The “Los Picapiedras Sports Complex”: an integral urban space for “Living Well” in the heart of the western part of the city of Caracas.
To the children of “Caricuao” who believed in us, to their community that supported our initiative and to our team, specially, the men and women engineers who overcame all the inconveniences to develop our project.
In several of our stories, we have made reference to the social situation of the suburbs and slums in Venezuela; and, very particularly, in our capital, Caracas.
We have talked about children, who lack spaces for play and sports, in the large poverty belts where they live; and how, through playgrounds placed in remote areas due to the difficulty of access or their small size, as well as the implementation of cultural and recreational activities “in situ”, among others, we were able to develop a coherent work to improve the quality of life of these children.
Sports were always present in our work, and many were the basketball or volleyball courts, among others, that we included in the projects developed in the popular areas.
Therefore, we want to narrate in this opportunity, the experience in sports, which involved the planning, construction and implementation of the “Los Picapiedras Urban Sports and Artistic Complex”, a huge space rescued for children and young people, in one of the neighbourhoods of “Caricuao”, in the west of our capital city.
In fact, the “Caricuao” parish is an area in the western outskirts of Caracas, made up of lower middle class housing and poor neighbourhoods, inhabited by a little more than 150,000 people. It is connected to the center of the city through its main highway, the “Francisco Fajardo”, an artery that crosses the city from one end to the other. It is also connected by secondary streets, one that runs parallel to the highway, and another that borders the hills, surrounded today by very poor houses or “ranchos”.
The poorest children who live there, spend their days in “ghettos”; faced with many difficulties; and, in addition, they are subjected to strong daily urban violence, of which they are the main victims; because they are generally wandering in the streets, at the mercy of those who want to take advantage of their naivety.
Now, always in our struggle for the vindication of our children, and as a result of the research work of the Social Affairs Management of the institution that I had the opportunity to create and preside, “PDVSA La Estancia”, we identified a very large space ( 5 hectares) in “Caricuao”, which was being informally used by the children as a baseball field. In the community called “Los Picapiedras” (a name that alludes to the cartoon television series “The Flintstones”), which during the 1950’s arose informally, on land projected by the then “Banco Obrero”, for the urban expansion of Caracas, an institution that built in the area buildings of social interest, without incorporating the already formed community into the plans.
Now, it is necessary to indicate that throughout the second half of the 20th century and the first decade of the 21st century, there was a considerable population increase in the inhabitants of “Caricuao”. As a result, the families established in the area informally since the 1950s experienced a shortage of recreational spaces for their youngest members. Thus, in the year 2000, the local communities, on their own initiative, created “The Flintstones” Minor Baseball School, which did not have a suitable space for the practice of such discipline.
At this point, it is worth noting that baseball is the national sport of our country, which has a tradition of more than 100 years (1895), and came to this country by the hand of the brothers Amenodoro, Emilio, Gustavo and Augusto Franklin, who arrived from studying at universities in the United States, bringing with them “a bat, a glove and a ball”, and established the first organised baseball club in the country: the “Caracas B.B.C.”. This center was formed among those who practiced in an open field in front of the old Quebrada Honda train station, which was later baptised “Campo de Ejercicios del Caracas Baseball Club”.
The first official baseball game in Venezuela took place on May 23, 1895, according to the newspaper “El Tiempo”. Two Caracas B.B.C. teams faced each other: “Rojos” and “Azules” “Red” and “Blue”). Later, through the North American influence in the oil fields, this sport became more and more popular. In this sense, on February 20, 1962, the “Corporación Criollitos de Venezuela” was created, which functions as a “seedbed” of young baseball players at a national level and groups more than 100,000 athletes from 5 to 19 years of age.
Many Venezuelan players have been part of the Major Leagues of the United States, with excellent results. Since 1939, more than 400 have participated in the most important North American baseball teams, among others, Alejandro Carrasquel, David Concepción, Oswaldo Guillén, Miguel Cabrera, Andrés Galarraga, Omar Vizquel, Luis Aparicio, Antonio Armas, Bob Abreu, César Tovar, Gleyber Torres, Johan Santana, Maglio Ordoñez.
Therefore, in Venezuela, encouraging the practice of baseball is a way to promote our identity and our culture, in addition to promoting sports, health and well-being, especially among children and adolescents.
