One of the main thoroughfares of the Zona 1, Guatemala City's historic center, is Sixth Avenue, or la Sexta. It was renovated under a past city administration, undoubtedly in order to "clean up" the city. I don't know enough about the municipal improvement schemes in Guatemala City in particular, but I know enough about neoliberal urbanism and gentrification to imagine the reasoning behind this. For about a mile, in between Parque Central on one end, and the immense, sprawling central market, it has been turned into a pedestrian-only walkway, lined with a combination of upscale and downscale and regular scale shops. I ran along it this morning, coming to the end of the pedestrian walkway and to the edge of the central market, and although I didn't go into the market (I was running, after all, and wanted to get my miles in), that end of La Sexta gives a pretty good idea of what it might have been like before the renovation -- small stands cheek-by-jowl, the street and sidewalk littered with broken plastic bags, discarded Tortrix (a favored national brand of corn chips) wrappers, wilted lettuce leaves. Apparently also it was a favored hangout of prostitutes, and other street denizens. The prostitutes have not been eliminated but moved to other, somewhat emptier locales (emptier in having fewer commercial establishments open at night). During the day La Sexta is crowded with pedestrians; on a weekend day like yesterday, there are the kinds of street performers one sees in cities throughout the world: living statues of historic figures or icons, completely covered in metallic paint; mimes; musicians. Yesterday there was someone in an elaborate spider costume, lying supine inside the shell, with huge hairy legs splayed out. An skinny elderly woman, dressed up as a beauty queen, with a sash across her chest and a glittery tiara perched on her graying braids, bent over to kiss the person inside the spider costume and then flitted away to applause and laughter. Young couples sit on benches with their lips glued together, limbs intertwined, groping and embracing for remarkably long stretches.
In the early morning, it is not quite empty. Yesterday morning I went to the Tigo store a little after 8 to activate my modem, and saw that there were a lot of runners (there are not really open spaces for running in most of Guatemala City), and so this morning I decided to join their ranks. Parque Central is pretty empty at 7 a.m., but there are always a small number of taxi drivers parked on the side of the Palacio Nacional, and a few vendors setting up along Sixth Street. There was some big display being set up by Tigo, with huge inflated stick figures and music blaring. Most of the larger commercial establishments were closed, and there were green-vested city employees on nearly every block, sweeping the street and sidewalk. A few blocks down, in front of one of the larger churches (I didn't stop to see the name), there was a band playing, in full swing, with three female backup singers/dancers, outfitted in short-shorts, and knee high patent leather boots. A small crowd had gathered to watch and listen, but no one was dancing, although the music was fairly danceable salsa.
Cluster of two or three young women, dressed in what were undoubtedly work uniforms -- sharply creased dark colored pants, matching vests or jackets, and collared shirts, hurried down the avenue, holding their co-workers' arms or hands, and giggling as they made their way to their workplaces. A few people were slumped in doorways, evidently there since the night before, and one man, drunk or mentally disturbed or both, stood in the middle of the avenue with his arms outstretched and talking to himself.
It would be too simple to say that all classes of Guatemala City's population come together on La Sexta, but it is probably one of the places where you see this much diversity -- well heeled upper-middle class urbanites, tourists, stolid indigenous women in cortes and huipiles balancing baskets on their heads, gaggles of school children dressed up in band uniforms and carrying their instruments, heavily tattooed teenagers in skinny jeans and t-shirts on skateboards, fans of punk or metal or who knows what, older women in sensible shoes, young women in skintight dresses and tottering heels... At night the streets that cut across La Sexta are crowded with young people emerging from, or waiting to get into, bars and clubs, rows of taxis lined up waiting to take people home from a night out (the Zona 1 is one of the more dangerous parts of the city and anyone who can afford it will usually take a cab, even if just for 5-6 blocks).