Leon reopens central park

Park project is part of a $700,000 restoration of the colonial city's historic center

After a year and a half of remodelling, the parque central of León was reopened to the public last Friday in an event that concluded a week-long celebration of the 146th anniversary of the birth of national hero and poet Rubén Darío, who is buried in the Cathedral of León.

Plastic chairs lined the park facing the Cathedral of León for a light show illuminating the church’s facade. Traditional dancers and musicians played to a packed audience, as the city’s newly elected municipal officials looked on from their VIP seating next to the stage.

It was a day for city pride and the crowd stood and sung repeated renditions of “Viva León, Jodido!” Youths danced around inside “La Gigantona” effigies and screamed out patriotic “bombas.” As evening faded to night, an impressive fireworks show shot off from the roof of the mayor’s office.

The reconstruction of the central park began in May 2011. In partnership with the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation and the Nicaraguan Tourism Institute (INTUR), the mayor’s office of León got almost $700,000 for the redevelopment and restoration of the historic center of the city. The reopening of the park marks the first stage of the project, which has cost more than half of the total investment.

While many Leónese families are happy to get their park back, others are expressing disappointed with the final product after a long wait. One life-long resident said he was unhappy with the restoration project, claiming that nothing seems to have changed in the park except the removal of trees and parks benches. Of the 37 trees that originally lined the park, only 10 survived the restoration process. The decision to remove so many trees in the name of beautification—including a 50-year old Malinche that was used as a local landmark—was protested by a university environmentalist group from the UNAN. But Benita Bergara, a member of the municipal team responsible for the redevelopment, said that the decision to remove the trees was recommended by ecologists because the trees were sick and being destroyed by termites.

León’s newly remodeled central park (photo/ David Hutt)

It is also unfair to say nothing has changed. The $400,000 spent on the redevelopment has gone into laying a new concrete floor, moving electricity and telephone cables underground, repainting the water fountain and giving the façade of the Cathedral a new coat of white paint. New trees have been planted and the two lion statues that stand guard outside the doors to the Cathedral have been cleaned up and repainted. While there were no major design changes to the park, the redevelopment has certainly improved the over aesthetics. The park is now much cleaner and the area feels more spacious.  

But some are worried about what’s to come. Some citizens are concerned that the remodelling of the park is part of a plan to remove the vendors from the park, deter families and groups from congregating, and eliminating the central market behind the Cathedral—all under the guise of “beautifying” the area.

The concerns are not entirely baseless. Back in 2011, when the reconstruction project was still being debated, the person in charge of the park for the mayor’s office, Isidra Silva Velasquez, said, “The reality is that the park and surrounding area has been proliferated by traders – it looks like a market.” Some residents are concerned that the second phase of downtown restoration project, which will focus on cleaning up the north side of the cathedral, will be an attempt to remove the marketeers.

In June 2011, the Cathedral of León was recognised by UNESCO and placed on their list of world heritage sites—one month after construction began on the park. It remains to be seen whether the fully remodelled center will serve the needs of the people of León, or whether the goal is to attract more tourists to the city, making the historic centre a “beautified” area like Granada.

Whatever the case, the majority of those in attendance for the reopening performance joyously sang along with the band and the weekend proved to be an ideal time for the people of León to become reacquainted with their central park. 

  • http://www.mickaragua.blogspot.com mick mordell

    The Central Park of Leon opened for a day–then promptly closed the following day; the corrugated metal fencing went up as it had been before, and work on the still unfinished park continued. I’ve been a resident of Leon for exactly a year–after 3 years in Granada. What I saw when I arrived was a shabbier but not hopelessly woebegone central plaza; one with a great deal of deferred maintenance that needed taking care of. The benches all needed repair or replacement (they’ve been replaced with quite nice, simple but sturdy wooden slatted models of sturdy wrought iron bases)and re-painting and landscaping were definitely called for.
    But to an eye seasoned to the economic realities of Nicaragua, it’s very very hard to see where the 700 grand went. And I guess that’s the point–you’re not supposed to see where it went–transparency, is a Sandinista sin–for obvious reasons.
    Work only began seriously 8 months ago, virtually all manual labor with only minimal investment in materials. Trenches were dug by pick and shovel, concrete and stone, of course, laid by hand. Do the Math: at little more than a hundred dollars monthly wage, you could have had a thousand workers a month, whereas there were only ever 30 to 50 working at a time, and often fewer. It’s been a project that by first or second world standards would have required little more than a month to complete, instead of 8 months disruption to the lives and incomes of those who depend on the existence of the park for their livelihood or simply recreation and rest.
    In this hottest of climates, only dead and dying trees remain in the park, what was once a shaded refuge, has become a large and open plaza under the scorching sun. Some trees have been planted, and I assume, however unwisely, that more will be, but they’ll need at the very least 5 years to offer shade of any value.
    Overall, the design and implementation has been not a disappointment–how can you ever be disappointed in a land with such low expectations?–just a big flop.
    A personal but related anecdote: The day before the opening, I saw numbers of civillians walking about in the park, as the fences were coming, for a brief period, down. They were observing, taking photos with their cell-phones, doing their sidewalk superintendent thing, and I decided to join them. I cut through the open gates of the Cafe Sexto which sits at the corner of the Alcaldia catty-corner to the Cathedral. I stepped onto the new concrete and terazzo where I encountered a woman in her forties, taking photos of the park while talking to a younger man. She immediately turned to me and told me that I wasn’t allowed to be there. “But you’re here” I said. She said that it was okay for her to be there because: “This is my place”. I pointed down to the concrete beneath our feet and asked: “This is your property”? She pointed to the cafe and lifted her chin. I told her if she could be there, so could I. “Where are you from”? she asked, accusingly, vitriolically. I could see where she was heading, the next statement would certainly have been a variant of “No es tu pais!”–it’s not your country! with an admonishing wagging of index finger, as I’ve heard told me on a large number of previous occasions. I replied that I was from the First World–what world are you from?

    • Jorge Greco Rodriguez

      Well Said! Those sandinista are a bunch of haters and corrupt to the core,; they can not even fathom a Nicaragua out of the first world, instead they take shortcuts and pocket most of the money… I bet ya She was an India? I might sound racist but I can’t stand those indians they are all full of envy

  • http://www.giftsfilms.com George Harris

    It is tragic to see the ignorance of the commentors on this page. You deserve better Nicadispatch. I suspect they enjoy Foxnews….

    • Jorge Greco Rodriguez

      And I bet you are a Liberal

  • Oscar

    Well Said George

  • John Butz

    Me siento orgulloso poder decir que mi querido León ha cambiado para el mejor. Soy de los E.E.U.U. y recuerdo muy bien cuando las fuerzas armadas Somocistas dejaron bombas de napalm y fósforo blanco en León y otras ciudades de Nicaragua y nosotros, los norteamericanos no dijeron nada. Gringos, ¿se dan cuenta de lo que pasó en León? Ya es la hora de ayudar.

    • Jorge Greco Rodriguez

      Somocistas y Sandinistas son la misma cosa amigo, ambos corruptos

      • daddy-yo

        Leaving politics aside for a moment, I suppose it could be retitled:

        Leon reopens and semi-recloses to soon reopen … Central Park

        Pobre Leon, jodido.

        • daddy-yo

          A scapegoat must be found & roasted! I noticed all the lamp posts are missing. Their foundations with wires & threaded bolts sticking out can been seen regularly dispersed. So they must be in the mail, no, held up in shipment at the border, no that’s under control, no it’s got to be some foreign industry that promised deliver and yet . . . they expect to get paid first? Hey, trust us! Just ship ‘em!