Treinta y dos hectáreas con vista al río, eje de la controversia entre Gobierno y vecinos en Costa Salguero

Mientras el metro cuadrado se cotiza, en promedio, a US$ 2500 en la ciudad, expertos denuncian la intención de convertir a la Costanera en "un paisaje de ostentación y privilegio" que cuadruplicaría ese valor.

 

por Federico Poore

elDiarioAR, 19-12-2020 



Un proyecto urbano que incluye la venta de tierras públicas a metros del Río de la Plata es el eje de una encendida disputa que enfrenta al gobierno de Horacio Rodríguez Larreta con los vecinos de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires. La iniciativa, aprobada en la Legislatura en primera lectura con votos del oficialismo y sus aliados. Ahora se discute en audiencias públicas en las que la mayoría de los participantes reclama que toda el área se convierta en un espacio público de acceso libre. ¿Qué es exactamente la “rezonificación” de Costa Salguero y por qué genera tanta controversia?

“Lo primero que hay que destacar es que este proyecto propone usos privados en tierras públicas. Permite y alienta la construcción de una hilera de edificios a lo largo de 800 metros de la avenida Costanera”, explica en diálogo con elDiarioAR Bárbara Rossen, coordinadora de Derechos Urbanos de la Defensoría del Pueblo porteña.

Concretamente, el oficialismo propone una reclasificación de usos de 32 hectáreas de terrenos públicos linderos al río que forman parte de los predios de Punta Carrasco y Costa Salguero. Hoy funcionan allí clubes, boliches, estacionamientos y un centro de convenciones gracias a una serie de cuestionadas concesiones a operadores privados que llegarán a su fin en 2021. Por primera vez en tres décadas, estos terrenos vuelven al dominio público. La pregunta es qué hacer con ellos.

La propuesta del gobierno de Rodríguez Larreta consiste en vender parte de esas tierras y permitir en un sector de Costa Salguero la construcción de hoteles, viviendas y comercios en edificios de hasta nueve pisos. Los tres cuartos restantes quedarían como un parque. “Pero para que las personas lo usen es necesario que el espacio esté preparado, que tenga infraestructura y que haya movimiento”, argumentó Álvaro García Resta, secretario de Desarrollo Urbano de la Ciudad, durante la primera jornada de audiencias que tuvo más de siete mil inscriptos. Según el funcionario, habrá un 74% destinado al parque que se va a complementar con otro 26% de usos “que favorecen la concurrencia y la permanencia, como locales gastronómicos y culturales”, los cuales se espere que lleven “más seguridad” a la zona.

El arquitecto Miguel McCormack, socio y director del estudio McCormack Asociados, coincide con el concepto. “Un parque necesita tener sus bordes activos para ser útil. Los bordes se activan con la mezcla de usos que aseguran los edificios, es decir, la inversión privada, y estos usos se deben complementar y distribuir a lo largo del día y del año”, dice, y ejemplifica: “Viviendas, trabajo, comercio, gastronomía, recreación, cultura, servicio, todas estas actividades ocupan distintas franjas de tiempo y, mezcladas correctamente, favorecen la vida social en los espacios abiertos por afuera de los edificios, que es lo que acá resulta relevante. Un parque separado de la ciudad me resulta un esfuerzo estéril.”

Varios de los arquitectos, urbanistas y paisajistas que participan de las audiencias se oponen a este razonamiento. “El problema del gobierno es asociar vitalidad con consumo, pensar automáticamente que la forma de ‘revitalizar’ el área es meter un Starbucks o edificios de oficinas”, sostiene Maria Jose Leveratto, integrante del Colectivo de Arquitectas que se opone al proyecto. “Un parque público bien mantenido no debería tener problemas de seguridad. Se pueden pensar un montón de otros usos públicos para el parque, desde actividades sociales, culturales y hasta escolares.”

 Según el proyecto oficial, los usos permitidos en Costa Salguero incluyen -además de los residenciales- una amplia gama de servicios y comercios, que van desde hoteles cinco estrellas, armerías, pinturerías, casas de remates hasta locales de venta de motos, autos, aviones y embarcaciones. Todo planteado en una serie de edificios compactos, que del lado más cercano a Aeroparque tendrán unos seis pisos de altura y con una capacidad constructiva en progresivo aumento hasta que del extremo opuesto se permiten construcciones de hasta 29 metros, es decir, planta baja más ocho pisos. Mientras tanto, en Punta Carrasco se habilita la construcción de un helipuerto. La oposición denuncia que se trata de un “barrio náutico.”

“Este proyecto viene traccionado por una manera de gestionar del gobierno porteño, un masterplan invisible que va colonizando sectores de la ciudad por medio de cambios de normativas y ventas a desarrolladores”, explica Mauricio Corbalan, urbanista y miembro fundador del grupo de investigación m7red. “En muchos casos la ciudad se encuentra con que tiene que desarrollar sectores, pero no tiene la potencia política para hacerlo. El esquema arranca con que el privado tiene una idea, propone modificar la normativa para hacerlo y el gobierno vende la idea. A lo mucho, si ciertas capas de la población presionan mucho, se hace un concurso de arquitectos. Pero las demandas de los que usan la ciudad no son atendidas.”

