead to a high amount of vacant spaces alongside former railway lines and train stations that are not in use anymore. The transformation of Latin American’s abandoned infrastructure holds an immense potential for urban development.
Unused railway lines and stations are highly qualified for being transformed into new mixed-used urban neighborhoods – not only because of their central location. Also, they mostly offer a relatively huge connected empty space – a rarity in dense urban areas. Of course, this is not limited to train infrastructure, also former airports, abandoned industrial areas, old fabrics etc., all these areas are potential transformation areas. If these areas formerly had been used as public (state) infrastructure, it is possible that the whole area still is in property of a single company, which can simplify the development process.
One example of the transformation of abandoned infrastructure is the railway station of Quetzaltenango – one of those large structures in the middle of the city that has the potential to be converted into a cultural place by local activists and artists. There are many examples in Latin American cities of such success stories. One of these projects is the Centro Metropolitano de Diseño (CMD) in the Barracas district in Buenos Aires. A former fish market was developed into a creative hub attracting hundreds of creative entrepreneurs. This project – and many others in the region – is a great example how to transform obsolete infrastructure into vibrant urban spaces.
Goya’s British style brick buildings are a solid basis for the development of new creative uses close to the historical center. The heritage buildings are architectural icons and should be brought back to life with new uses. Large rail infrastructure yards, such as those in Bahia Blanca and Xalapa, have great potential for the urbanization of new central locations close to existing infrastructure. Even these cities retained their rail infrastructure for freight, most of the infrastructural areas that are not used anymore could be converted into parks and inclusive housing projects. In the future, who knows who will bring back the well-needed passenger train to the cities.