A country’s head of state can seem far removed from the boots-on-the-ground work that has a tangible and visible effect on average citizens’ lives. For most of us, the gradual progress of policy changes can seem invisible, and we can feel a great disconnect between our lives and the legislative actions of our leaders.
Not so in Chile, where newly elected President Gabriel Boric has moved his official residence to Santiago’s poorer Yungay neighborhood.
Using his celebrity for good
Chile doesn’t have a formal residence for its head of state. Former Chilean presidents have established their residences in richer or safer parts of Santiago, like billionaire Sebastian Pinera deciding to stay in his own mansion or Michelle Bachelet and Ricardo Lagos needing to stay in safer parts due to security concerns. In most cases, Chile’s presidents chose the richer east side of the nation’s capital.
President Boric, on the other hand, decided to use his celebrity, and his required presidential security, and help out a more derelict Santiago neighborhood.
“We want to recover those neighborhoods that today are threatened by voracious real estate developers, criminals, or drug traffickers,” Boric said in a television interview.
Since moving to Yungay, Boric’s presence has had a notable effect on the neighborhood. Business owners who used to see violence and drug deals happening in front of their buildings are now reporting increased economic activity.
“The local economy got a shot in the arm,” said Rosario Carvajal, a member of Santiago’s municipal council who lives in Yungay. “You see activity picking up at the local bakeries, stores and restaurants.”
Walking the talk
Something as simple as the president choosing where to live has had a significant effect on the neighborhood. President Boric campaigned on addressing inequality, a revision of the country’s economic model, low pensions and failing government services, and his presence and required security have increased the value of the homes in the neighborhood.
Neo Rincon, a local real estate broker, says that inquiries for Yungay homes listed for sale jumped after the announcement. “One of the first questions people were asking was ‘how close is it to the president?’” he said to Bloomberg CityLab.
Politics as usual?
President Boric doesn’t deny that the move was entirely unpolitical. He campaigned on ending reducing inequality and ending “neoliberal practices” that furthered the economic divide between property owners and tenants. Now, his presence might be able to make exploitative real estate developers feel like they’re being watched.
At the very least the local record store will see more sales, as President Boric is a vintage vinyl lover and has already bought a few LPs.