Desde la Defensoría, Rossen enmarca esta propuesta como parte de una política sistemática de venta de terrenos públicos a desarrolladores privados. Según cifras del legislador Juan Manuel Valdés (Frente de Todos), en sus ocho años como jefe de gobierno Mauricio Macri remató 205 hectáreas de tierras públicas, a las que se le sumaron otras 267 hectáreas en apenas cuatro años de gestión de Rodríguez Larreta.

“El paisaje que se piensa construir en Costa Salguero es un paisaje de ostentación y privilegio, hablamos de viviendas valuadas entre 9 mil y 12 mil dólares el metro cuadrado”, dice Rossen. Según un informe reciente del Centro de Investigación en Finanzas (CIF) de la Universidad Torcuato Di Tella, el metro cuadrado promedio en la ciudad ronda los 2.500 dólares. “Los bienes y los espacios públicos son la oportunidad que tienen los Estados para dar un poco de justicia urbana, y acá se está desperdiciando esta oportunidad”, concluye.

 

Tres momentos, la misma estrategia

La rezonificación de Costa Salguero es la tercera parte de una saga que comenzó en 2018 con la aprobación del llamado “Distrito Joven”, un plan del gobierno porteño que habilitaba la instalación de locales gastronómicos, bares y boliches en tierras ganadas al río con el objetivo de revitalizar la franja costera. El plan dividía el área entre el Parque de la Memoria y Costa Salguero en cinco sectores y el gobierno aseguraba que para la explotación de estos locales buscaría un modelo de concesiones a operadores privados.

Esto cambió radicalmente en diciembre de 2019, cuando el oficialismo porteño aprobó, en soledad y en una de las últimas sesiones del año, un proyecto de ley para la venta (ya no concesión) de los terrenos del sector 5, donde hoy funcionan las concesiones de Costa Salguero. Con la firma del propio Horacio Rodríguez Larreta, y con la intención de “llevar adelante una política de austeridad respecto al patrimonio inmobiliario de la Ciudad”, el proyecto habilitaba el desarrollo urbanístico en hasta el 35% del sector, aclarando que las edificaciones no podrían superar los cuatro pisos de altura debido a cercanía al aeroparque Jorge Newbery. La votación ocurrió en medio de reclamos generalizados de la oposición. "Esta sesión parece un pijama party de venta de tierras”, dijo el legislador Gabriel Solano. Pero eso no sería todo.

Tras la autorización para la desafectación del dominio público, y en plena pandemia, las autoridades locales firmaron un convenio con la Sociedad Central de Arquitectos y la Facultad de Arquitectura, Diseño y Urbanismo (FADU) y lanzaron un “concurso de ideas” para ese sector de la Ciudad. Luego de discutir el proyecto ganador con el estudio Franck-Menichetti, el larretismo llevó al recinto la famosa propuesta de “rezonificación” en la que aparecían edificios de hasta 29 metros de altura, más del doble de lo propuesto el año anterior.

Tampoco queda clara la solidez legal de la movida. A finales de octubre, la Sala II de la Cámara de Apelaciones en lo Contencioso, Administrativo y Tributario de la Ciudad dictó una cautelar que suspende la venta de los terrenos (lo aprobado hace un año atrás) hasta tanto se resuelva si las tierras pertenecen efectivamente al dominio público del Estado. En ese caso, explicaron los jueces, es posible que no se hayan cumplido con los requisitos constitucionales para la sanción de la ley, dado que fue aprobada en una sesión sin el procedimiento de doble lectura con audiencia pública. Los magistrados recordaron que el predio “forma parte del dominio del Estado y constituye parte de la Ribera del Río de la Plata, ha sido objeto de particular tutela tanto en el orden constitucional, como en el de las normas que mayor importancia tienen en la planificación urbanística y que constituyen el eje de las políticas de desarrollo de la Ciudad, como son el Plan Urbano Ambiental y el Código Urbanístico.” 


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City officials defend Costa Salguero project, yet experts are divided

Several architects and urban planning experts oppose attempt to sell off coastal land despite history of public use; Local authorities defend the move to ‘revitalise’ area.

por Federico Poore
Buenos Aires Times, 19-12-2020




Punta Carrasco and Costa Salguero are 32 hectares of coastal grounds that run along the northeastern part of Buenos Aires City. During most of the 20th century the area was open to the public and the sight of thousands of citizens basking in the sun and bathing in the waters of the River Plate was not uncommon. But the growing contamination of the surroundings and the leasing of land to private entities began acting as urban barriers to a City that was already turning its back to the world’s widest river.

During the administration of former president Carlos Menem (1989-1999) the public-owned Costa Salguero was parcelled up and leased to private entities who placed discos, nightclubs, golf courses, offices, and a huge convention centre with parking for 2,000 cars, consolidating an urban scar that divides Buenos Aires from the coast. With the lease coming to an end in 2021, the City government led by Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta announced a new development project for the area, drawing strong criticism from urban specialists, neighbours’ associations and environmental groups.

In April this year, at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, the government launched an architectural competition to choose the best concept for the area. The rules stated that at least 65 percent of Costa Salguero was to be left for public use, meaning that the City had to change the area’s zoning from 100-percent public park to up to 35 percent buildable area.

