Venezuela has gotten a rocky start in the 21st century. The polarized politics, oil-fueled economy, and faded charisma of the government has left Caracas and the rest of the country drifting, idling until it finds a way out of its depression. There are some glistening and glamorous parts of Caracas, rippling from its heyday as the tony economic powerhouse of South America a few decades ago, but a significant part of the country is drowning in debt and inactivity. Doug Saunders visits Petare, a large city enlaced with the fringes of Caracas, and explores the housing policies in place — or lack thereof— that created a distinct culture in lieu of formal interference. But Caracas is also home to the Torre David, one of the most famous examples of how Venezuela burst.
In the 1990s the Torre David was destined to be the Centro Financiero Confianzas, a 45-storey tower in the financial heart of the city with luxury apartments and a helipad, but the robust economy gave way to a deflated era of construction and the building was left unfinished, naked and raw. After lying dormant for years, a group of people started to take over the building in 2007 and transformed it into an makeshift apartment building, which today lodges 750 families, roughly 2500 people, who live in the building for a variety of reasons, ultimately because they have nowhere else to go. The building lacks an elevator, running water, and the electric is jury-rigged, and the building has sprouted a soccer pitch, several restaurants and businesses, and an entire informal economy that makes ends meet for many residents. The Torre David, named after the Venezuelan financier David Brilliambourg who brought the building into existence, is a superb example of people taking a severe housing crisis into their own hands, even though many people would love nothing more than to get rid of the Torre and put its residents elsewhere. But when there are no solutions to an infinite number of problems, how do you dismantle one that works? You can hear, see, watch, read about, and meet the residents of the Torre David and learn about their lifestyle. It is amazing how people can succeed when everyone else seems to fail them.