Saturday, April 10, 2010

Villa 31: A shanty town growing at an alarming rate in the heart of Buenos Aires

This is the part of Buenos Aires travel agents wont mention. It’s one of the many villas just a few blocks away from the government palace.
Imagine having this next to the White House or Congress … and still growing!
The Villa 31 has been there for over 50 years, but the truth is that back in those days it was just a handful of families living in the mostly empty lots of land that belong to the railroad companies. After the 2001 crisis the villa boomed. People coming from all over the country desperate to find a job, even from other neighboring countries.

Urbanistically speaking, Villa 31 is pure chaos. Anyone builds anything, anywhere. We actually studied this at the Architecture University of BA. The organization of buildings and streets is organic in spite of this, similar to how ants and other insects build their nests.

Surprisingly, even though the Argentine crisis officially ended around 2004 or so, the villa never stopped growing, just like every villa in the country.
Isn’t it ironic that in spite of the supposedly prosperous times (that of course no one seems to be experiencing on personal basis, but well, that’s what the government says) these villas keep growing and getting bigger, both horizontal and vertically?

Up to 5 floors are being built with precarious materials, and no control whatsoever. Power? They hook themselves illegally and no one does anything about it and why would they? After all, these are Kirchner’s greatest supporters.
Its very interesting though to see how these places develop a la Mad Max's Barter Town. Drugs, booze, gambling and prostitution are of course readily available. They have stores of all kinds in there, you can rent a bed for 80 dollars a month, a room for USD 160 and an apartment in Villa 31 costs USD 15.000.
Hey! Its located just 4 blocks away from some of the fanciest neighborhoods of Buenos Aires where an apartment costs $ 200.000 to $ 400.000 so its actually a bargain.

Tyical house in Villa 31

A disaster waiting to happen. On the grownd level, a grocery, bread and cell phones can be bought. 

This is how most arrive to the villa: A tarp and some cardboard to make a small shack. Then they buy materials and build a more solid structure. Notice the red brick buildings of the villa, visible on the background.

For those of you that ask what happened with those that went broke after 2001, many folks that lost their homes after the crisis ended up living here or in similar settlements.
This is the face of Argentina you wont see advertised in tourism agencies, but it is becoming more and more common all over the country.



OldSouth said...

This brings tears to my eyes. Such a wonderful country, reduced to this.

I expect to see this in Mexico City, never in BA.

russell1200 said...

Puerto Rico has a little bit of this, or at least it did when I was there working back in the 1990s.

Building houses on top of houses does not work very well on an island that is in a major hurricane zone.

If they line them up properly and fill some of those "cinder block" cells with rebar and concrete, you actually have a pretty strong wall system.

There is nothing to be ashamed about living in what others consider substandard housing. If it keeps you out of the rain it is a start. But the (presumed) ad hoc hygiene arrangements and social instability (caused by so much under employment rather than poverty per se) would have to make these difficult places to live.

Just_In_Case_The_SHTF said...

The United States has a homeless population that has existed for many years. Many of the homeless have lost their homes and jobs. Governments and charities do their best to deal with the situation. The situation will likely get worse after the SHTF.

'Oprah' tunes in to plight of Sacramento's homeless

Audio slide show: Beneath the glitz

Tent cities spring up in LA

Homeless Persons

Anonymous said...

Looks like a lot of fun. Reminds me of Hong Kong 1990's

Anonymous said...

"Imagine having this next to the White House or Congress … and still growing!"

We already do have something like this in Washington DC! There is a neighborhood called Anacostia that is only a few subway stops or a less than ten-minute rush hour drive away from the Capitol Building and the Mall where all of the iconic DC monuments sit. While it isn't a shanty town with homemade dwellings, it is the poorest neighborhood in the region; it's very rundown and dilapidated. It is one of the most violent neighborhoods in the entire country. A former DC mayor who was arrested for smoking crack while in office lives there and has been elected by the neighborhood residents to be their current local government representative. It is such a bad neighborhood (at least by American standards) that it has been erased from the tourist maps they sell on the Mall even though the neighborhood is only a few blocks away!

