Different at first glance, the two places I choose to present together actually have some charecteristics in common. Cross-analysing them will help understand how conflicts on land use can arise in urban areas.
Introducing our two cases
The “Reserva Costanera Sur” is a very big natural reserve situated by the Rio del Plata. As Buenos Aires grew turning its back to the river, it is a rare luxury to enjoy a view of the “fresh water sea”. The reserva is certainly unique in this respect, but it is also a real jewel of biodiversity: about 250 types of birds have been identified there, not to mention the trees, reptiles and insects. In such a densely urbanised city as Buenos Aires, the reserva is highly regarded and praised by Buenos Aires citizens.
The Hospital Borda is a mental health hospital situated in the southern district of Barracas. It works as an open centre. It is shaped like an H around a big park, and the therapeutical workshops followed by patients have been designed to let them reach out to society. I heard there was a very fine bakery in the hospital premises, as well as a radio station, La Colifata (“crazy woman”). If the bakery only gained local fame, the radio is world-famous. Just have a closer look at Manu Chao’s album “La Radiolina”: you will see what I mean by world-famous:
Music video: Emir Kusturica, Manu Chao and patients from the Hospital Borda, Buenos Aires
Protagonists in the conflicts
These two sites have recently been at the heart of heated discussions over what use to make of some extra land on their premises. For the natural reserve, we speak of a southern canal and the associated plot of land, which is unused and where a “villa” (slum) has grown since the 1980s. For the Hospital Borda, we are dealing with a hospital workshop that the city government wants to destroy in order to build a civic centre instead. Quickly deteriorating, what I hastily qualified as “heated discussions” were soon open and violent conflicts.
The protagonists of the conflicts are similar in both cases, namely:
– On my left: citizens, associations, NGOs, experts in their respective fields (doctors for the hospital, and biologists and sociologists for the Reserva)
– On my right: real estate promoters, backed up by the city government, although their communication strategy is certainly more subtle at the moment.
This division will surely look very stereotypical, but so it seems, and conflicts do tend to create very sharp splits between pros and cons.
Common features to these conflicts
The case of the Reserva is the most complicated of the two, because social and environmental issues are closely linked and oppose each other. It blurs the issue to see pro-urbanisation for the slum, arguing in front of anti-urbanisation to preserve the natural reserve, while the urbanisation plan will actually build a very expensive neighbourhood and leave them both unsatisfied (therefore, dear reader, I will devote a full article to this case later). The opening of the conflict dates back from last year. In 2012, the Buenos Aires City Government modified the urban zones at the southern border of the Reserva in order to allow the urbanisation of this area, which would otherwise be impossible to build on, as protected natural reserve land. Without consultation or communication plan before starting the project, such urbanisation project has been perceived as an assault to the reserve by part of the population, which has gathered under the umbrella of an NGO “Salvemos a la Reserva Costanera Sur”.
In the case of the Hospital Borda, the wound is very fresh. Just a couple of weeks ago, a violent conflict arose when doctors, nurses and other citizens opposed the demolition of one of the hospital buildings. The police charge was reported to be of a rare unchained violence: it severely wounded several people. The city ministry (or councillor) for urban development had to make a public statement quoting the antepenultimate pope and rejecting the use of violence (he simply stated that “violence never solve conflicts”, quoting John Paul II – no comment/raising eyebrow). In this case too, there was hardly any public communication or consultation, and when it was finally launched, it was too late. And in this case too, we are dealing with public space, which is very appreciated by the local population.
In the end, two obvious features emerged from this very quick cross-analysis; lack or late communication and exposing public space which otherwise delivered highly-praised public services.
Interview with R., guide in the Reserva Costanera Sur, recorded on 12th May 2013
Interview with S., “Opinion socialista” activist, recorded on 1st May 2013
> on Borda:
> on Costanera Sur
Villa Rodrigo Bueno
Opinion of the real estate sector