February 2010: Santiago’s Park Life Surprise. I had the privilege to spend few days in Santiago recently as part of my South American trip, travelling through most of Chile and over to Easter Island.

What I was not expecting was a parks and cultural masterclass.

By simply walking outside my hotel I entered the Park Bustamante, which runs alongside the busy Avenue Bustamante and connects to a 3km long green way featuring Park Las Americas and Park Forestal in the heart of the city.

One thing that struck me immediately was the lack of litter, the large number of benches, well maintained grass and borders. All manner of local people were lying, sitting, walking and jogging through the park with several young couples kissing in these well maintained (and clearly!) intimate spaces.

This was clearly a ‘keep on the grass’ kind of place.   I wandered eastwards and came across a delightful Literary Cafe filled with reading groups and individuals relaxing with magazines and books supping on fresh coffee. Not a bit of graffiiti was seen, in a Country famous for its creative Banksy style of alfresco protest.

I wandered through the two storey Cafe, a beautifully designed building. Its outdoor seating area then merged into a shallow pristine pond followed by a large outdoor gym and play area. This space was complemented by a number of  high quality outdoor sculptures.

The whole atmosphere created a sense of place, of being and calm on a balmy night.  The locals clearly loved and respected this place. (I saw people jogging along here at well past midnight.)

The outdoor gym was fully occupied with people of all ages, children working out with their dads, two elderly ladies having a chat and working on their abdominal flexibility, an energetic older gentleman who looked like he was competing in an Olympic Sculling race.

These people were smiling, talking, laughing – this was fun, it wasn’t a slog because they were in a good place, spending quality time with friends or family and feeling safe.

The children’s play area was well designed with modern equipment, buzzing with parents and their offspring. The ice cream vendor was having a good day. Across the road was a commercial Jazz Club, complementing the cultural synergy of the park.

It comes as no surprise that Santiago has one of the lowest crime rates of all South American Cities.  Parks like the Bustamante are clearly making a difference to a City that prides itself on and delivers on its cultural offer.

So for any of you thinking about designing a park in a narrow strip of green space in an urban area, look no further than Bustamante. Even better, go and see it for yourself, but don’t expect it to be a short visit…