GRANADA—Nietzsche said, “Out of chaos comes order.”
Nietzsche, however, never tried to have a quiet dinner with friends on a Saturday evening on Granada’s Calle La Calzada, where out of chaos comes more chaos—usually in the form of manically loud and untalented Gigantona acts, aggressive young prostitutes, even more aggressive and younger gum urchins, barefoot fire jugglers, shell-necklace hucksters, glue-sniffing zombies, and scraggly street dogs wandering in and out of the clutter of tables, tents, potted plants and other obstacles that block pedestrian flow .
And that’s before the sun goes down.
Calle La Calzada started with the great promise of being a central pedestrian boulevard where tourists and nationals could enjoy a leisurely evening stroll, a drink at an outdoor café, or a pleasant meal while enjoying conversation in the warm lake breeze.
But like many things in Nicaragua, Calle La Calzada was set loose without any meaningful regulations, no consideration for noise pollution, and no respect for chaos. The law of entropy immediately got a hold of the street and turned what should have been Granada’s finest tourism effort in the wild west of free-market messiness.
Despite the clanging and craziness, La Calzada is a fun place to hang out and shout with friends or get some good grub from dozens of great eateries. But with 360-degrees of street distractions and the constant, bustling din of ambient noise, it’s a difficult place to have a relaxing conversation with a friend, or really soak in lazy colonial charm of the city.
In an effort to save La Calzada’s fun and economic potential before bedlam steals the night, the municipal government of Granada is finally stepping in to try to put the toothpaste back in the tube.
The mayor’s office is notifying the 50-plus businesses on Calle La Calzada that they have less than one month to adhere to a series of strict regulations intended to regulate commercial activity, control the sprawl and lower the decibel level.
Daysi Membreño, the city’s architect charged with the daunting task of protecting Granada’s historic colonial center, says the new regulations will apply to signage standards, street seating, street buskers, and all plastic tents, tarps and other squatter setups that some businesses have erected to appropriate sidewalk and street real estate.
Membreño says sidewalk signs will no longer be allowed. Starting next month, businesses will be limited to one mounted sign on their storefront, and one lectern to display menus.
Outdoor seating will also be restricted to one row of tables pushed up against the façade of the building, and not littered higgledy-piggledy across the entire sidewalk, street and gutter. In addition, Membreño said, restaurants won’t be allowed to put their chairs and tables out on the sidewalk until 6 p.m., and will be required to bring everything inside at close time.
“The street is not a storage unit for these businesses,” Membreño told The Nicaragua Dispatch.
The plastic tents and tarps will also have to go, she said. The mayor’s office is notifying the national brewery that all the promotional beer-and-rum tents and tarps have to be replaced with more tasteful table umbrellas.
Street artisans will also be regulated, she said, noting that only 13 street vendors are authorized to sell handicrafts on La Calzada. And they will only be allowed to do so from 10 a.m.- 10 p.m. Everyone else will have to peddle their goods elsewhere, Membreño said.
“The idea is to clean up and give order to La Calzada, so there can be more access for pedestrians,” Membreño said. “The street’s growth needs to be balanced.”
The trickiest part of the street cleanup will be what to do with the growing tide of young street solicitors, prostitutes and incessantly noisy Gigantonas, which provide a fun cultural spectacle the first time you see them, then becomes progressively intolerable and intrusive with each subsequent, snare-blasting interruption to dinner conversation.
Membreño admits that controlling the peddlers, prostitutes and hat-passers will be the hardest aspect to ordering activity on the street, because it will require a coordinated and inter-disciplinary effort involving the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of the Family, whose efforts thus far to protect at-risk youth in Granada have been undetectable.
While most businesses on La Calzada seem to be in favor of limiting the endlessly noisy acts and establishing some semblance of order on the street, some local proprietors object to the way the mayor’s office is going about the task.
Margarita Jarquín, administrator of the Mexican restaurant Tequila Vallarta and president of the 30-member Group of Restaurants on La Calzada, says most businesses are in favor of order, but she says the alcaldia’s heavy-handed approach is causing some resentment.
“They don’t want to negotiate, they just want to impose new rules,” Jarquín says. “We need to regulate the street, but we have to talk about how to do it.”
For example, Jarquín said, the mayor’s office decided that her sign was in violation of the regulations, so they just took it away. “That’s our property,” she says.
Jarquín notes that many of the regulations the mayor’s office is trying to enforce now have been in place—on paper, at least—since 2009. So the sudden iron-fisted rush to enforce long-neglected regulations is a bit perplexing, she says.
Membreño admits the problem in the past was that the mayor’s office itself was in such turmoil that it wasn’t able to worry about messes other than its own. But now that the mayor’s office feels slightly under control, they can start to focus on other chaotic problems in the city—starting with La Calzada.
Enforcement must be group effort
The alcaldia’s plans to enforce the regulations are raising a few cynical eyebrows.
According to Membreño, the idea is to have a couple of volunteer police officers patrol the street at night to make sure no one has more tables on the sidewalk than they are allowed.
Anyone who has spent more than 15 minutes in Nicaragua will recognize that situation as one that invites all sorts of potential corruption, bribery and malfeasance.
Membreño, too, recognizes the risk. She says that’s why everyone on La Calzada has to agree to respect the regulations and self-police the street for the common good.