On 21st April 2024, the leader of the republic of Peru, President Miguel Acevedo declared in parliament that Lima Golf Club, founded one hundred years ago, was to be made a public park. Descriptively renamed ‘Parque Central’, the speech act of Acevedo created the largest public space the modern city of Lima had ever experienced. Two years on, as I write, the rejoicing in the streets has dissipated into antagonism, violence and an uncertain future for Parque Central.
Founded in 1924, Lima Golf Club was pegged out, far from the historical centre of Lima, in the burgeoning neighbourhood of San Isidro. With the Pacific coast to one side and downtown to the other, its flat location and virgin soil was ideal. In a city that is devoid of rainfall, due to the circulation of the Humboldt Current, the mountain streams of the Andes Cordillera irrigated the land, keeping the grass lush in the desert city. There was a population explosion in the 1950s and ‘60s, with millions of migrants relocating from the Andes to the capital, lured by the hope of work and prosperity. The city spread voraciously towards the coastline, and up against the mountains. The Lima Golf Club found itself surrounded by buildings, both an island and a void, a rectangle of friction engulfed in the sprawl of millions.
Despite the populations pushing up against the borders of the golf course, the club did not shrink in size. Towards the end of the twentieth century, San Isidro had shifted into being the most affluent district of the city, and Lima Golf Club became a haven of peace, greenery and fresh air against the choking bustle outside. A gymnasium, tennis courts, multiple swimming pools, a members bar and restaurant added to this island of splendor. This walled garden.
With just 1,800 club members, the club welcomed in a miniscule portion of the 8.2 million Limeños. The most evident barrier to entering the open space was the $60,000 joining fee. If a citizen did have this large figure of money at their disposal their membership was not necessarily guaranteed. Membership was only achieved with the recommendation of an existing member. This layering of social and economic barricades made Lima Golf Club one of the most impenetrable monolithic bodies in the city. This object of nothingness, of air and light, became bordered and blocked. It was a fissure in this border that ultimately led to its demise. To understand the life and death of Lima Golf Club, it needs to be understood simultaneously as a being, a structure, a monolith, and a void.
Lima Golf Club was roughly rectangular in shape. Its perimeter was demarcated by a metal fence, which was in turn disguised by large hedgerows. This monolithic anti-presence of green went relatively unnoticed in a city with innumerable restrictions and boundaries. The Andes Cordillera is the most obvious blockage. The towering mountains so close to the coastline are ever present, and provide a handy compass when navigating the city: walking through town, the monotonous urban grid system is disrupted by the mountain range (which comes into view as one walks). The sheer hillsides were bare until the deluge of population half a century ago, when the barriadas began to form in all available space. Buildings without architects reach through the dips in the mountain, forming cones of urbanisation. Running ahead of any planning regulations, the barriadas form a coral reef of habitations. Its complexity and pattern is one that derives, not from formal civic planning, but rather the immediate needs of its population.
If you see the hills ahead of you, you assume that the ocean is behind you. On the surface, an antidote to the choking hillside barriadas, the Pacific is an infinite demi-split of air and water. Yet the city is blocked to the sea by a cliff-face that lines the cove of Lima. The ocean is there, but the Limeño is separated from it by a precipitous drop. Large, open spaces in Lima are always visible but rarely obtainable. A notable example is Isla San Lorenzo which sits stoically in the cove of Lima. The desert rock holds the title of the largest island in Peru but with no fresh water source, it remains undesirable. Its main functions have been to serve as a burial ground and maximum-security prison. Forbidden to the public, the protrusion is now Peruvian naval territory. And so it stands, omnipresent and accessible only to a select few.
There is a substantial list of contained, blocked off spaces within the city. Large open areas are variously assigned as army training camps, the Callao port, or the city airport. All surrounded by houses and the lives that are lived within them. The airport is the most contradictory of all. Airports promise escape, a space that functions as a threshold for departing or choosing to remain or return. But airports are also the tightest of tight spaces: ‘In the airport, one tube drains into another, the conduits getting narrower and narrower, until finally the passenger is injected into the most enclosed and air conditioned tube of all, the aeroplane itself’.
