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Invisible Strings

The appropriation of public space in Parque Caballero

by Martin Alvarez

Abstract: Parque Caballero in Asunción, Paraguay, is a public park interwoven with the urban fabric that is perceived as abandoned and unsafe by most citizens. The essay
seeks first to challenge this perception, revealing a thread of invisible networks that
are keeping the park alive and functioning despite the conditions of its infrastructure and the lack of resources coming from governmental institutions. Second, it proposes appropriation as a method to improve those conditions by creating a sense of attachment that could lead to the protection of the space, and to change the safety perceptions by creating a sense of community and ensuring equal access to public space for all citizens. An example of appropriation started by a private initiative is shown to further showcase the potential of involving a variety of actors to reinstate Parque Caballero into the everyday life of Asunción.

[Image 1] Main entrance to the park, located on Manuel Gondra Street. 


Image by the author 

(January 8th,, 2022).

Parque Caballero Asuncion



Right next to what is considered the historical, colonial core of Asunción – the capital city of Paraguay – and with the city’s bay nearby, there is a 13-hectare park that has strongly been tied to the evolution of the city ever since the Spaniards founded the Nuestra Señora de la Asunción fort back in 1537. This is Parque Caballero, a public park located amidst the urban fabric of Asunción, thus making it one of the most valuable public spaces in terms of its potential to improve the environmental, urban, and social conditions of the citizens. However, the general population does not exploit these potential benefits, for reasons that will be explained in this essay. It is also essential to point out the lack of accessible and quality public spaces – ones with good infrastructure and proper maintenance –interwoven with the city, with the most visited parks located in its peripheries. 


The park has been managed by the municipality of Asunción, ever since it was bought from private owners back in 1919 to convert it into a public park.[1] Today, by means of an agreement, the sponsorship of the park has been given to the Ministerio de Urbanismo, Vivienda y Hábitat (MUVH), for a 20-year period.[2,3] Once a vital part of the population’s identity and image of the city, back then when the city sprawl was minimal and the park was regularly used as a leisure space, it now suffers an ongoing process of dereliction and lack of infrastructure maintenance, with some timid efforts to bring its vibrant life back starting at the end of the 2000s.  


A crucial factor for the abandonment of Parque Caballero is the presence of so-called ‘informal’ dwellings on the north border of the park, one that coincides with a four-meter-high ravine, that announces the proximity of the city bay. These dwellings have been historically located in the area, ever since its first occupants –the native people known as Pajagua – were permitted to inhabit the surroundings back in 1780.[4] The current ravine dwellers have established neighbourhoods –part of which is known as the Chacarita area- with developed social and cultural processes that are tightly associated with the park. A portion of the original territory on the east side of Parque Caballero was even legally assigned to them, creating the San Felipe Alto neighbourhood. Nevertheless, the situation of these inhabitants could be framed inside of Geraghty and Massidda’s initial notion of marginality, in which “a group is placed outside decision-making structures; where their relative income hinders their access to goods, spaces and opportunities”. [5,6] 


The look of neglect and lack of maintenance presented by the infrastructure in the park, added to safety concerns related to the presence of the immediate neighbours, have led to a change in the perception of the park from the same people that have fond memories of their past in it. Today, the general population of Asunción believes that the park is a derelict, unsafe place, and most of the citizens have never visited it.[7] The paper will first seek to challenge this perception: an ethnographic study conducted in 2021[8] shows that there are users in the park every day of the week, exposing a variety of actors and activities taking place in the public space that remain ‘invisible’ to the rest of the citizens. 


Secondly, the essay will explore the concept of appropriation of space, explained by Tomeu Vidal and Enric Pol, as a potential means to overcome two of the obstacles presented in the park and to change the perception of the citizens. One, as a process that forms a sense of place, a place that connects individuals and groups through the creation of a shared symbolism of the space. This “facilitates ecologically responsible behaviour and involvement and participation in the environment itself” [9]. In other words, appropriation of the space leads to taking care of the space, which would be beneficial for the improvement of the infrastructure of the park. And two, as a potential vehicle to reduce the disparities regarding access to public space for all members of society since appropriation can become an alternative to reduce social exclusion.[10] This has the potential to reduce safety concerns, for when a variety of actors from different social backgrounds can have equal access to a space, a sense of community can be established. 


It is finally important to point out that this paper will focus on the use and appropriation of the Caballero Park, not aiming to offer ‘solutions’ to current problems, but instead wishing to start broader discussions that can potentially lead not only to the improvement of the space, but to the return of the life it once had, with the inclusion of diverse users.  