This re-zoning proposal was discussed at the City Legislature on October 8, where it was won preliminary approval on a vote of 37-23. The joint opposition voted against, while the ruling Vamos Juntos party and its allies of Martín Lousteau’s UCR-Evolución and the Socialist party of Roy Cortina supported the bill.

According to the Rodríguez Larreta administration, the project intends to “restore the city’s relationship with the river” and take back almost 14 hectares of green spaces that are now occupied by private leaseholds, with the remaining public lands being sold to private developers. The ruling coalition said proceedings from the sale would be devoted to the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We don’t need to thank the ruling coalition for coming up with a bill that would leave 65 percent of green spaces. We need to demand they do not sell public lands or auction off the coast,” replied Marta Martínez from the opposition bloc Autodeterminación y Libertad.

‘Active’ park or commercialisation of public spaces?

One of the City government’s main arguments is that creating a huge park would not make the best use of the coastal grounds that are about to become available.

“Exclusive use zoning is unsustainable,” argues the City’s Transport Secretary Juan José Méndez. “Isolated parks that only provide the environmental function of parklands but lack other social uses are mostly used on Saturdays and Sundays but otherwise remain empty… We only feel safe at them at very specific times on weekends.”

Offering a wide range of mixed-used services will help the park to be occupied virtually around the clock, the official added.

“Success stories are those who take into account environmental quality but also some kind of guarantee of public safety, and Costa Salguero offers a huge opportunity to design a space which combines profitability on both a social and economic level,” said architect Alberto Gorbatt, the director of the ARQA platform. He argued the projected commercial and services areas are similar to Barcelona’s Olympic Villa, the Port of Sydney and the People’s Park in Copenhagen.

Other experts beg to differ.

“It has been argued that the public sphere is unsafe and that in order to have an active and safe city the sine qua non condition is to sell off public lands to locate residences, hotels and retail,” protested architect Mariana Giusti, a master in Urban Studies from the Universities of Seville and Lisbon. “This only fuels social segregation and urban fragmentation.”

María Gabriela Mataloni, a biologist from the University of Buenos Aires, said parks don’t need to be active 24 hours in order to perform important functions.

“A park wholly devoted to public and free use can provide educational and recreational experiences and will fulfill the key function of adaptation and mitigation to climate change,” said Mataolini, adding that such green spaces can contribute to the capture of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, protect people and infrastructure from increasingly severe storms and play a role as a reserve for biodiversity.

“The City government considers nature and green areas a vacuum to be filled with business,” slammed environmental lawyer Enrique Viale. “They are turning citizens into customers, privatising leisure and recreation. They’re telling us there’s no enjoyment without consumption.”

A ghetto of wealth?

Another point of contention is the height of buildings and the social profile of those who will purchase the apartments. While the original bill approved in 2018 said structures in Costa Salguero could be as tall as 12 metres high, the re-zoning plan voted in October allows for buildings of up to 29 metres — some nine or ten stories.

Some urban planners pointed out that the renders presented by Franck-Menichetti, the winning architectural firm, showed more amicable heights that did not correspond with what the bill allows developers to build.

“Just to be clear: the proposed buildings will be located between Costanera Avenue and the River Plate, like a wall that would close off the possibility of a direct and sincere relationship with the coast,” said architect Rosa Aboy, the director of the Research Centre for the History of Dwellings at the University of Buenos Aires.

“I must remind you that we're not voting for render visualisations but what the letter of the law says,” said architect Silvana Parentella of the R2b1 firm. She also warned that the bill allows for the construction of buildings in the neighbouring grounds of Punta Carrasco.

Gabriel Lanfranchi, the coordinator of the City’s Urban Environmental Plan (PUA), was generally supportive of the project but warned against elitist approaches, saying the government should enact some kind of instrument that would facilitate access to housing in order to avoid a new Puerto Madero “where apartments are only available for the elite that can afford them.” Local authorities, Lanfranchi argued, should intervene in this new area to guarantee social mix regardless of what the market delivers.

“I don’t see this debate taking place,” he said.

Victoria Roldán Mendez, the chair of the Urban Development Committee at the City Legislature, declined to comment until the hearings have concluded. “We're halfway through this process and neighbours are still commenting on the project on the bill or making contributions to the debate,” a spokeswoman for Roldán Mendez told the Times.

Legal and political challenges

To complicate things further, an appeals court already suspended the sale approved in 2019 (a prerequisite to move forward with the re-zoning), arguing the move could be at odds “with the constitutional proceedings established for the sale of public domain lands.”

The ruling, made known in October, recalled that the Costa Salguero coastal grounds enjoyed “special protection” from the Urban Environmental Plan, made into law in 2008, which calls “for the provision of public use to the public-owned land by the riverbank.”

A month later, the ANAC national civil aviation agency sent an official note to the Rodríguez Larreta administration claiming the Distrito Joven project was “a threat to aviation safety,” due to its proximity to Aeroparque airport.

“Local authorities should be warned about the risk posed to third parties by the building of housing complexes… in areas near the runway headers,” said ANAC.

The City’s Urban Development Minister Álvaro García Resta dismissed the statement as a “technical debate” that will be revised by the experts in charge of the development, suggesting “some obvious political subtext” that comes amid heated exchanges between the national administration of President Alberto Fernández and the Mayor Rodríguez Larreta’s government.

