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Poor neighborhood next to lush green homes with swimming pools in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Historically, Argentina has prided itself on its egalitarianism. Argentines scorned what they saw as the individualistic dog-eat-dog, every-man-for-himself character of American capitalism and the chasm between rich and poor in nearby countries like Brazil, Chile and Peru. If there was a model Argentines admired, it was France’s manifesto of “liberty, equality and fraternity.”

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.

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

Villa Rodrigo Bueno is located on the most expensive land in the city, in the shadow of the city's financial district. Over time the city has built modern apartments to house many families in the ecological reserve adjacent to the informal zone. 

Drone image of train tracks separating rich and poor neighborhoods in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Villa 31, the city's most famous low income neighborhood, is located directly opposite from the downtown core. The road bisecting Villa 31 is the most famous in the city - Avenida 9 de Julio.  

A bank headquarters at sunset  in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Vila 31, one of Buenos Aires’ largest slums, seen through the world’s largest bank (the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China). 

Small homes in a slum next to a golf course in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

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.

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.

Slum homes next to train tracks in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Villa 31. 

Panorama of a slum  in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

A panorama of Villa 31, one of Buenos Aires' most famous villa miserias (misery villages) located directly opposite the downtown business district.

Aerial panorama in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Buenos Aires panorama. 

A slum next to a river in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Villa 21-24, along the Matanza River. The land beyond is the Buenos Aires provincial government, the land closer is Buenos Aires city. 

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