A drone photo of a slum next to a green neighborhood.

Rich neighborhoods are jammed up against very poor areas called “villas miserias,” or misery settlements. This one, near San Isidro, is near the site of a wall that was built and quickly dismantled, making international news and called the "Wall of Discord" in Argentine media. Today there are still walls, barbed wire, and a yawning gap between them.

Argentina is a country with a rich cultural heritage and a vibrant history, but it is also a country that has struggled with inequality for many years. Nowhere is this more evident than in the country's capital city of Buenos Aires.While the city is home to some of the most beautiful architecture in the world, it is also home to some of the most significant economic disparities. In many neighborhoods, residents struggle to access affordable housing, and are forced to live in low-income apartments or informal settlements on the outskirts of the city, but in some cases, right next to the downtown core, such as in Villa 31.

Villa 31 (now known as Barrio Padre Mugica) is a dense mix of informal and formal buildings, with a mix of residents from Argentina and other South American countries. 

A drone photo of a train yard, a slum, and a downtown district.

Villa 31 is separated from the downtown core of Buenos Aires by a rail yard and crossed only by a highway.

A drone photo of a highway connecting a slum with a downtown.

Villa 31 and downtown Buenos Aires.

A drone photo of a highway over a slum.

The major highway linking downtown to the northern suburbs passes directly over Villa 31.

In the political context of Argentina, the relationship between urban development and inequality is particularly relevant. As a result of neoliberal policies in the 1990s, Argentina underwent a wave of privatization, which had a significant impact on the country's infrastructure and social fabric. Housing was particularly affected by these policies, leading to a lack of access to affordable housing and a rise in informal settlements. The construction industry has played a key role in shaping Buenos Aires, with new developments and skyscrapers rising up alongside older, more traditional architecture. However, this growth has not always been equitable, and has often benefited only a small segment of the population.
Despite these challenges, there are also signs of hope and progress in the fight against inequality in Buenos Aires. The government has launched several initiatives aimed at increasing access to affordable housing, such as the Federal Housing Plan and the Procrear program. These programs aim to provide low-cost housing to the country's poorest residents, and have already made significant progress in reducing the housing gap. In addition to government initiatives, there are also numerous non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and community groups working to address inequality in Buenos Aires. For example, the Urban Ecology Center in the neighborhood of Mataderos provides support and advocacy for residents of informal settlements, while the Techo organization works to provide low-cost housing solutions for the city's poorest residents.
An orange brick home underneath a highway.

Homes have been built in every conceivable place, including between and under the highway over Villa 31.

A highway crossing Villa 31 with the skeleton of an unfinished ramp looming above. 

Orange brick buildings in a slum looking across to skyscrapers.

The view from Villa 31.

A drone photo of a slum next to a nice neighborhood with swimming pools.

Inequality in Buenos Aires Province, to the northeast of the city. Developments in the Paraná river delta are changing the face of the province closest to the river's edge.

Argentina's history with inequality is closely tied to its political and economic history, with a number of factors contributing to the country's ongoing struggles with economic disparities.
A key factor contributing to inequality in Argentina is the country's history of economic boom and bust cycles. In the early 20th century, Argentina was one of the wealthiest countries in the world, with a thriving agricultural sector and a growing middle class. However, a series of economic crises and political upheavals in the mid-20th century led to a decline in living standards and a rise in poverty and inequality.
Peronism, a political movement, emerged in Argentina in the mid-20th century under the leadership of Juan Perón. Peronism emphasized social justice, labor rights, and redistribution of wealth, and was seen as a response to the country's growing economic disparities at the time. While Peronism achieved some significant gains in terms of workers' rights and social programs, it also faced significant opposition from conservative elites and military factions, and its legacy remains contested to this day.
In addition to these factors, Argentina's history with inequality is also closely tied to its role in the larger context of Latin America. The region as a whole has long been characterized by economic and social disparities, with a small elite controlling much of the wealth and power. This legacy has been compounded by political instability, corruption, and ongoing economic challenges.
A drone photo of homes with swimming pools next to a community.

Swimming pools and fences delineate the suburbs into rich and poor in BA province, north of the city.

A drone photo of a housing development.

The developments on wetlands north of the city are called "Nordelta" and are on land reclaimed from the Rio Plata.

A slum at sunset in front of skyscrapers  in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Villa Rodrigo Bueno is located on some of the most expensive land in the city, on an ecological park in the shadow of the city's financial district. The city is currently embarking on an urbanization plan to upgrade the informal homes to blocked apartments. Across the narrow channel, a dilapidated amusement park sits, waiting for a new lease on life. 