“I’m fairly surprised that the high-ranking government officials who defended the privatisation did not argue in favour of the constitutional nature of the project, taking into account that the issue has been brought up by many and that a recent ruling suspended the sale of these terrains,” said human rights activist Eduardo Jozami.

Urban planning consultant Andrés Borthagaray, who headed the City’s Strategic Planning Council from 2006 to 2014, regretted that the official plan for the area is likely to create a definitive barrier between the City and the river.

“It’s true that the City is in debt, with compromised finances and pressing social priorities, but moving forward with a re-zoning process in order to sell an irreplaceable asset is inadmissible,” Borthagaray said. “There are several other options to allocate investments with the same expected revenues that can be done within the law.”

Public hearings will continue until January 27, but all eyes are now on the second round of voting that will decide the fate of the government-sponsored project. If lawmakers vote the same way they did on October 8, then the government would have enough votes to pass the proposal.

But everything could change if the mayor’s allies UCR-Evolución (nine lawmakers) and the Socialist party (two lawmakers) change their vote in the face of the increasingly mobilised and vocal opposition to the project. Will they? A widely shared viral video from 2018 shows Lousteau criticising Rodríguez Larreta’s policy of selling public assets for cash, months before he joined the ruling party’s coalition.

“Anything Larreta wants, he just buys it. And anything he can sell, in terms of real estate, he just sells it,” Lousteau told TV host Alejandro Fantino. Opponents of rezoning are using the video to prove that his bloc should be opposing the sell off of public assets — and must therefore reconsider their positions.

The former mayoral candidate, now a senator for the Vamos Juntos ruling coalition, is taking a more benevolent view of the project.

“I saw the project, it seems way better of what’s there today,” Lousteau said in a radio interview this month. “It will be up to the lawmakers, and to what happens in the audiences, to settle the matter.”

In the meantime, the public hearings will go on and his name is likely to be a trending topic again.

Passionate porteños flock to public hearings to oppose Costa Salguero plan

More than 7,000 citizens sign up to air views on controversial sale and re-zoning of City-owned land in Costa Salguero.

por Federico Poore

Buenos Aires Times, 19-12-2020 

 


A proposal that would allow the sale and re-zoning of city-owned land on the River Plate is facing severe criticism from residents in Buenos Aires, who have flocked to the public hearings to register their opposition to the bill.

A staggering number of people signed up to have their voices heard by the lawmakers who gave preliminary approval to a initiative by the administration of Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta which allows for the building of blocks of nine-storey apartments by the Rafael Castillo avenue, along with a park just metres away from the world’s widest river.
 

With 7,053 citizens signed up, the hearing scheduled for November 27 — initially regarded as a mere matter of procedure — has turned into a festival of public consultations, with a whopping 29 meetings on the agenda. The sessions will run until the end of January.
 

“The officials responsible for the protection of the environment must ensure that this area can be enjoyed by present and future generations, but this is at loggerheads with the construction of 29-metre-tall buildings,” said architect Ljubita Klein, adding that the proposed construction of a heliport on the nearby coastal grounds of Punta Carrasco would end up displacing native flora and fauna.
 

“Do local lawmakers consider that the creation of a closed neighbourhood of tall buildings does not constitute a barrier to the river?” she asked.
 

Angry defences, measured responses

Public hearings began on the morning of November 27, as City officials shared their own powerpoint slides defending the bill that was given preliminary approval by the City Legislature a month before.

“Our goal is to turn a space which is currently privately operated into a big public park by the river,” said Urban Development Minister Álvaro García Resta. “But in order for people to use it, this space needs to be prepared, it needs to have some kind of infrastructure that invites people to stay.”

García Resta insisted that 74 percent of the area of what is now Costa Salguero will become a public park, while the remaining 26 percent will be left for restaurants, cultural centres, hotels and apartments.

“If many people can get to a park to spend a day outdoors, then that park is a good public space. If many people feel safe in a park because there is movement, lights, then that is a good public space. If many people besides enjoying the green grass enjoy other uses such as cuisine and culture that invites them to stay, that park is a good public space,” the official argued. “Housing and commercial premises give the park a context, they make it a real meeting point.”

Valeria Franck, the head of the Franck-Menichetti architecture firm that won the competition to design the Costa Salguero project, said she felt obliged to defend the initiative after it gained “social media fuzz,” making it clear that the “small built portion” consisted of buildings less than nine stories high.

Other architects were more direct in their defence of the bill.

“Many of the organisations that are calling for action today are doing so based on statements that do not correspond to reality. There was plenty of time to express an opinion, and it was not done. What reason is there to stop progress?” said Carlos Sallaberry, vice-president of the Central Society of Architects. He defied his colleagues opposing the urban development plan (“who now are making pamphlets”) by inviting them for coffee on the coastal grounds once the project is passed.

“When I hear people saying that all have a say regarding the City, what I hear is a big lie,” exclaimed Luis Grossman, from the Estudio Luis & Julio Grossman firm. “We can’t all decide on the City because we’d be living in chaos and anarchy.”