Even more shocking is that this isn't the only bad ghetto in DC. There is another ghetto a few miles north of the tourist areas that had so many murders in one weekend, the DC police set up illegal checkpoints in the neighborhood--a very blatant violation of the Constitution that is literally housed a few miles away! If the police deemed you had no business going into the neighborhood, then you were turned away and forbidden to enter.

You can't even blame the economy or Congress for this mess because these ghettos have existed for a few decades, and have been there through good economic times and bad.

petrolclock said...

poverty is always a losing battle

Anonymous said...

This isn't just the future in America, it's the present. Maybe not on this scale yet, but it will be. Formerly working people have lost their homes by the millions. What else can they do except go to 'tent towns'? Same story as Argentina and elsewhere, different details. When a nation's government is determined to strip its population of their wealth, power and freedoms, this is the result.

Anonymous said...

Interesting fact about the streets developing naturally, and resembling system seen elsewhere in nature (ants, etc.)

All of the social instability and sanitation issues of shanties aside, there is something about them that attracts visitors.. and maybe this is it. Much of China's cities still have these narrow winding corridored neighborhoods, and thye're really fun to explore. They're always unique.

Anyway. I guess this si what you get when a living space is "designed" firstly for walking humans, rather than cars.

Planned streets and thoroughfares are great for getting around quickly, if you're a car.

It is a shame that so much of our living space is designed so that cars can drive through it quickly, rather than designed for the pleasure or the people immediately living there.

Anonymous said...

When Argentina had the collapse and people lost their homes.... who had money to buy these lost homes? I live in the US and am expecting a collapse. I can see how many people could loose homes. What I don't understand... where is the line of people waiting to buy and live in these houses if we have huge massive forclosures? If we have these villages sprout up around major cities... then will the suburbs be ghost towns?

travian said...


Django said...

"Imagine having this next to the White House or Congress … and still growing!"

It should be noted that Washington D.C. - once you get away from all the government buildings and monuments - isn't the best place to spend your summer vacation either. D.C. is infested with drugs, crime, and poverty, and I think the only real reason it doesn't have it's own Villa 31 is that these shanty type towns wouldn't stand up to the cold weather. While I realize that the U.S. has a long way to go before we reach the level of financial collapse which occurred in Argentina, I am surprised we haven't been seeing more of these areas sprouting up in the southwestern states. Give the O regime enough time...

Loquisimo said...

The comment about the streets reminds me of San Francisco's Chinatown. There is the "official" street grid, and then there is a rabbit warren of small alleyways. The alleys are meant for people, not cars, while the official streets can be navigated by car, albeit with difficulty. Some of the alleyways date back before the city was destroyed in 1906, and Chinatown was leveled. It was simply rebuilt along the old street plan.

Life is very difficult for the Chinese who live there-entire families live in single rooms, no storage so food must be purchased daily, vermin everywhere, etc. I actually lived on the fringe of Chinatown for a few months in the winter of 1996. My apartment was two 8x8 rooms with the dividing wall knocked out, and a bathroom on one end, so 8x25 I think. It was filthy, and roaches and mice had the run of the place. I barely had enough room for my stuff and me. I lived there because I got booted out of my other place because they were doing earthquake code upgrades, so I needed a place quick. Very little storage. After about five months of that, I moved out. The Chinese live like that for YEARS!

San Francisco has a LOT of "soft story" brick construction, with apartments on top of a big empty ground space that is used as a store or whatever. After 1906, the priority was rebuilding as fast as possible. They've tried to fix the city as best they can, but come another earthquake it will likely be destroyed again, and this time it will NOT be rebuilt.

Anonymous said...

The organic morphology of shantytowns is not a feature exclusive to shantytowns, but it shows up in any kind of city where all building decisions are made spontaneously by individuals instead of being drawn as lines on paper. Pretty much all cities up to about the 17th centuries were built that way, so it wasn't just poor people, it's a design decision that defines this. You go to ancient towns in Italy, Greece or along the Mediterranean coast and they have preserved this form of morphology. I have another blog where I cover the subject of spontaneous urbanism called Emergent Urbanism. Lots of good stuff on this subject there.