According to an online poll conducted as part of the investigative efforts compiled into a report called “Parque Caballero: social and infrastructure diagnosis of the current situation”,[11] in which citizens of the metropolitan area of Asunción were surveyed, 94% of the participants declared that they know of the existence of the park, but only 20% have visited it at some point in their lives. Of that 20%, six out of every ten people stated that they last visited the park more than ten years ago. When asked about the reason why they stopped going, the majority of those surveyed stated that insecurity and the conditions of the infrastructure of the park were the main causes.[12] 


The authors of the study found a stark contrast on site. The residents located on the ravine and the surrounding neighbourhoods, affirm that the park is used every day, more so in the afternoon until sunset – because of the absence of proper lighting infrastructure. They also recognised that they are the main users of the park, where they play group sports such as football and volleyball.[13]

These statements were confirmed in the analysis of ‘active areas’ of the park that appears in the study of Ibarra and colleagues. The authors identify an ‘active interior’ of the park, establishing that it is busy every day of the week, but busier during the weekends and especially on Saturdays. Furthermore, the perception of abandonment that the poll showed common amongst the surveyed may be related to the more inactive parts of the park, that coincide with its south limits. This border is located alongside what the researchers call ‘formal city’, being the façade that is usually seen by people that drive or walk along the southern fences.[14] 


Even though there are areas that are identified as less active and can even be considered less safe than others because of the lack of activities, the main point of this section is to prove that, contrary to common perception, the park is not abandoned. The authors of the diagnostic report determined that “the park is alive thanks to the residents of the Chacarita neighbourhood”,[15] who are keeping the public space vibrant and useful. 


Finally, a fact of vital importance identified in the researchers’ work is that on the busiest Saturday afternoons, the greatest variety of actors of all ages is observed.[16] One of the reasons for this Saturday occurrence can be attributed to a private initiative called Asociación de Amigos del Parque Caballero,[17] which was started in 2019 and aims, among other goals, to “collaborate with regard to the enhancement and preservation of Parque Caballero and neighbouring areas, […] [to] promote the restoration of Parque Caballero [and the] reincorporation of the original estate, [and to] encourage and manage […] any initiative that benefits the community through projects to be presented to the competent authorities”.[18] The association organises events every Saturday afternoon, including activities for kids and people of all ages: puppet shows, plays, workshops, dance lessons, and even activities to improve the existing infrastructure of the park, such as painting pavements and benches. This initiative of the Amigos has evolved to become a staple of the park every Saturday, with the event named Arte al Parque[19], eventually receiving support from public and private institutions, both national and international, as it became more successful. 


To close this section, studies have confirmed that Parque Caballero is alive and functioning despite the lack of infrastructure and maintenance efforts. And the reason why this fact may be generally unknown is that the actors keeping the dynamics of the park in motion are citizens whose voices and actions are often not considered inside of the urban systems and decision-making structures.



The author believes that the general image of Parque Caballero as an unsafe, abandoned place is one of the reasons why the regeneration efforts of the space have been slow and timid. According to Manzo and Perkins, “our thoughts, feelings and beliefs about our local community places […] impact our behaviours toward such places, thus influencing whether and how we might participate in local planning efforts.” [20]  The park needs more people from different social systems to be involved, in order to reinstate this important green core back into the city, as a completely functional public space. 


This essay proposes appropriation as a prospective method to achieve the much-needed involvement from the citizens. As stated by Vidal and Pol, appropriation is a process composed of two elements: action-transformation – in which a person or a group transforms space through their interactions with it, charging it with personal and social meaning–, and symbolic identification – thanks to which a person can identify their environment, or can be identified by their environment and identify themselves with the environment.[21] 


Thus, through the process of appropriation, not only a sense of place with cultural, social, and personal meanings is created, but also the sense of belonging to a place, and it is the combination of these two senses that create attachment. The attachment, in turn, may lead to the actors identified with said place getting actively involved in its improvement, maintenance and development: “If people’s identity and values are indeed informed by places they deem significant, then it follows that people’s bonds with those places will impact their engagement in such places, whether it be to maintain or improve them, […] or simply to stay in that place.” [22]  Involvement has the potential to promote the restoration of functioning infrastructure in Parque Caballero, compelling competent authorities to take action. 

The second obstacle that could be overcome has to do with the social barriers that are in place today, with appropriation having the potential to change the sense of insecurity associated with the park and to become a means to secure equal public space access to all members of society. As proposed by Vidal and Pol, the present decline of public spaces is also a symptom of current times, a consequence of the prevailing economic system that favours sites of consumption where the interactions are brief and impersonal and where no sense of identity or attachment is created. This also entails a greater social fragmentation and a sense of general mistrust.[23]   


Appropriation, then, is a valid vehicle to reduce social fragmentation by creating a sense of community and collective identity through the use of public space. Furthermore, it “focuses on participatory governance, as an alternative to ‘solve’ inequality and social injustice, urban segregation, and the increase in social exclusion.” [24] The event created by the Amigos del Parque Caballero can be considered an act of participatory governance, that seeks to bring more voices and actors to the park, regardless of their social status or their economic means. 