Fabio Quetglas, head of the Master in Cities programme from the University of Buenos Aires, offered a less elegant justification.

“We shouldn't fall to green overspecialisation,” he said. “There's enough green areas in this area of town”

Quetglas, a national lawmaker for the Radical (UCR) party that is allied to Rodríguez Larreta at the City level, said the project may offer porteños “a small window to the river that may widen with time” and that the city neighbours “should see how this works” before complaining.

The debate had gone for a good five-and-a-half hours when Matías Prol, a 21-year-old student, pointed out the lack of young voices of a project that, after all, was part of the so-called ‘Distrito Joven.’

“This is the first intervention by a young person in this hearing,” he said ironically.

Change of plans

The City’s Constitution establishes that any change to the planning code requires a” double reading,” which means that after the first vote the government must hold a public hearing where experts and people with legitimate interests can voice their opinion on the proposed law.

After this non-binding process, the Legislature may proceed with the second and definitive reading before lawmakers.

The original plan laid out by the Rodríguez Larreta administration was to hold the public hearing in November and then pass the bill before the end of the year. But the record number of citizens signing up has shaken the schedule. As days went by, architects, landscape planning experts, biologists, university professors, lawyers, members of NGOs, documentary filmmakers, cyclists, human rights activists, teachers, retirees, and students voiced their concerns.

During her five-minute public testimony, a civil engineer by the name of María Eva Koutsovitis reminded the audience that the capital is one of the metropolises with less public green space per capita in the world and that the City will face increasing floods and heatwaves because of climate change in the future.

“If we learned something from this pandemic is that the city's green spaces are too few. One only needs to walk the streets to get to that conclusion,” said in turn Martín Lemma, an architect specialised in urbanism. “The world has changed after the coronavirus and the Costa Salguero project has not. The renders and visualisations I saw show some interesting possibilities, but they belong to another world, a world that had not experienced what we saw in the last few months.”

Many compared the proposed development to the exclusive Puerto Madero waterfront.

“We already have one Puerto Madero, a neighbourhood where parks are packed with people and restaurants are half-empty,” said Guilad Gonen, a young man from Villa Crespo. “A place where in order to sit down for a mate or to play football with your kids you need to break through a luxurious neighbourhood.”

Gonen lamented that local authorities put an architectural competition out to tender for private practices, instead of bringing up the development resulting from a multidisciplinary approach.

“I mean, what would they propose after all? Erect buildings, of course! They’re architects. That’s what they do. What strikes me as crazy is the fact that this is the only option we have, the only perspective being presented to us,” he added.

At least during the public hearings, those in favour outnumbered those against by around 99 to 1. Anyone switching to the Legislature’s YouTube channel to follow the debates could spend hours before hearing someone actually supporting the project.

The majority of those opposing the development called for the creation of a “huge public park” on that same grounds, considering that the concession of the private firms operating in the area comes to an end in 2021.

Many, in a nod to the recent departure of an Argentine icon, said the park should be called “Diego Armando Maradona.”


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Buenos Aires adapts tentatively to post-pandemic urban living

New public space, pop-up bike lanes and pedestrian-only zones form part of the City's government's plans for the immediate future. But while other global cities are taking bold action during the pandemic, critics say changes in the capital are too few and far between. 

por Federico Poore
Buenos Aires Times, 05-09-2020
 

In the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, cities across the world are adapting their designs to cope with the uncertain future that lies ahead.

With lockdowns greatly reducing the use of roads, local authorities from Berlin to Bogotá have taken advantage by closing streets to cars and opening them to bicycles, while unveiling ambitious plans for the redesign of the urban fabric. As examples of successful urban models from Europe, the United States and even Latin America keep on pouring in, however, a key question emerges: what has Buenos Aires been up to?

“Public space and mobility have been adapted for the progressive return of inhabitants to places of safe encounters,” the City government’s Transport and Public Works Minister Juan José Méndez told the Times. “Public space is being redesigned to ensure egalitarian and safe access to the different activities that take place in Buenos Aires.”

Late last month, the Buenos Aires City government started the construction of “pop-up” bike lanes in the capital’s two major avenues, Córdoba and Corrientes. Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta’s administration says bike use has increased a whopping 114 percent since March as porteños gave up on public transport and cycled to work instead. The trend is clear: authorities expect 500,000 cycling trips to be made in the city next year, compared to about 300,000 in 2019.

“We need to prepare the City for that,” admits Cabinet chief Felipe Miguel.

The move is part of a pilot project that, if made permanent, will add 17 kilometres to the current network of 227 kilometres of bike lanes.

Five months into the lockdown, however, the plan has been criticised as unambitious.

“The very idea of reclaiming public space for people and alternative modes of transportation is a very good one, and the bike lanes plan — although it took some time — is a positive step,” said transport specialist Rafael Skiadaressis. “But other cities have moved faster in implementing more kilometres of pop-up cycleways, even those with extensive bike lanes such as Berlin or Paris.”

This year, the French capital has rolled out 650 kilometres of cycleways — including several pop-up “corona cycleways”— and began offering 50 euros per person for bike repairs, while its German counterpart added new lanes to its preexisting 800 kilometres in line with Berlin’s Mobility Law, which calls to create a bicycle city before 2030 and give more space to car-free transport.