An interesting feature of shantytowns, other than the fact that they pretty much all look alike, is that they are almost always next to rich, super-planned neighborhoods. It's the urban planning itself that creates shantytowns, ironically enough, by locking out the poor from "normal" housing and jobs. Any space where there is a pressure escape will be taken over by the poor and turned into a shantytown, and then the shantytown will provide cheap labor for the rich neighborhoods. Then the shantytown and the planned city will be locked in a symbiotic relationship.

Anonymous said...

The older name for these kind of places was "Hoover-villes" in the Dirty Thirties. I recently heard them referred to as Obama-villes. During the 30's there were many places like this and "Hobo Jungles" where the homeless of the times lived. Anacostia Flats was one such place, where the Bonus Army lived for a time. I have worked as a volunteer at a rescue mission, and was surprised when I learned that the majority of them (that I saw at that time) were not on drugs or had mental illness, but were caught in a position of financial vulnerability during life-changing events, blind-sided by their own naivety or lack of awareness.

Loquisimo said...

This is an article about the equivalent of someplace like Villa 31 in the university town of Chico, California, a place called Chapman:


When the teacher training college on the Bidwell Ranch was established, the original planners of Chico tried to eliminate "undesirables" via zoning. There was commercial, first class residential, and second class residential. The hope was that the third class people would stay away. Problem is, the new town was too dependent on their labor. So they simply settled south of Little Chico Creek.

A man named Chapman planned a street grid, so Chapman has that but little else. It's mostly residential, but there was once an asphalt plant near the elementary school, among other things. The houses are mainly plain shacks, although there's a Victorian style porch on a few of them. Look for the photo gallery attached to that article.

America has a history of building accommodations for the middle class that are then "handed down" to the poor, so we have few real shantytowns. Chapman and a handful of places like it that date from the Gilded Age (1870-93) are the closest we come. We had shantytowns during the last depression, in the 1930s, but those were dismantled after WW2.

The logical thing with foreclosed suburbs ringing large cities, as another poster asked, is that you get squatters. People see all that great housing going to waste, so why not break in and live there for a while? People in the 30s were too proud and moral to do it, but we're already seeing it now. So far, the cops are chasing people off, but as policing is slashed to the bone, expect many neighborhoods to become squatters' villages.

Anonymous said...

In case that Anon who commented on Anacostia/DC is reading, just want to let him and everyone else reading know, that that clown has probably NEVER set foot in Anacostia or any of the neighborhoods on the other side of the river.

I've lived and stayed in some ghettos. SE DC sucks, but its also filled with million dollar houses. D.C. was eaten alive by the crack epidemic and a crippled and incompetent city govt in the 80s/90s. It's a different story now.

Anytime you hear someone refer to the whole of SE and NE on the other side of the river, as "Anacostia", you know they've never laid eyes on the place.. just repeated the rumors suburbanites love to tell. Anacostia is a small neighborhood (and not the worst by any stretch-- referring that 1/5 of the city as "Anacostia" is like referring to al of Manhattan as "The Lower East Side." Every city loves to brag about how its black people and ghettos are the scariest in America. Please.

Redneck said...

"An interesting feature of shantytowns, other than the fact that they pretty much all look alike, is that they are almost always next to rich, super-planned neighborhoods. It's the urban planning itself that creates shantytowns..."

Look up Brasilia for an excellent example.

HayleyGrace said...

A lot of the comments mention that Washington DC also has bad neighborhoods near the government buildings but I don't think they realize that these shanty towns are visible from government buildings and the rich nice apartments. Unlike in the US where those bad areas can be avoided you have to walk past the entrances to these shantytowns frequently to do many things in Buenos Aires. Which is frightening and sad. I highly doubt the US can ever get to this level, if you've witnessed how bad this is in BA first hand.