|Villa Miseria 31 - Buenos Aires|
La Villa 31, Barrio 31 o Barrio Padre Carlos Mugica es una villa miseria ubicada en la Ciudad Autónoma de Buenos Aires, Argentina. Está repartida entre la Comuna 1, que contiene al barrio de Retiro, y la Comuna 2, correspondiente a Recoleta.
Every time I visit my native Buenos Aires I marvel of the ingenuity of the people who live in the Villas Miserias. Miseria in Spanish leans more to the idea being poor.
The Villa Miseria 31 is the most famous and probably the
largest. It is close to the enormous train station of Retiro in downtown Buenos
Aires. Many of these shanty towns spring up near the uncertain ownership of
land by railroad tracks. Pope Francis when he was an ordinary Jesuit was a frequent visitor of Villa 31. One of the major freeways to leave town pass over Villa 31.
When you walk or drive in downtown Buenos Aires in the
evening you will spot the cartoneros. These are people that pick up all the
cardboard and paper from offices. This for them is a steady source of income. If Buenos Aires adopted our Vancouver city method of recycling these people would lose their income. On the afternoons before my Kits "garbage day" a friendly woman greets me as she collects what will give her an income and perhaps preventing her from becoming homeless.
It is obvious that Argentina is a third world country and beginning this year inflation had passed 100%. When I last went with Rosemary to Buenos Aires the black market dollar (called Dollar Blue) was at 164 pesos. Today it is at 395 pesos.
And yet I might guess (without any statistical evidence) that there are fewer homeless in Buenos Aires than in Vancouver. The Buenos Aires homeless are called “sin techo” or without a roof.
I remember that in the early 50s when visiting dignitaries would come to Buenos Aires, Presidente Juan Domingo Perón would build walls to hide the shanty towns. That would be impossible now. Why?
Ever since I can remember the dream of any Argentine was to have a “casa de material”. This meant they wanted a sturdy brick home. The houses in the Villas in some cases can have three to four stories. You can spot water tanks on their roofs along with satellite dishes.
Some years ago, when Mike Harcourt was no longer Premier, he gave a talk at the Simon Fraser University Downtown Campus. I will never forget that he said, “To eliminate homelessness you have to build homes.”
Much is being written about preserving the look and the spirit of Vancouver’s Chinatown. I believe (again no evidence, just the gut feeling of an 80 year old man.) that this is impossible. It would transform Chinatown into a sprawling museum.
The people who lived in that place did so for two reasons. They could not afford to live anywhere else or they might not have been allowed to buy property outside the area.
Chinatown was a ghetto, no different from the original one in Venice.
Now I think we have to redefine the concept of what a ghetto is. Vancouver (the city) is being populated by people with money. It is increasingly becoming impossible for people who live here (and their offspring) to buy or rent property. They are moving to the suburbs or to islands. These suburban sprawls are not in an exact place but they are ghettos nonetheless.
Before the new Emily Carr was built and right after Finning Tractor left the area on Great Northern Way I wondered what would have happened if the city had put lumber (2x4s) and fiberglass roofing in one corner of the large then empty space and if people might have moved in. Like in Buenos Aires they would have illegally tapped into power lines for electricity.
This did not happen.
It seems that in our fair city we prefer for the homeless to live in tents on streets (is a tent a roof over their head?) as we eschew anything that might be a shanty down because Vancouver is a first world city in a first world country. We are not Brazil with its favelas or Argentina with its Villas Miserias. In fact even Mexico city has sprawling shanty towns.
Vancouver will soon have a new "world class" art gallery that will cost billions. Mike Harcourt might have suggested that the money could be used to build homes. And architect Abraham Rogatnick famously stated that the Vancouver Art Gallery should stay where it is.