These efforts are far from a privilege of rich urban centres. In March, as the Covid-19 was starting to spread throughout the world, Bogotá added 117 kilometres of cycleways as an alternative to crowded transit, extending its offer to 550 kilometres. The Colombian capital already has 13 bicycle garages located by Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) stations and plans to build 13,000 new bike parking spots by 2027.

Lack of a ‘continued effort’

But the problem does not lie in the extension of the network per se, but rather its connectivity and overall quality. Several users have complained about design problems (dead-ends and bottlenecks), as well as drain covers, potholes and other obstacles that make riding dangerous, which are far from being solved.

Other issues have emerged too. In May, the Asociación de Ciclistas Urbanos (ACU) called for the creation of parking garages for bicycles in public buildings and demanded private credits for the purchase of bicycles. Right now, the public-run Banco Ciudad is offering 12- and 24-installment plans to purchase a unit with a 20 percent surcharge — a downgrade after the more ambitious 50-installment programme that helped sell more than 50,000 new bikes until it came to an end earlier this year.

“The Banco Ciudad programme will continue,” said Méndez, the Transport minister. “We’re working with the grassroots organisations and institutions that conform the Amigos de la Movilidad Sustentable [“Friends of Sustainable Mobility”] programme to help bring more cyclists to the city.”

Every year, the Copenhagenize consultancy firm publishes a list of the world’s most bicycle-friendly cities. In 2015, Buenos Aires ranked in 14th place, ahead of Berlin or Vienna, but it has since been dropped from the top 20. Copenhagenize’s CEO Mikael Colville-Andersen has suggested there is a lack of a “continued effort” on the part of the City government.

More than just bikes

Before the pop-up bike lanes plan, the Rodríguez Larreta administration had already moved on to convert a dozen streets of inner city neighbourhoods into pedestrian commercial zones, including several areas of the historic district in San Telmo as well as the Mercado Juramento and the Chinese neighbourhood in Belgrano. In other parts of Buenos Aires, paint and markings were used to widen sidewalks and indicate social distancing measures.

It’s a start, but local opposition leaders say it’s not enough.

“The lockdown began on March 19, we’re now in September and the measures are coming in dribs and drabs,” Juan Manuel Valdés, a City lawmaker for the Frente de Todos coalition, told the Times. “The City has no comprehensive plan.”

As restaurants and bars take over sidewalks to provide pandemic-safe dining, people with disabilities are also facing new barriers, said Valdés, who chairs the Disability Committee at the City legislature. “How are blind people or people in wheelchairs supposed to move around in these squeezed sidewalks?” he asked.

This week, his demands have been partially addressed: the City government announced a number of interventions aimed at occupying street space in a number of gastronomic and commercial hubs such as San Telmo, Caballito and Villa Devoto. Starting today, the City will open up 38 pedestrian areas, most of them in the wealthy Palermo and Recoleta neighbourhoods, that will help some 1,400 retailers to occupy street space and allow for safer open-air exchanges.

“This new public space should allow social distancing measures to be observed. It must be sustainable, replicable and collaborative,” said Clara Muzzio, the City’s minister of Public Space and Urban Hygiene. “We’re moving towards the scale of the neighbourhood and abandoning the monocentric model.”

Whether these streets will remain as pedestrian and cycle access only will depend on the overall functioning of the areas and its acceptance among citizens, the local government said.

The big picture

In the pre-pandemic world, some 700,000 vehicles entered the City’s boundaries every day, adding to an existing stock of 900,000 particular cars, 10,000 taxis and 37,000 buses. And this was the time when millions in Buenos Aires and its metropolitan area took buses, trains and subways to get to work. Now that it’s been months since public transport has been limited to essential workers, the real risk is that a “return to normality” could reinstate or even worsen already high levels of noise and air pollution, especially if the pandemic drives everyone into their cars.

With this brave new world in mind, mobility and centralities in Buenos Aires should be reinvented. This means that parts of the City’s sustainability agenda should be pushed more aggressively, but it also calls on planners to accept that some of the things that were being done no longer ring true. A lot can be done considering half trips in the city are generally less than five kilometres in length.

“All around the world some very interesting debates are taking place regarding the future of cities. I know that the macroeconomic context leads us to be less ambitious, but we should be able to do more than what’s being done right now and to change some major trends of this administration,” said Valdés.

The opposition lawmaker said the government should revise its long-time plan of selling-off of public spaces, for example, arguing the City has been letting go some precious public lands that could instead be used to build more green public spaces and public equipment.

Two weeks ago, the Rodríguez Larreta administration announced the auction of 1,800 square metres of public lands in the grounds of Tiro Federal shooting range in the northern neighbourhood of Núñez, near River Plate’s Monumental stadium. A major part would be used by private developers to build offices and luxury high-rises — although the future of “agglomeration” economies and co-working spaces in the post-pandemic world is unclear, to say the least.

The City branded the development as part of a larger, state-of-the-art “Innovation Park,” a campus for scientific and technological research. But universities and public agencies were left with less than 20 percent of the space, said Mariano Recalde, a former lawmaker and mayoral candidate who gave up his seat to Valdés last year to be sworn in as senator.

