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‘Not For Sale’: The Debate Over Urban Development in Buenos Aires

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Groups of local residents are campaigning to stop the privatisation and commercial development of public land across Buenos Aires, saying the government’s plans do not consider the city’s true needs.

Photo by Metro Centric, via flickr

With shouts of “cara dura!” and “mentira!” reaching full volume inside of the Buenos Aires City Legislature on 26th October, you could easily have confused the public audience with a match between historic rivals Boca Juniors and River Plate.

While football was not the theme of the day, the hearing did expose another heated rivalry in the capital: city legislators vs. the residents of Caballito.

The special audience was called in response to another attempt (the fifth in ten years) by the PRO-led City Legislature to pass a rezoning initiative that would grant the IRSA Group (proprietor of 15 shopping centres in Argentina) a licence to construct in Caballito the largest shopping centre complex in Latin America. As the neighbourhood zoning regulations currently stand, only residential construction is permitted on the property in question, which measures 2.4 hectares and is located on Av. Avellaneda (between Olegario Andrade and Fragata Pte. Sarmiento).

The proposed mega-project, with an estimated capital investment of US$150m, has been a consistent, bitter, and controversial battle for Caballito resident Mario Oybin, founder of the neighbourhood group SOS Caballito. A grassroots movement in its purest form, SOS Caballito was born out of Oybin’s personal displeasure with returning home from holiday to find a ten-storey apartment building being constructed next to, and overlooking, his residence.

“I had some political experience in college, and I understood that if there was no major movement, we were not going to be able to do anything [for the neighbourhood],” says Oybin. “At one point I gathered signatures, but they ended up in the trash… so afterwards, I then decided to invite the local neighbours to start a community-level mobilisation.”

While he was too late to prevent the construction of the apartment building next-door, Oybin successfully organised a social movement to be reckoned with. Over a 12-year period, SOS Caballito has evolved from a small group of local residents banging pots and pans and picketing construction sites, to a fully developed advocacy force. The group has successfully thwarted several large-scale neighbourhood construction projects, including the city government’s four previous attempts to green-light the mega shopping centre.

“This is the fifth time now that the City has presented a request for a change in the zoning laws for the proposed shopping centre,” he laments. “There is not one basic need for the city of Buenos Aires that supports the continued insistence on a law that will only benefit a select group of businessmen.”

In what appears to be an increasingly regular theme, the neighbours of Caballito are fighting only one of the several property development battles that are raging across Buenos Aires.

From the proposed mega shopping centre in Caballito, to the sale of the public lands used by the Tiro Federal, to the Boca Juniors purchase of public property to expand stadium seating (land originally intended for social housing), the push for private investment into public lands a has become a controversial feature of Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta’s first year in office. Looking to make his own mark on the city after eight years as cabinet chief under former Buenos Aires Mayor Mauricio Macri, Larretta has defended his urban development plan and heavy focus on public works as the principle way to “improve the quality life for all of the [city’s] residents.” Recently, Franco Moccia, Minister of Urban........

© Argentina Independent