Bottom-Up Development in Greater Buenos Aires

Here is an example of citizen based activism with results from polis

La Matanza, located in the western part of the Buenos Aires Metropolitan Region (see map at right), was one of the hardest-hit areas in Argentina’s 2001 economic crisis. Historically a bastion of the working class and popular politics (Peronismo) in the 1950s, La Matanza’s once-empty fields have been filled in with shacks, some more consolidated over time than others. Over half of La Matanza’s 1.7 million residents live below the poverty line and have poor access to urban services, including potable water, sewage systems, schooling, and medical attention. Since it is the second-most-populated district in Argentina and thus an important area to secure votes, political representatives are known to actively seek out and co-opt residents through clientelist practices. Yet, neighborhood dwellers that began to organize in 1995 in response to the exclusion and poverty they experienced during Argentina’s hardcore neoliberal period are providing another solution: a bottom-up approach to addressing labor and social problems in their district through the Unemployed Worker’s Movement La Matanza (MTDLM).

The MTDLM defines itself as a popular organization of men and women, both working and unemployed, who have formed a movement to resolve collective problems through collective solutions. It openly rejects the welfare plans provided by the state, as pushed by political representatives, and has instead constructed its own productive, social and educational projects through the Cooperative ‘Barrio La Juanita.’ Productive projects have manifested primarily through the Critical Mass community bakery and multiple workshop spaces that include textiles, silk screening, and computer recycling. Core educational projects are a daycare and a newly-opened primary school that use an innovative and critical pedagogy based on the philosophy of Paolo Freire. Social projects include a microcredit program, a community fair, and learning support on a wide variety of subjects.  Continue reading

Book Review: Small Scale: Creative Solutions for Better City Living

Posted by Min Li Chan on polis
Keith Moskow and Robert Linn
Princeton Architectural Press (2010)
Fellow Polis blogger, Melissa Garcia Lamarca, and I recently hunkered down with Moskow and Linn’s sojourn into small-scale urban interventions by architects for “making life better for city dwellers” around the world (as the authors describe in the book’s introduction). Paul Goldberger, in his recent New Yorker piece on Frank Gehry’s new residential tower at 8 Spruce Street in Brooklyn, observed that:

For the past half century, there have been two ways to build an apartment building in New York: an architect’s way or a developer’s way.

In reviewing the genuinely creative, fascinating projects put forth in “Small Scale,” we wondered aloud if the criteria and measures of success used by the authors was too steeped in the architect’s way, leaving us with lingering questions on the projects’ process and true impact, particularly with our respective backgrounds in urban politics/development and technology/ethnography. One may argue that the architect’s way lives too much in the world of Utopian ideas (while the developer’s way is largely pragmatic, functional, at the risk of being overly utilitarian).
Still, the format appears to repudiate that of an architectural coffee table book and warrants thoughtful debate. Thus, we’ve taken a slightly unorthodox approach to this book review by presenting it in the experimental form of a free-flow conversation, conducted via online chat between New York and San Francisco. With fond apologies for any errors of web-speak that are to follow, Continue reading