Proyecto Visión 21

What’s more important, buildings or people?

Francisco Miraval

I recently had an interesting conversation with a young man born in a certain Latin American country (which I will not mention) who told me that in his native town (a well-known place, by the way) houses or buildings do not have street numbers. I got curious so I asked him how people manage to find any address. His answer was even “curiouser”.

I thought he would tell me people use main intersections as reference points, or perhaps a famous building or another landmark. I was certain he will say people are told “Go two more blocks after the hospital” or “Turn left at the end of the street”.

However, according to my friend, directions are given based on the activities of well-known local people near the place you want to go.

“If you want to go to (a certain restaurant), you need to go to were the Christian old lady is always preaching”, he told me.

Of course, I immediately began to wonder what could happen if one day the old lady decides to go to church instead of preaching on the Street. And, if she is old, will anybody replace her once she becomes unable to preach or they just simply refer to the place as the location where the old lady used to preach?

“And if you want to go to (a certain store), that’s next to the mechanic who always has dirty hands. Everybody knows him and everybody knows the old lady”, he said.

I was tempted to ask him what he will say the day the mechanic retires or simply washes his hands. Would that unexpected situation create such a chaos that people will get lost trying to get to the store?

I must say the hometown of my friend is far from being a small village. In fact, it is a city with tens of thousands of people, two main highways, and even a very modern and active international airport.

However, there are no numbers for houses or buildings, not even for the public hospital, the municipal offices, or the many stores. The gas station, for example, is “next to the car wash where the mother and her two daughters wash the cars”. That’s good to know, but, where is the car wash? “Close to downtown” was his answer.

I doubt I will easily adapt to such a system (I will, of course, if needed), but I am intrigued by a system which gives priority to people and people’s activities (preaching, repairing or washing cars) over cold addresses (123 Main Street, for example).

I am sure I can find an online map or satellite image of the restaurant, the car repair shop, or the car wash place mentioned by my friend, but I will not find the old lady, the mechanic, or the mother and her daughters.

Perhaps that’s what I like about the directional system used in the hometown of my friend: because people are the priority, it is irreducible to modern technology.

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