Monday, July 16, 2012

Where are the people?

We have a tradition of inviting friends and family to our apartment to look at photos taken during our trips outside of Peru. We show the photos on the television, and provide snacks and beverages to help lessen any boredom (I admit it; I take way too many photos). Most viewers seem to enjoy the photos and there are usually lots of questions and comments.  Last week we showed photos of our recent visit to the US and Canada. The evening pretty much followed the script until the showing was over, when two people asked almost simultaneously…”Where are the people?”  I didn’t understand what they meant at first until they asked to fast-forward through the photos and stopped me at various points. Then the reason for their question became obvious.

This is Main Street in Crivitz Wisconsin. The photo was taken in mid-morning. According to the sign at the edge of town Crivitz has a population of 998 (It had the same number when Maribel and I lived there, so either town authorities have not yet noticed we’re gone or two more residents have arrived). The town’s population is comprised mostly of retirees, so you probably wouldn’t expect to see a whole lot of people on the streets, but still…nobody?

This location is near downtown Sault Ste. Marie Canada at noon.  The city has done a great job of developing their boardwalk area bordering the Saint Mary River. It’s a flourishing city that is tastefully blending the preservation of heritage with renovation and modernization.  With a population of 80,000 it has the feel of a vibrant community, yet it is noon and I am standing in the middle of the street and the only person in the photo is Maribel.

Wells Street is in the heart of downtown Milwaukee. At one time years ago I thought this city of 600,000 was in a death spiral with no hope of salvation.  The mostly blue-collar neighborhoods were deteriorating and the downtown area was a collection of crumbling office and manufacturing buildings. I was wrong. It has rebuilt itself, and every time I return to it I fall in love with it all over again.  The photo was taken shortly after noon. In it are Maribel, a woman behind her and a maintenance worker. Three people…on Wells Street…at noon?

 Almost every other cityscape photo showed the same sparsity of people.

This is the intersection of Balta and Elias Aguire in downtown Chiclayo Peru. It could be any intersection near downtown at any time of the day. Chiclayo’s population is 630,000; almost exactly that of Milwaukee. The difference is that no matter where you are in Chiclayo, it seems as if the entire population is there with you. 

What is the answer to the question “Where are the people?” in the first three photos? Maribel and I struggled when trying to respond. Part of the answer is that there are no money changers, street vendors, shoe shiners or beggars in those photos. Another factor is that commerce – banking, shopping, etc is spread out over a wider area. Another reason is that Chiclayanos are less inclined and have far less opportunity to use the internet for shopping and banking.  Cultural policies also play a part, forcing Chiclayanos to physically visit banks, schools, government and private offices for trivial matters.

The above explains in part why there are so many people in Chiclayo’s streets, but our guests (and ourselves) didn’t feel that we adequately explained the empty streets in the photos.  Hey! folks in Crivitz, Sault Ste. Marie and Milwaukee….where are you?

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