The term ‘gentrification’ has been defined as a process of urban transformation in which the original population of a marginalized and poor neighborhood or area is progressively displaced by another with a higher income level in a process of profound social change. In Spanish, this process is translated as ‘aburguesamiento,’ whose root is the Spanish equivalent of ‘bourgeois.’ This difference between the Spanish and English terms make one wonder what else changes when this urban planning phenomenon occurs in Latin American cities.
This year, on May 20th, the project Contested Cities was inaugurated in Buenos Aires, as a network of researchers studying the effects produced by the neoliberal model, both in European and Latin American cities.
Contested Cities’ first activity was to attend an international seminary in which Stavros Stavrides, professor of the Faculty of Architecture at the National Technical University of Athens, began the debate by commenting on the issue of urban conflicts and their agents, and how all this is going to modify the nature of the contemporary city. On one hand, he pushed for the stopping of gentrification and urban transformations with a speculative basis, and on the other, recognizing the new configurations that this sometimes unavoidable phenomenon gives to public spaces and architecture in general.
The project also includes a somewhat rebellious phase focusing on strategies of resistance, fight and re-appropriation of urban space, illustrating the concerns and interests coming from Contested Cities, by studying gentrification and supporting resistance groups. The group has also condemned real estate speculation and built heritage investors, constantly identified as pushing for gentrification in order to ‘preserve’ this type of historic building.
Buenos Aires, more than any other city in Latin America I might say, has a tremendous amount of buildings and districts subjected to gentrification. Many other cities on the continent have transformed their urban structures with new sprawling districts, but since the late 1990s many places like the completely recycled Puerto Madero - with skyrocketing rental and buying prices – and the new ‘hip’ district of Palermo, have changed the face of the city and generated displacement for the original inhabitants of these neighborhoods in a typical example of the dark side of gentrification.
This is one of the reasons that it’s really interesting to find this kind of debate taking place for the first time in Latin America. Buenos Aires is the perfect spot to support this debate; and it’s one that every city will eventually need to cope with.
How has your city experienced gentrification? Do you think this process is different in the Western world than what it is for Latin America, Asia or Africa?
Credits: Images by Luis Lozano-Paredes. Data linked to sources.