We set to work to develop the “Flintstones Sports Complex” Project. It was not easy! The access to the land was intricate. It could only be reached by four-wheel drive cars. The space was surrounded by “ranchos” and embedded in the middle of the shantytowns. An important part of it was used as a garbage dump and the rest was plagued by weeds and degradation. There were no pipes or wiring for the provision of essential public services.
We had to start from the beginning; which, as we were accustomed to, for us was to carry out a thorough “Integral Socio-Cultural Diagnosis”, which would allow us to identify the number of inhabitants of the area; and, therefore, of eventual users; classify them by age, gender; establish their needs; their customs, interests; review the possibility of access to the site, public transportation; etc., all with the objective of providing the community with a space for the practice of sports.
Also, as was our method, we sought to incorporate from the beginning, the neighbours of the communities surrounding the project, to generate in the locals their empowerment of the space, as a guarantee of its future good use and care. They were the ones who supported our engineers, most of them women, so that they could develop their work and establish themselves at the construction site without any safety problems. Rather, our professionals and technicians were so integrated to the community that they became part of it, and they were appreciated and shared many moments of enjoyment and socialisation with them.
Once we were clear about our precepts, and having previously planned and carried out our project together with the communities, we began to execute it, under the following premises and taking the steps described below:
- The main objective would be the construction of a preparatory baseball field under the respective parameters of this sport, to promote the practice of this sport among children and adolescents; and to generate benefits in the immediate environment through its conditioning and rehabilitation.
2. Topographic survey;
3. Construction of white and black water pipes;
4. Construction of drains;
5. Construction and burial of wiring;
6. Construction of a retaining wall, the stands and the field;
8. Construction of a retaining wall, bleachers and court;
9. Laying of synthetic turf and drainage tiles;
10. Construction of a “dug-out”, “home-place” and a grandstand;
11. Construction of sidewalks and LED lighting (eco-sustainable technology) of the field;
12. Adequacy and “boulevarised” (with removable cobblestones, similar to those of the Sabana Grande Boulevard) of the surrounding area;
13. Landscaping works;
14. Creation of artistic murals on the façades of nearby properties;
15. Adequacy and limitation of recreational spaces (children’s playground);
16. Rehabilitation of the common areas of the assistance and public health module of the public health system or “Barrio Adentro Mission”;
17. Relocation of the solid waste landfill, which was previously located at the entrance of the land where the baseball field was built;
18. Construction of perimeter walls, on whose walls an immense 70 meter long murals were painted with oil themes by the well-known artist Ernesto León, as well as others on coloured columns to generate visual kinetic movement;
19. “Boundaritation” (limitation) of an area with healthy elements for physical exercise;
20. Construction of bathrooms, lockers and dressing rooms;
21. Relocation of high voltage power lines,
22. Adequacy of white and black water;
23. Placement of free “wifi”;
24. Creation of informative and educational signage regarding the use of the field;
25. Implementation of an informative campaign on the care of the area.
In addition, we collaborated with the “Los Picapiedras” minor baseball school by formalising their registration in the local and national youth circuits “Liga de Los Criollitos” and providing them with the necessary equipment for this sport, such as uniforms, gloves, balls and bats.
In 2012, PDVSA La Estancia formally delivered the “Flintstones Sports Complex”, to support social initiatives for the welfare of children and adolescents. It was during a beautiful morning on December 10 that, after throwing the ball, I remember with great emotion, the colourful, meaningful and moving start of a long-awaited game, which for the inhabitants of the area would be historic and would undoubtedly remain in the spirit of the participating children.
Since its inauguration, many baseball games have been played at the “Flintstones Field”, as well as the opportunities in which children and adolescents have been accompanied by the voices of their parents and siblings, who, supporting the competition, generate in the child the pleasant sensation of self-esteem.
The “Flintstones Sports Complex” became a meeting place for sports, for healthy competition, for sharing, for games, for physical activity, for learning. The children of the area were no longer at the mercy of unproductive leisure, but trained with enthusiasm, without knowing that they were saving themselves from the social scourges that afflict the metropolis: drugs, alcoholism, violence. They were left with a great and important place to develop their personalities through play, sports and fellowship.
This project should be considered as a space for the realisation of the “Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations”, mainly numbers 1, 3, 4 and 11, since it was intended to promote the “Living Well” of Venezuelans, which should start with the sanitation of urban slums, through the promotion of health and welfare, quality education, until the ultimate achievement of the goal, which is none other than the elimination of poverty and inequality.