CARTAGENA, Colombia – Life still happens in the streets of Getsemani, a former suburb of the Colombian city of Cartagena, but its residents are trying to resist gentrification that has been looming over them for over a decade.
Every corner, street and square exhibits Cartagena’s culture of yesteryear, seducing tourists in a neighborhood where the children still play out, old people play dominos and ladies grate coconut at the entrances to their homes.
Getsemani “is the neighborhood where all tourists today want to come and stay to live this experience,” said local guide and cultural manager, Luis Carlos Lener.
“It is a neighborhood where we are all family, we all look for the same goal, for example, when someone gets sick, immediately we are all going to help that family, we are all going to help that patient, we take them to hospital and when they come back we all go to visit him,” Lener told EFE.
Lener, who makes his living by showing off everyday life and telling Getsemani’s story to tourists, said residents live “in community as if it were a single family.”
Its cultural authenticity led Forbes magazine to include Getsemani on its 2018 list of the 12 coolest neighborhoods in the world, alongside Sants (Barcelona), Amsterdam Noord (Amsterdam), Navy Yard (Washington) and Maboneng (Johannesburg).
Also on the list were Plekhanov (Tbilisi), Casco Viejo (Panama), District 5 (Saigon), Keramikos (Athens), Seongsu-dong (Seoul), Pilsen (Chicago) and Kalk Bay (Cape Town).
Walking around the neighborhood lets visitors take in the vibrant gallery of multicolored art on the walls of the old houses.
In 2013, the company Vertigo Graffiti and the Tu Cultura Foundation spearheaded the painting of the neighborhood as part of an initiative called “Mural City” – a bid to hang onto people’s values, customs, anecdotes and concerns.
Before the tourism “boom” hit Getsemani, “the houses were only painted white and the doors and windows brown, we needed a change, colors that gave life to the neighborhood,” Lener recalled.
“This art talks a lot about what gentrification is, these graffiti talk about culture, race, the whole situation that we are experiencing in the neighborhood,” added the guide, who warned the community was being decimated.
Since its founding, Getsemani had been the poorest area of walled Cartagena, the home of artisans and other workers. Its condition remained that way until 12 years ago, when international tourism set its sights on the neighborhood.
Foreigners bought up old mansions and turned them into hostels, boutique hotels, restaurants and bars, which quickly crowded the neighborhood.
People sold their properties without taking into account that, being part of the historical heritage of Cartagena, its value was greater.
Getsemani became the epicenter of Cartagena’s hectic nightlife, which brought in tourists as well as drugs and prostitution.
“25 or 30 years ago nobody gave weight to Gethsemane, now this whole situation has made the neighborhood more expensive because they are pushing us out, they are pushing us with taxes, with public services,” Lener said.
The president of the Getsemani Community Action Board, Davinson Gaviria, told EFE that the rating that Forbes gave the neighborhood only referred to “the experience of the people who come here,” but did not show “the background that a community has that coexists with tourism and all the problems that this generates.”
“We have security problems because there are a lot of robberies, a lot of drug use, we also have a lot of Venezuelan immigrants who are committing crime here; we have problems with public services because what used to be a house (with low consumption) is now a hotel,” he said.
According to Gaviria, “the drainage system has also collapsed because the 40-year-old pipes were not designed to host so many people.”
He does not think that the local authorities are protecting Getsemani’s heritage. “There is no planning but a sale of the city, so there is a lack of control in all aspects,” he added.