Meanwhile, in a World Economic Forum ranking of global cities with the highest percentage of green space, Buenos Aires is ranked 33 out of 37, behind Guangzhou, Warsaw and Cape Town. Neighbourhoods Almagro and Boedo have only 0.2 m2 of publicly accessible green space per inhabitant.

Good intentions abound, but the steps toward a walkable and liveable city have for some been too timid.

“This is a historic moment when cities can change course,” Janette Sadik-Khan, former transport commissioner for New York city, wrote in a recent report by the National Association of City Transportation Officials. “Empty lanes… form the outline of the future cities we need to build.”

 

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Una ciudad a medida

por Federico Poore
Information Technology, mayo 2020

La empresa Colossal Order tenía poco más que un nombre ambicioso y 13 empleados cuando se lanzó a competir con la franquicia SimCity.
Desde sus oficinas en Tampere, ciudad de 225 mil habitantes al sur de Finlandia, la compañía se lanzó al mercado con Cities in Motion, un juego modesto que le presentaba al usuario diferentes problemas reales de transporte en ciudades como Berlín y Viena. El éxito de esta primera apuesta los llevó a publicar nuevas expansiones para que los jugadores pudieran hacer lo mismo en logradas simulaciones de Londres, Nueva York y San Francisco.
Mientras tanto, la empresa Maxis –subsidiaria de la todopoderosa Electronic Arts– anunciaba con bombos y platillos un reboot de su popular franquicia SimCity. Las expectativas eran grandes, pero resultó un fracaso: la crítica la calificó de “poco convincente” y los problemas de conexión (el juego requería una conexión constante a internet para correr) sellaron su destino.
El calendario marcaba marzo de 2013, y el equipo de Colossal Order recibió luz verde de la distribuidora Paradox Interactive para entrar de lleno a las grandes ligas con su propia versión del simulador de ciudades. El resultado fue Cities: Skylines, un título basado en el motor de juego Unity que ya vendió 6 millones de copias.
Este pequeño gran juego nos pone en la piel de un intendente o alcalde que recibe un pedazo de tierra y un presupuesto para que desarrolle su propia ciudad. Arrancamos conectando nuestra ciudad con la autopista, le sumamos servicios básicos como agua y electricidad, y delineamos nuestro código urbanístico, que no es más que delimitar parcelas y aplicar criterios de zonificación. Al principio la demanda es mayormente residencial, pero a medida que el pueblito se convierta en pueblo y luego en pequeña ciudad sus habitantes comenzarán a pedir industrias y comercios.
Una enorme ventaja con respecto al SimCity 2000, aquel clásico del pixel art noventoso, es que el tránsito no es simplemente un indicador de actividad económica (donde mayor densidad equivale a más puntitos indicando la presencia de muchos autos). Es más: el noventa por ciento de “ganar” el juego es el traffic management. Si a tu comercio no le llegan los bienes, es un problema de tránsito. Si se acumulan los cadáveres en los edificios, es un problema de tránsito. Si se acumula la basura… bueno, ya entienden la idea. En ese sentido, podemos decir que Cities: Skylines es un juego con problemas del siglo XXI, en línea con el fenómeno de los gobiernos locales cada vez más enfocados en temas de movilidad.
Lamentablemente, las herramientas del juego con las que uno termina resolviendo los desafíos de transporte se acercan más al modelo fordista de mediados del siglo XX, donde la congestión se aborda construyendo más carriles. A menudo la forma de solucionar un problema grave de tráfico es tirando abajo un barrio entero y cruzando autopistas de punta a punta, cual Robert Moses en Brooklyn o el brigadier Osvaldo Cacciatore con la 25 de Mayo y la Perito Moreno. Tampoco hay accidentes de tránsito, así que la sensación de impunidad tras llenar la ciudad de autos es total.
Otra prueba de que aún prima la lógica del automóvil particular: las parcelas en las que se nos permite construir deben dar sí o sí a una calzada. Dicho de otra forma, no podemos poner dos casas alejadas entre sí y unidas por una plaza. La única entrada posible al parque es mediante una calle asfaltada. Y si bien disponemos de sendas y puentes peatonales que conectan los pulmones de manzana, el juego no ofrece un modelo de calle peatonal en sentido estricto, como Florida o Reconquista en el microcentro porteño. (Eso sí: todos los anchos de calles y avenidas permiten árboles que reducen la contaminación. El toque eco-friendly.)