The idea of blocked space, described here in our imagining of Lima, is central to the Lima Golf Club and the series of events that now make it Parque Central. Surrounded by high-rise condominium buildings that house the wealthy of the city, these towers push and rub against its borders. If we see the buildings as substance, we then see the golf course as anti-substance. Yet the Lima Golf Club is not nothingness, but the framing of nothingness. It produces a space that prevents buildings from encroaching on its borders. Against this present, palpable nothingness, the only way these buildings can go is up. What one starts to see, as in the way a trail of water makes gravity visible, or how iron filings mark out the forces of magnetism, are the real proportions of the space. The Lima Golf Club is not the two dimensional area of green that is seen on a flat map, spotted by manicured tress and cartoon like lakes, but a column of air, surrounded by high-rises, reaching to the ill-defined border between the private plot of land and national airspace. Not to be mistaken with ‘open air’, the golf club demonstrated more of an ‘air conditioning’, the controlling and dividing of space. It is perhaps this defining of nothingness, by the growth of its antonym, which attracted so much attention to the golf course.
Over the years, as the barriadas crept ever further up the mountains on the outskirts of the city, the golf course became increasingly visible. Its lush grass was weeded by hand and cared for by innumerable workers from the barriadas themselves. During the winter months the thick fog that descends on the city like a blanket inhibits clear lines of sight. The golf course or the city is obscured, depending on where one is situated spatially. In the summer months, the glimmering green of the golf course shines through (the view contingent on where one is looking from). The summer months traditionally dictate that the wealthy migrate from their city homes to the gated beach communities south of the city which clings to the lifeline of the Pan-American Highway. With the golfers gone, the focus is not on greenery or the lakes but the space, and the air. There is no other living space but that of air: life, air, and space are inseparable. With the emancipation of workers in the 2010s and the presidency of Humala, shifts took place amongst the working class of Peru. Although living and working conditions remained compromised, workers were more conscious of their rights not only as workers but also as citizens. What was seen then, on those summer days, was not the private golf course that had been present before the citizens were born, but forbidden air, and with that, forbidden breath: ‘We consider our right to breathe as a basic human right, one identical with the right to live. Yet, our access to air is restricted’.
Air does not exist without movement. To control air is not to keep it still, but to shape its flow. This agitation illuminates the mobility of air and its potential for contamination. What has been described as a monolith of space, a column of air, is also a concept and definition that is subject to stress, strain and fatigue. Agitations of sound, heat and odour, they all make a meal of the purity of air. Ultimately multiple fissures exploded this notion of a column of air, of defined space.
On December 4th 2023, at 4:30 pm, after her 9 hour shift working for the Cooper Llosa household, Gumercinda Ruíz-Salazar was walking down Avenida Aurelio Miró Quesada towards Camino Real. Living in Chorrillos, an impoverished and vibrant neighourhood on the south east corner of Lima, the most practical route to get home was one bus from Camino Real to Barranco, then a second from Barranco to Chorrillos. She walked in the vicinity of the Lima Golf Club where, behind a disguised fence, Jose Pardo Mesones was at the end of his game of golf on hole 17. Taking a rare bad shot, Pardo Mesones’ golf ball flew across the border of the course onto the pavement of Avenida Aurelio Miró Quesada, hitting Ruíz-Salazar on her right temple. She died on the street just a few minutes later, from severe brain hemorrhaging, with a security guard from the nearest apartment building crouched by her side. Pardo Mesones finished his game cursing his bad shot, cursing the lapse in concentration that would put an awful blemish on what was otherwise a good game. Carrying his golf bag to the clubhouse, his annoyance was further exacerbated by the noise, the cacophony of some emergency, infiltrating and polluting the serenity of the golf course.
Later that afternoon, Lima Golf Club heard of the cause of death of Ruíz-Salazar. Two corruptions in borders had occurred, the golf ball invading the public street, and gravely, the golf ball breaking the boundary between the blood and the brain in the body of Ruíz-Salazar. Considering that Pardo Mesones was an ex-president of the club, it was thought that the matter was best dealt with privately. This action further exacerbated the anger of the mourning community of Ruíz-Salazar. After the death of Ruíz-Salazar, another community came into being: an interpretive community formed to look more closely at this Golf Club in San Isidro. The hidden fortified border had become visible. What or whom does this border bring together, and what or whom does it divide?
Protests and calls for action began to form on the streets. The boundary of air was now disrupted. The noise of the crowds was the most apparent disruption. It infiltrated not only the golf course itself but also entered the apartment buildings of the affluent community observing the body of protesters from their heights. Spending such long hours protesting required sustenance, and so, in a reinvention of the street, temporary outdoor kitchens were formed. Large grills cooked chicken and fish, and the smoke billowed out, permeating the structures of air.
