Walking in the City

A lively street scene in Buenos Aires.
A lively street scene in Buenos Aires.

As a global city, Buenos Aires is subject to the pressures of globalism and those pressures shape life for the portenos of the city. In the book, Walking Between Slums and Skyscrapers, Tsung-yi Michelle Huang explores the concept of dual compression in global cities. Huang describes the global compression as the space that has been created or designed to serve “the purpose of global capital accumulation.” Global compression is reflected through monumental space, skyscrapers, infrastructure that serves the global elite like international airports, hotels, and speedy transit networks, glamour zones where gentrification blossoms, and other artifacts of globalism. Huang describes the local compression as “space collapsing to accommodate urban densities of population and housing, aggravated by global compression.” Huang demonstrates this compression of space with the example of the Public Housing Authority in Hong Kong. Space is reserved for global uses like office and hotel space forcing housing to the hinterlands or on public land and open space in the form of residential towers housing tiny housing units.   

 

The global compression experienced by portenos is evidenced by the recent economic woes of the country. As Uki Goni noted in “Argentina’s unorthodox rehab”, many rightly felt the neoliberal policies implemented to solve the economic woes of the country did nothing more than worsen the situation for the people of the country. The experiment with these neoliberal policies ended in an economic free fall that left many people suddenly without homes and jobs. David Lynch, writing for USA Today in “Argentina’s snub of conventional wisdom pays off”, writes how the country opted not to follow the tradition neoliberal economic policies that the United States championed in other South American countries. Despite the choice to go against conventional wisdom, the country has managed to crawl out of its economic pitfall. With the growing economy, global compression is driven quicker in the city with the development of glamour zones like Puerto Madero.

A street in the Villa Oculta slum of Buenos Aires.
A street in the Villa Oculta slum of Buenos Aires.

The dual compression of the local can be found in Buenos Aires through the many facets of life that are documented in local newspapers and by scholars writing on the city. Huang described the local compression through the example of public housing in Hong Kong, a scarce commodity that is shaped by the global compression. Much like Hong Kong, housing in Buenos Aires experiences a similar, yet informal, local compression on housing. As people were left without jobs and as more and more immigrants travel to Buenos Aires in search of work from the countryside and from neighboring countries, affordable housing has become a major issue in the city. The lack of affordable housing has driven people to move into any available open space. Nearly 6,000 squatters have taken over IndoAmerican Park according to “Number of squatters in Argentinian park growing” by Michael Warren. These squatters are part of a massive population in the city that does low-paying and unappealing work for most portenos who feel entitled to a higher standard of living.      

 

The focus of this class is the challenges that arise between the slums and evil paradises of global cities leading to the question of whose city is it? Christine Boyer in “The City of Collective Memory” discusses the recent trend to exchange public improvement for private gain by “creating private preserves for the wealthy that are then transformed into ‘public amenities’ by allowing a select group to stroll unimpeded along their corridors and spaces of power.” David Harvey, in “The Right to the City”, discusses some of the battles that emerge in cities in a world of neoliberalism and a growing trend towards privatization and commoditization of the public realm. Harvey says neoliberalism has established new systems of governance in which public and private interests are tightly intertwined to ensure excesses benefit the elite. The right to the city has been “restricted … to a small political and economic elite who are in a position to shape cities more and more after their own desires.”

The Parisian Recoleta neighborhood of Buenos Aires is home to some of the city's most upscale hotels.
The Parisian Recoleta neighborhood of Buenos Aires is home to some of the city's most upscale hotels.

In Buenos Aires, this same battle between the elite and the poor is being played out as I have shown in the webpages on Slums and Evil Paradises. In Buenos Aires, like in many other global cities, the right to the city is reserved for the elite. The city becomes a playground with pockets of extravagance among a sea of desperation. Places like Puerto Madero or Palermo or Recoleta are homes to the global and local elite. Walking in these places is a completely different experience than walking in the rough dirt streets of Villa 31 or any number of the shantytowns that dot the sprawling suburbs. Many portenos are stripped of the most basic right to walk in parts of the city because they do not belong to the wealthy elite. A villa resident is treated as a second-class citizen, part of the reason one would be cautious against mentioning the neighborhood they call home to others. Portenos think of villa residents as thieves, murders, and unsavory people. A flaneur exploring the different parts of the city would be able to observe these behaviors and other intricacies of a dually compressed porteno life.