Flanuer's Diary: Living on the Edge
Researching and attempting to understand a city of the Global South without ever stepping foot in it was an interesting experience. Initially, I was skeptical the research conducted for this project would be able to yield any substantive conclusions. Viewing a city solely through the eyes of published materials, whether text, video or audio, can easily leave out some important pieces that might only be experienced through first-hand accounts. Using the lens of slums and evil paradises however, I was able to
One of the questions I sought to answer with this project was “whose city is it?” While I answered this question with the response the city belongs to the elite on my “Walking in the City” webpage, a part of me feels this is not entirely true. While the elite have the power to deprive and dehumanize the poor, and while they do exercise that power in Buenos Aires, the poor also have power. Villa 31 exists today only because less than 50 families refused to be evicted from the site preventing to complete eradication of the slum in the late 1970’s. Those families were granted permission to remain on the land by a court order. Residents of Villa 31 also exercise their right to protest the bad conditions they live in. There are occasionally protests that block the highway that runs through the villa, interrupting the flow of wealthy suburban residents to center city jobs. When the economy of the country collapsed, the people erupted into riot and were able to successfully replace the government. So while the city may largely belong to the elite, the poor have not been completely marginalized and can still demonstrate their right to the city.
One of the most surprising features I found during my research was just how similar the city’s features were to the many other cities we read about in Mike Davis’ books. One features of global cities Davis talked about was the location of slums near transit lines or other unwanted lands. One of the most well known slum in Buenos Aires, Villa 31, straddles a freeway right next to the city’s port. Guy Thullier’s map of gated communities and shantytowns also reinforced this theme as many of the shantytowns were located along the rail lines and major roads in the metropolitan area. It was surprising just how much neoliberal globalism can shape cities from completely different cultures and parts of the world to grow and develop in very similar ways.
In follow-up research, one of the topics I would like to explore is the fate of Villa 31. As the subject of many political agendas to eradicate and gentrify the slum, it faces immense pressures from the elite of Buenos Aires. Its location just outside the historic city core and along a major travel artery for elite traveling from the suburbs to the city makes it a prominent feature of the city. Unlike most of the other slums in Buenos Aires, that have been pushed outside the city limits to the suburbs, Villa 31 stands in defiance providing low-cost housing for the many immigrants who help make the city function. Since the land Villa 31 was built on is largely owned by the state, it seems like a prime opportunity to create an agreement between the city and state similar to the one that enabled Puerto Madero to develop. The villa’s location near the port and very close to the city center makes it extremely susceptible to future development pressures.