Finally, to respond to safety concerns, a look into the work of Jane Jacobs could likewise offer a path to improve the sense of security in people visiting the park. As she states, when citizens avoid a park deeming it dangerous –whatever the reason may be –, the problems are similar to those of the streets where there are ‘no eyes’, eyes from regular, frequent users. For the author, peace in those settings “is kept primarily by an intricate […] network of voluntary controls and standards among the people themselves, and enforced by the people themselves.” [25]  In other words, the presence of a greater variety of users in the park, which can be achieved through appropriation and participation, will naturally lead to improving the sense of safety creating a perception of natural control.  




As stated in the introduction, this essay does not aim to offer a formula to ‘solve’ the complex issues associated with Parque Caballero today. It mainly intends to start conversations about the space that may lead to action, and two points have been presented with that goal in mind. First, the notion of Caballero Park as an abandoned place has been challenged and proven incorrect thanks to the findings of an extensive ethnographic study that informs this paper. The park is very much functioning, regardless of the state of the available infrastructure, and it is a leisure space that is intricately linked to the lives of its main users, the immediate neighbours of the Chacarita area.


Second, appropriation has been suggested as a method to bring a greater variety of users into the everyday of the park. It has been demonstrated that “encouraging park use in many different forms helps foster an attachment between the public and their urban parks” [26]  Appropriation has the potential to become a useful alternative to instigate decision-making governmental institutions to improve services and infrastructure, with the commitment of a mixture of actors that can create a sense of attachment to the space through their interactions with it, charging it with symbolic meaning. Moreover, this appropriation could help generate a sense of community, in which users from the Chacarita area and other neighbourhoods of the city can coexist and share the space, reducing social fragmentation by having equal access to quality leisure opportunities.


It is a reality that on Saturday afternoons, the park sees the presence of a variety of actors coming from different areas of the city, in response to the activities of the Amigos del Parque Caballero. Even though it is also true that the majority of participants in these activities are still from the immediate neighbourhoods, the presence of people whose lives are not directly linked to the everyday of the park, coming from different urban realities, makes for a healthy exchange that only reinforces the importance of public space as a place to overcome social, cultural and even urban barriers that in the present raise concerns in the general population, and stops them from taking advantage of the many benefits of a public space with great potential such as Parque Caballero.


The Arte al Parque event presents a promising start towards these goals. But to catch the attention of institutions with the resources to regenerate the park, more people need to be involved. The key to the success and further development of the Amigos del Parque initiative, tightly linked to the reanimation of this iconic landmark of the city, may lie in the hands of ordinary citizens. Each asunceno and asuncena holds the power to improve the conditions of Parque Caballero, to restore it as part of the everyday life of the city, and in the process to amplify the voices of people who have been weaving a network of invisible strings, ones that have been keeping the space alive, and that carry experiences usually ignored but which offer valuable insight to think about equality in public spaces. All it may take to begin is to cross its gates. 

[1] Ibarra et al. (2021).


[2] MUVH (2020).


[3] In English: Ministry of Urbanism, Housing and Habitat.

[4]  Ibarra et al. (2021).

[5] Geraghty and Massida (2019),  p 2.

[6] Even though the definition of marginality works in this case to describe the position of the ravine and San Felipe Alto dwellers in the chain of power, especially related to their participation in decision-making processes, the author desires to transcend the notion of “marginal” as it implies the existence of a centre-normal opposed to a periphery-other. 

[7]  Ibarra et al. (2021).


[8] The study was conducted by Iris Ibarra and members of the Agencia de Innovación Urbana and Panoplia Arquitectura between June and July 2021 and compiled into a written report that informs this essay. 

[9] Vidal and Pol (2005), p. 284.Translation by the author.

[10] Vidal and Pol (2005).

[11] Ibarra et al. (2021).


[12] Ibarra et al. (2021).


[13] Ibarra et al. (2021).

[16] Ibarra et al. (2021).


[17] in English: Association of Friends of Parque Caballero.


[18] (Facebook, 2020) Translation by the author.


[19] in English: Art to the Park.

[20] Manzo and Perkins (2020), p. 336.

[14] Ibarra et al. (2021).


[15] Ibarra et al. (2021), p. 82.

Translation by the author. 

[22] Manzo and Perkins (2020), p. 337.

[21] Vidal and Pol (2005).  

[23] Vidal and Pol (2005). 


[24] Vidal and Pol (2005), p. 295.