A drone photo looking straight down from the top of a very tall building.

The Alvear Tower, the tallest building in Buenos Aires and a luxury apartment block.

A drone photo of a slum next to a park.

Villa Rodrigo Bueno.

A drone photo of a slum next to brown houses.

The towns of Quilmes (left) and Avellaneda (right) are split by Calle Caviglia. The informal section in Quilmes, called Villa Azul, was the site of the country's first total quarantine, enforced by the military to mitigate a fast-spreading outbreak in May 2020. No such quarantine existed on the other side. Hailed as a success by the Argentine media, the spread of the virus and the response point to the tale of two worlds that came into sharp focus around the world during 2020. 

In a June 2020 interview Health Minister Jonathan Konfino said, "...this has confirmed that for the occurrence of diseases, the determining factor is much more the postal code, rather than the genetic code. Today that street has become a symbol of injustice, which shows the inequality we live in and the need to advance the political decision to urbanize the neighborhood."

A drone photo of a slum next to brown houses.

Quilmes and Avallaneda.

A drone photo of a slum next to a golf course.

Villa 20, Buenos Aires 🇦🇷

Most of Buenos Aires’ “misery villages” are located in the south of the city. Villa 20, housing almost 20% of the city’s total population, is built directly opposite a shopping center, the Olympic Village (from the 2018 Youth Olympic Games), and a defunct amusement park known as Parque de la Ciudad.

The land in this area began to be occupied in 1948, but the population decreased dramatically due to slum eradication measures taken by the military dictatorship. Since the 1990s there has been further growth and densification.

A drone photo of a slum and a river bend.

Villa 21-24.

A drone photo of a slum.

Barrio Fatima, Villa 3.

A drone photo of an amusement park ride and a shadow that looks like a spider.

In 2010 and again in 2014 land invasions took place in the adjacent open land bordering Avenue General Francisco Fernández de la Cruz, resulting in renewed attention to the plight of Villa 20 residents. The invasions were initially violently put down, but in 2014 residents were allowed to stay, after becoming highly organized and developing participatory processes for development. This was coupled with a renewed interest by City and State governments in upgrading informal settlements, in part to improve the southern side of the city, which was (is) the worst in terms of indicators of housing.

The participatory framework that was put in place by the City and the residents was lauded as successful in guaranteeing a democratic decision-making space for the population. This not only resulted in a largely successful upgrade to housing in the Papa Francisco region (adjacent to the Avenue) but also in a surprisingly effective response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

There are still enormous challenges in integrating the neighborhoods, as reflected by the golf course and shopping center in a gated square just out of reach across the Avenue. Unfortunately rampant inflation and economic slowdown due to the pandemic will probably blunt the appetite for new capital improvements in the near future. But the effectiveness of becoming organized is clearly a lesson for other activists.

A drone photo of a slum next to a green area.

Barrio 20.

A drone photo of a slum.

Barrio 20.

Orange brick houses in a slum with a large skyscraper bank on the horizon.

The state ICBC Bank of China, the world's largest bank in assets, as seen from Villa 31.

Argentina's economy has faced significant challenges in recent years, including high inflation, currency devaluation, and rising poverty and unemployment rates. The country's economic struggles have been exacerbated by a number of factors, including political instability, corruption, and a legacy of economic boom and bust cycles.
In 2018, Argentina secured a $57 billion bailout package from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), aimed at stabilizing the country's currency and reducing inflation. However, the IMF program has been controversial, with critics arguing that it has exacerbated economic disparities and led to widespread social unrest.
Despite these challenges, there are also signs of hope in Argentina's economic situation. The country's new government, led by President Alberto Fernández, has taken steps to address economic inequalities and support vulnerable populations through social programs and targeted economic policies.
Additionally, Argentina's economic potential remains significant, with a diverse economy and abundant natural resources. The country is also home to a thriving tech sector and a growing startup ecosystem, which could help to drive future economic growth and job creation.
Looking ahead, it is clear that addressing the root causes of Argentina's economic challenges will require a concerted effort from all sectors of society, including government, civil society, and the private sector.
A man burning electrical cables with a huge fire while another man watches.

Copper recyclers burn the rubber sheaths off of scrap cables, creating a toxic smoke, in Villa 31.

nighttime photo of skyscrapers and long exposure highway with cars moving.

Buenos Aires at night.

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