Non-formal Buenos Aires: Public Space Strategies for Emergency Settlements

Instructors: John Beardsley, Senior Lecturer, Harvard GSDMax Rohm, Assistant Professor, University of Buenos Aires.Studio Consultant:Flavio Janches, Adjunct Professor, University of Buenos AiresSupported by a grant from David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies, Harvard UniversityThe studio will test the relevance of the ideas of landscape urbanism to a low-income community in Buenos Aires. Specifically, it will investigate the generation of new strategies for public space in one of the city\’s \”Villas de Emergencia\” – the Argentine counterparts of the Brazilian \”favellas\” or shantytowns – in the belief that alternative forms of designing and thinking about public space in these settlements could present opportunities for arresting some of the social erosion and environmental stress characteristic of such communities and for better integrating them with the rest of the city.1-IntroductionThe main public products of the profession of Landscape Architecture are arguably becoming more inaccessible to the less privileged sectors of society. City parks, streetscapes and plazas are alienating those who are not part of the \’system\’ through privatization and commodification, processes that determine the gradual physical and intellectual diminishment of what we call public space. But the need for public space doesn\’t diminish; in fact, it may be stronger than ever as the inequalities of global capitalism create gentrification, stratification, and discrimination – in short, advancing social polarization. The studio will aim to find new ways of intervention in the city of Buenos Aires, rethinking the concepts of \’Public\’, \’Space\’ and \’Identity\’ through the investigation of non-designed or non-formal urban landscape conditions. The work will be centered on a settlement of about 7,000 people called Villa Tranquila on the southern edge of Buenos Aires. Although the problem of these \’villas\’ originates from unsolved social and urban necessities, these settlements also imply a strategy of the everyday that expresses – in a precarious form – the structure of relations that generate the urban habitat. In the last fifty years we have been witnessing a process of generalized urbanization. All around the world massive migratory flows of people originate in rural and/or impoverished semi-urban areas, lured by higher wages and access to commodities to settle in regional mega-cities. In the developed world, this poor population ends up in urban ghettos, while in developing countries it is relegated to shantytowns, typically established in sordid peripheries. Notwithstanding the difficult circumstances faced by the residents of these communities, they can be seen to practice a variety of \’urban survival\’ strategies, reflected not only in the construction of their own homes, but also in the installation of some infrastructural improvements within the \’villas\’. It is important for design professionals to take advantage of these endeavors, avoiding isolated actions and complementing them with integral projects of landscape, urban and architectural design. This might allow both for the improvement of the villa\’s sanitary situation and for the strengthening of community organization and conscience of citizenship.Future intervention in these informal settlements should be determined by the comprehension of a variety of social, spatial, and aesthetic facts, all derived from the repetition of ordinary and extraordinary events that describe the life experiences, habits, and routines of the villa inhabitants: domesticity as a determinant of urbanity.2-The Site Villa Tranquila occupies an area of 60 acres at the edge of the Riachuelo, a river that delineates the southern edge of the central district of Buenos Aires. It is situated 10 blocks away from the center of Avellaneda, one of the most populated boroughs of the city. 7000 people –