Translation by the author.

[26] Platt (2006), p. 79. 

[25] Jacobs (1992), p. 32.

Parque Caballero Asuncion

[Image 2] Location map of the park, where its proximity to the city bay is noted. 


Image by the author.

Parque Caballero map plan Asuncion

[Image 3] Park plan. It has several demarcated courts and other improvised ones, as well as an Olympic swimming pool that has not been used for a long time. The edge of the terrain is included to highlight the height difference in the ravine coinciding with the northern borders of the park. In the southern limits there are mostly areas of less activity, coinciding with the sector with the highest traffic (on Artigas Avenue). 


Image by the author. 

Parque Caballero Asuncion
olympic pool parque caballero
volleyball parque caballero asunción
Parque Caballero clown

[Image 4] Despite the state of the hammocks and see-saws, the children take advantage of the available infrastructure. 


Image by the author 

(January 8th, 2022).

[Image 5] The Olympic swimming pool was once one of the main attractions of the park but it has not been used in a very long time. 


Image by the author 

(January 8th, 2022).

[Image 6] The neighbours use the demarcated courts, as well as others they improvised in cleared areas of the park, to play football and volleyball.


Image by the author 

(January 8th, 2022).

[Image 7] Children and adults enjoy an outdoor play. 


Image by the author 

(March 5th, 2022).

Asunción Parque Caballero

[Image 8] From the northern limits of the park, in coincidence with the ravine, the Asunción Bay can be seen, forming a viewpoint that could be exploited as an attraction. On the right, roofs from dwellings located in the ravine can be seen.


Image by the author 

(January 8th, 2022).

Arte al Parque Asunción

[Image 9] Arte al Parque takes place every Saturday afternoon. 


Image by the author 

(March 5th, 2022).

Dance lessons Parque Caballero
All Images

[Image 10] Adults taking part in a dance lesson. 


Image by the author 

(March 5th, 2022).

paint workshop parque caballero

[Image 11] Children paint and make crafts with the help of a team of volunteers. 


Image by the author 

(January 8th, 2022).



Berroeta, Héctor T. and Marcelo Rodríguez M. ‘Una Experiencia de Participación Comunitaria de Regeneración del Espacio Público’, Revista Electrónica de Psicología Política, nr. 22 (2010) pp. 1-26.


Brown, Barbara, Douglas D. Perkins and Graham Brown. ‘Place attachment in a revitalizing neighborhood: Individual and block levels of analysis’, Journal of Environmental Psychology, nr. 23 (2003) pp. 259-271.


Geraghty, Niall H. D., and Adriana Laura Massidda (eds.), Creative Spaces: Urban Culture and Marginality in Latin America (London: Institute of Latin American Studies - School of Advanced Study - University of London, 2019).

Ibarra, Iris, María Bertha Peroni, María Paz Gill, Jesús Pereira and Carlos Agüero, Parque Caballero. Diagnóstico social y de infraestructura de la situación actual. (Asunción: EU National Institutes for Culture, 2021).


Jacobs, Jane, The Death and Life of Great American Cities (New York: Vintage Books, 1992).


Manzo, Lynne C. and Douglas D. Perkins. ‘Finding 

Common Ground: The Importance of Place Attachment to Community Participation and Planning’, Journal of Planning Literature, vol. 20 nr. 4 (May 2006) pp. 335-350.


Platt, Rutherford. H., The Humane Metropolis: People and Nature in the 21st-Century city (Amherst & Boston, and Cambridge: University of Massachusetts Press in association with Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, 2006).


Vidal Moranta, Tomeu and Enric Pol Urrútia. ‘La apropiación del espacio: una propuesta teórica para comprender la vinculación entre las personas y los lugares’, Anuario de Psicología, vol. 36 nr. 3 (2005) pp. 281-297.



Online References

ABC ‘Asociación “amigos del Parque Caballero” buscan revitalizar el emblemático espacio verde’, (accessed 20 April 2022).


Amigos del Parque Caballero (@AmigosParqueCaballero) ‘Estatuto Social’, Facebook. (accessed 28 April 2022).



Martin Alvarez is an architect practising in Paraguay, where he works in a collective that focuses on housing and restoration projects, in addition to their research and consultancy on strategic planning for urban development. He also edits and writes for an online blog/magazine about architecture, art and design. 


Foundation of own collective practice Territorios Paralelos, 2020

Teaching assistant, Criticism of Architecture, Universidad Nacional de Asunción, since 2012

Paraguayan architectural licence, 2020

MA Architectural History, The Bartlett, UCL 2018

BArch, Universidad Nacional de Asunción, Facultad de Arquitectura, Diseño y Arte, 2017


Published in Issue 2022

Ghost Dimensions


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