Posted by Deirdre Oakley, OLD SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO -- Known for its Colonial-era forts, government buildings and monuments, as well as a port frequented by both cargo and cruise ships, Old San Juan certainly thrives on tourism. Most of the tourist foot traffic trends towards the forts, located on opposite sides of the Island; and the high-end shopping and eating destinations along the newly developed waterfront. So tourists miss the well-planned cool tropical shade of the city's less traveled streets.
Narrowly-designed streets lined with buildings that have roof-top overhangs and balconies on each floor, shade residents from the hot tropical sun. Walking along these streets I was struck by something you just don't see in American cities these days: open windows and balcony doors, as well as no air conditioners. It was pretty typical to see residents sitting by their open windows, talking, playing cards, or just watching people like me walk by. On streets where the buildings did not provide adequate shade, trees and other foliage were present. In fact, if you look at most of the photographs in this essay, you see -- among many other interesting social phenonema -- shadows of shade.
I happened upon this one older gentleman, who did not want his picture taken, sitting outside of his ground-floor apartment feeding a cat. We got to talking, and I asked him about the shade. He gave me quite a long planning design history of the city that included purposeful shade. Then he told me something else interesting: all feral cats in Old San Juan are captured, neutered/spayed, given shots, and then released to the city streets. He claimed that this is why the city has no cockroaches, mice, or rats. I didn't ask him about the dog relaxed under a nearby car, and why he was feeding the stray kitty ordinary cat food. But it was a great story that I really wanted to believe, and the animals in question looked extremely content.
Deirdre Oakley is the Editor of Social Shutter and an Associate Professor at Georgia State University. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.