Developers building crime-free private city
outside Guatemalan capital


Guatemala developers build private city

News: developers are building a private city on the outskirts of Guatemala City as a safe haven from the crime-ridden capital.

Paseo Cayala is a 14-hectare development of apartments, shops, nightclubs, boutiques and restaurants contained inside white walls at the edge of the city, reports the Huffington Post.

The scheme's developers promote Cayala as a safe haven from the capital's dangerous and congested streets, and hope to eventually expand the project into a new private city spread across 352 hectares.

Access is by car through a single gate leading to an underground garage, from which visitors emerge through covered escalators onto streets patrolled by armed guards.

Guatemala developers build private city, photo by Andrea Quixtain

"Cayala gives a new opportunity for Guatemalans to live without the fear of violence," said one resident, nightclub owner Diego Algara.

The first phase of the Paseo project has 110 apartments, with prices ranging from $260,000 to $800,000. Developers say the first of the two buildings has sold 80% of units, despite the average Guatemalan earning less than $300 a month.

However, its detractors say it will segregate the country's wealthiest citizens from the urban poor.

"Cayala sells an illusion that everything is okay, but it is not open to all people," said local architect Carlos Mendizabal. "[It] tries to imitate a historic centre, the way people move around an urban city, but it fails because it is not a city."

Last year we reported that the government of Honduras had approved the creation of three privately run cities with their own police, laws, government and tax systems.

Work is also about to start on a high-density, car-free "satellite city" for 80,000 people in a rural location near Chengdu, China.

  • Nenad

    Appalling, just like in the dystopian films.

  • lagarconne

    A dream of paradise, a cross-over between a ghetto for the rich and Brasilia (a perfect city according to architects, but not to its inhabitants). There even was a movie about a similar idea – La Zona.

  • Nasi

    Just economic and privacy crimes then.

  • alex

    Well this can only end well.


    Absolutely unnecessary to talk about irrelevant issues like architecture, of course.

  • michal

    This is a disturbing trend. There are a number of them planned in Africa as well, private cities that have no social responsibility and are sited just minutes away from the true capital to lure in large companies, effectively drying their tax base dry.

  • raul peña

    I will say it in Spanish in order that Guatemalans might read it:

    Esta asquerosamente horrible!

  • paperblg

    Concept aside, which I think is appalling, the choice of architecture here is pretty interesting in its parallels with the renaissance when architects referred to the classics as a symbol of moral purity in contrast to the then gothic/medieval cities which were crime-ridden. The only difference is that this cannot end well seeing as they’re completely ignoring the problem of Guatemala City proper and just starting from scratch somewhere else. Lost cause if you ask me.

  • vincent

    I’ve been following this project for a while. It’s a project designed by Leon Krier, the same architect who built the infamous Poundsbury. You shouldn’t be dismissing it because just of its historicising design. It actually has a very smart urban structure. Leon and his brother Ron Krier wrote some very intelligent and inspiring books about the structure of cities and their buildings.

    I actually never understood it was meant as a crime-free village (which sounds like just a marketing slogan to me) and as a totally privatized community. I have to admit, now it’s becoming a bit creepy :D

    But then again, central American governments failed miserably in dealing with crime. Some time ago I saw a documentary about kidnappings in Mexico City. Those are of an unbelievable height. And therefore nobody of some wealth dares to let their kids go out on the streets alone (actually the not so very wealthy also). The industry of armored cars and bodyguards blooms therefore. Seen in that light, a project like this makes sense.

    • MexicoCityGuy

      No, it will never make sense. Cities are there to be used, their problems to be adressed. Closing in on your own only creates mistrust and deepens the already huge gap between Latin American classes. Where are you from? You clearly have no idea of what you are talking about.

      • vincent

        Does Tom Learmont below from South Africa also not know what he's talking about?

        • MexicoCityGuy

          If you were able to see the everlasting damage these privatized “cities” do to the real urban areas you would probably reconsider. Mexico City is becoming a very safe city each passing year, after the turbulent period between 1995-2005 when most of those kidnappings happened – my own cousin included. Yet the urban space has been modified dramatically by these private cities, and none of it for better. The segregation only brings blank walls onto public roads and leaves the rich, the money, out of the city. It also further deepens mistrust, for none of the sides can face each other in public space: the people who live in these projects never get to live or see – ergo understand – the complexities of the poverty that surrounds them; while the poor people can only watch from afar how these walled in bastards discriminate them, creating in them a sense of not-belonging, of underachievement.

          I live in the heart of what you could consider a favela in the outskirts of the city, and believe me, by my looks and my lifestyle – blonde, upper middle class – I would be the easiest target of violence imaginable. Yet as I have never mistrusted, segregated, or treated anyone differently, I feel safe walking through my streets. Of course there are risks, but anyway, you won’t avoid them by closing yourself in. So why add up to social mistrust and segregation?

  • If they build the Truman show, can they make Cloud City next?

  • HDT

    I don’t understand how a city can function without the “poor”. Who’s going to drive the cabs? Work in the markets? Sweep the streets?

    • denise

      I assume the 'poor' will commute to the city to work and leave at the end of their shifts back to their respective cities/towns.
      Similar to the tourist peninsula Varadero in Cuba before Raul Castro lifted the restrictions.
      The poor will serve the rich but won't live amongst them.

  • Dom

    Haven’t we learnt anything from history? Utopias such as this are set up for failure.

  • blah

    If you are making fascist architecture, at least make something beautiful like the Palazzo della Civiltà del Lavoro. This is just dire, though it’s always been a comfort to me that money can’t buy taste.

  • James

    Ironic choice of architecture using the Classic Roman-Greco “style” which was originally built on the back of slavery and ruled over by the filthy rich.

    But since when does poverty equal crime? Those kind of comments are made out of entitled privileged ignorance.

  • travent

    It’s the same thing architects propose, only the opposite effect. Private city with no crime vs. public city with tons of crime… either way it’s controlling.

  • In an ordinary South African suburb, my house was subjected to three break-ins and one violent “house invasion” by four armed men – in a space of four years.
    And I believe that some of the above commentators would have gladly moved to a gated suburb, had they been faced with life in the raw as I was. Now I’m still in town, but in an apartment with an electric fence and a security gate. Much as I deplore the architecture of the “halves”, the depraved state of the world and the city I live in, I refuse to offer myself as an egalitarian sacrifice to chaos.

  • Alejandro Biguria

    As a Guatemalan, trained architect and economist, projects that fail to include but propose to exclude citizens are far from the ideal city.

    For those that have not visited Guatemala, as with many Latin American cities, Guatemala suffers from extreme socioeconomic inequalities. The lack of social policies and a clear and concise urban plan for the long run has resulted in multiple islands of development, shopping malls offering private security and close compounds for housing.

    It is true that Leon Krier”s plan for this city was of replicating a city’s neighborhood, but the results are far from re-stitching the very much needed urban fabric. Unfortunately, new urbanism seems to have permeated with all developers in the country given the fact that there are few urban proposals that have such a strong commercial component to them. In the mean time, there are many of us that will continue to pursue the integration of the different urban plans at a horizontal level, rather than a top-down strategy.