A walk down one of the grittiest streets in the Puerto Rican capital of San Juan has a new pit stop, and it’s online. Calle Loíza, in the historic downtown sector of Santurce, is a lively mix of down home Caribbean earthiness and the trendy. An immigrant enclave where a burgeoning community from the Dominican Republic has flourised for decades, this is a street where open-air fruit stands, decaying thrift stores, and scores of hip new arrivals in shiny fixed gear bycicles meet. Artists and young professionals have started to move in to the neighborhood in the last decade, bringing with them a host of playfully decorated cafes and restaurants. To capture it all, a new website in Spanish has sprung up: lacalleloiza.com aims at providing news, commentary and the goings on in Santurce, following the lead of its most iconic street.
“This is a project that can be compared to a regional newspaper, but in a virtual setting,” says Mariana Reyes, the site’s creator. “It’s always a great pleasure to write for and about a community; all journalism is hyperlocal in the end,” she adds of the site, which was launched at the end of October and is updated weekly.
A quick look at lacalleloiza.com reveals that the street was once a road that served a vital function: it connected San Juan with the coastal areas to the east that are now Isla Verde and Piñones, a tourist district and, beyond that, a zone where a deep African heritage is preserved. Historical insights like that one are presented alongside articles that discuss the development plans of a couple of mayoral candidates, restaurant and theater reviews (full disclosure: I contribute food and cultural pieces to the site), and a section with short videos that highlight the lives of distinguished Cangrejeros, as the barrio’s residents are traditionally known. It also offers a weekly calendar of events, a blog updated by Reyes with her thoughts on the neighborhood, and a map with directions to the places mentioned in the articles.
“There are probably more things going on in Santurce than in most places in Puerto Rico,” says Reyes, an experienced journalist that has worked in Latino media outlets in New York City and in the island. The idea for the site came out of her deep affection for the place where she has lived in for years. While mentioning the influence of other hyperlocal news sources like Brooklyn’s Brownstoner, Reyes puts an emphasis on the independent nature of her project.
“This is grass roots, guerrilla-style effort,” she says. “We have no budget. Although our resources are limited, it gives us the opportunity to give the neighborhood a deeper look, one that is not purely commercial.”
Part of the trick is balancing the changing nature of Santurce, where the displacement of working class residents is a growing concern. ”Gentrification is inevitable, look at Williamsburg and the Lower East Side in New York,” Reyes mentions. “There is room for all the newcomers, and also for all that has been here for decades.”
As for her approach to hyperlocal news, lacalleloiza.com's creator is quick to point out the advantages of the internet. ”It's almost instant. You can gather the news, write up an article and upload it within an afternoon. On the other hand, it also helps that more people can work on the webpage remotely. They can send in their texts from wherever they are working.”
Other hyperlocal sites have been up and running for some time. ¡Mayagüez sabe a Mangó!, for instance, is focused on the the largest town in the island’s west coast. Back in the capital, steamy Loíza Street is full of sweat-drenched traffic and activity. For those that live and play in Santurce, the site that bears its name is set on harnessing the daily energy of that road.
In this video (in Spanish), used with permission from lacalleloiza.com, Lester Ivan Nurse Allende, a historian and lifelong Cangrejero, explains the history of the neighborhood.