The Lima Golf Club continued regardless. In fact, the typically sleepy course was teaming with members, offering support not only with their presence but also with their opinions. But then not one week after the death of Ruíz-Salazar, a golfer demonstrating his support for the club took a bad shot. He had not played golf on the course for some years. Again a golf ball permeated the monolith, this time breaking three boundaries, the fence of the course, the glass of a neighbouring apartment window, and the canvas of a Jasper Johns Flag painting from 1955 that hung on said apartment’s wall.
On the 25th March 2024, Juan-Luis Ramos, owner of the damaged Jasper Johns, received 9,500,000 USD in compensation from Lima Golf Club for damage reparations and emotional distress. He loved that painting. The debt was impossible to cushion for the Club, which had resisted corporate conglomeration over the decades, insisting on remaining independent. On 29th March, Lima Golf Club declared bankruptcy and the land came under ownership of the city of Lima. The preceding months had seen an immense amount of anger and debate by the communities of the barriadas, and the interpretive community formed to assess the circumstances of the death of Ruíz-Salazar. Also joining in was San Isidro, the Global Anti-Golf Movement and the urban theoreticians of Latin America. With elections looming later that year and adhering to the promise of his manifesto (that he would ‘give Peru back to the Peruvians’), president Miguel Acevedo pushed into effect the declaration that made this newly acquired plot into a public park.
The park was to be modelled on the transformation of Tempelhof Park in Berlin in the 2010s, and the use and structure of the land was to be dictated by the interpretive communities that had formed around it. Tempelhof, originally a historic airport in south Berlin, became the largest public space in the city in 2010. Initially, its use was not prescribed. It functioned simply as an open space for inhabitants to use and spend time in. The runways remained and the grassland was treeless, until years later its development came with the consensus of the people that had used it. As well as taking inspiration from Tempelhof, Parque Central also learnt from its mistakes. Once the golf course fence was taken down, another one did not replace it for nighttime security.
With the fences gone, the first year of Parque Central saw millions of Limeños visit their newest acquisition. The absence in prescription of the space was not a barrier to how it came to be used. Almost instantaneously, true to its name, the park became a central meeting point, social area and resting ground for thousands of Limeños who were amazed at the expanse of lush grass in the Sechura desert. Immediate effects were most visible: the grass quickly became dry and flat under the new weight of feet, the contiguous blocks of buildings which had previously been idyllically calm saw an influx of a demographic that had not previously spent their leisure time in the area. On weekend afternoons the park became a buzz of families from all across the city. In a district that had developed as a place where people chose not to walk but rather drove (and were driven), the streets were full of loud conversations and the laughter that had so recently been pushed to the barriadas.
As the park was without fence or wall, it could not be closed off at night. In a city that is vehemently Roman Catholic, where large families live in small houses, young couples wanting to have sex, or simply spend time alone with one another, had been forced to extreme edges to do so. Parque Guell, and the small grassy patches on top of the cliff, were some of the few areas that gave space and cover for this but the advent of Parque Central provided an enormous area for people to enjoy their most intimate moments in seclusion. This freedom of sex and intimacy was not without its dangers, however, as young couples attracted numerous opportunists. Incidents of muggings and sexual assault soared in San Isidro in 2024, thanks also to the lack of lighting and the ease of both hiding and escaping in the park.
These developments created uproar amongst the residents of San Isidro. It appeared to them as though the urban quality of their area had disintegrated. Locals placed immediate blame on the ‘newcomers’. Yet what has occurred in the city of Lima is something much more pivotal and game-changing than the accretion of mess, noise and danger. The area has been reinvented not by the shift from golf course to Public Park, but by how a singular space is now used by a number of different communities. In the process of opening up the possibilities of shared space, Parque Central (and the area around it) has become a site through which difference, whether social, cultural, political, or economic, can be re-imagined and re-negotiated. The park is now the central point between all barriadas which previously had tenuous links to the site it now re-imagines.
Lima has had to reread itself and find a language for alternative ways of relating to its inhabitants, who are socially, culturally and economically heterogeneous. In this rereading and repositioning of the city and in the unanticipated encounters between different communities there is an agonistic struggle: a struggle between different interpretations of shared principles, consensus on the principles, and disagreement about their interpretation. It is a conflictual consensus, but it suggests the conditions for productive change and transformation while recognizing the limitations of power relations and economic inequalities. Innovation can potentially occur on the borders where cultures, communities, and disciplines meet.
Nathan Edmund Jenkins is half Welsh, a quarter Russian and a quarter Polish, in those exact measurements. He is currently studying Contemporary Art Theory at Goldsmiths, works with Maria Stenfors and lives in Banglatown, London.