Externalidades y barrios hipster

Volviendo a los aciertos del juego, algo que Cities: Skylines incorpora de manera brillante son los efectos de la contaminación (ambiental y sonora) en los seres humanos. ¿Un conjunto de fábricas pegadas a un área residencial? ¿Agua extraída de ríos o pozos contaminados? ¿Un estadio de fútbol frente a un edificio de viviendas? Estas decisiones no son gratuitas. Las externalidades existen, y el resultado –como en la vida real– será un gran número de personas enfermas, una caída en la calidad de vida y una mayor exigencia del sistema sanitario. Afortunadamente para el jugador principiante (mas no para el grado de realismo urbano), para mejorar el nivel de salud de nuestros ciudadanos alcanza con abrir la billetera y plantar hospitales y geriátricos, de la misma forma que la construcción de escuelas y universidades mejora automáticamente el nivel educativo y la instalación de más comisarías alcanza para combatir el crimen, el cual se da (¡ay!) por el alto desempleo y la “baja educación”.
Todo juego, por acción u omisión, supone una mirada ideológica sobre aquello deseable o esperable, y así como LIFE - El juego de la vida terminaba cuando uno se convertía en millonario, queda claro que Cities: Skylines propone un modelo de ciudad como máquina de crecimiento. Se puede triunfar diseñando ciudades más o menos “verdes”, pero no hay forma de avanzar sin llenar nuestra urbe de rascacielos, oficinas y personas con título universitario. La idea de que las zonas (residenciales, comerciales, industriales) requieren un upgrade permanente vuelve a la gentrificación tan deseable como inevitable. Como en Williamsburg o en Kreuzberg, a medida que se incrementa el valor del área hacen su entrada al barrio los jóvenes adultos altamente calificados, sus cafés hipsters y su demanda infinita por entretenimiento de primer nivel. Los convidados de piedra son los desplazados, aquellos residentes originales de bajos ingresos que ya no pueden hacerle frente a los nuevos valores de los alquileres. En el juego, simplemente desaparecen.
Con esto en mente, y a medida que las obras de nuestro imaginario Ministerio de Desarrollo Urbano van ocupando el mapa, ¿qué tipo de ciudad se va desarrollando? Un modelo más bien americano, con rascacielos en el central business district y viviendas unifamiliares aisladas en los suburbios, más parecido al paisaje de Houston que al de Amsterdam. Aquellos que quieran una urbe con mayor sabor europeo deberán ir al menú de estilos en el Content Manager y habilitar específicamente el estilo europeo, donde en las zonas de alta densidad en lugar de torres veremos prolijos conjuntos residenciales de entre seis y ocho pisos, más propios de las grandes ciudades del Viejo Continente.
Desde ya que es casi imposible pedirle al juego que nos permita desarrollar ciudades parecidas a las del sur global, donde habita la mayor población urbana del mundo. Y si bien hubo intentos más que loables por recrear Buenos Aires, con la 9 de Julio, el Obelisco y hasta Puerto Madero, no hay villas o favelas que nos permitan ponernos en la piel de un alcalde latinoamericano o africano.

Una voz desde Finlandia

Es importante señalar que Cities: Skylines no es un formato cerrado ni un paquete definitivo. Sus desarrolladores no solo permiten sino que alientan que los usuarios hagan sus propios mods o modificaciones. A la fecha hay más de 175 mil contenidos creados por jugadores.
“Es imposible nombrar el mejor mod que hemos visto en estos cinco años porque hay muchos que son sencillamente fabulosos”, dice a INFOTECHNOLOGY Emmi Hallikainen, productora de Colossal Order. “El mod Metro Overhaul es una excelente combinación de un código bien trabajado con toques artísticos y fue una gran influencia para que decidiéramos incorporar estaciones de metro elevadas a la versión oficial del juego”. También recomienda un mod llamado Traffic Manager: President Edition que habilita infinidad de opciones para semáforos, cambios carriles y hasta límites de velocidad.
Desde Tampere, donde la temperatura promedio en invierno es de 7 grados bajo cero, Hallikainen revela que ninguna de las personas del equipo de programadores tiene una formación en estudios urbanos ni leyó las obras de David Harvey o Jane Jacobs. “Su background es más bien haber jugado un montón de juegos de simulación y estrategia,” dice. Muchos, en cambio, tienen estudios en Tecnologías de la Información.
Una última gran deuda del juego es la ausencia de edificios de usos mixtos. En Cities: Skylines lo que obtenemos es una tajante zonificación por uso del suelo. La zona es residencial o es comercial. Es industrial o es de oficinas. Pero no puede ser más de una a la vez. Esto va a contramano no solo con las tendencias del nuevo urbanismo, que alienta los usos mixtos, sino con la realidad de muchísimas ciudades donde los edificios de viviendas tienen en la planta baja un local a la calle, algo que por ahora no se puede experimentar en la simulación. “Es una característica muy deseada, pero de momento no la estamos desarrollando”, se excusa Hallikainen.
La ciudad que armo mientras termino de escribir esta nota tiene 67 mil habitantes, dos líneas de subte y un aspecto bien compacto. Está atravesada por un río y casi no tiene industrias. Al costado de la pantalla, por una de las calles laterales, veo caminar un muñequito. Hago clic en el pin que me permite seguirlo a ver qué hace. El juego me indica que es Stephen Scott, un adulto joven que trabaja en Superb Strategy Games y que ahora está yendo al shopping. Stephen Scott se acaba de bajar de un autobús (una línea que inventé: qué orgullo) y empieza a caminar mientras cae el sol en la ciudad. Me entusiasmo con la idea del centro de monitoreo y comienzo a observar panópticamente a los demás habitantes, orgulloso del pedacito de tierra que gobierno.

Constitutional reform awaits in Chile after the lockdown

por Federico Poore
The Essential, 23-04-2020

Were it not for the coronavirus pandemic, Chile would be launching a constitutional reform process this weekend, after six months of protests calling for the radical change of a political and economic system that was not long ago seen as the darling of the continent.

The plebiscite to reform the constitution, originally scheduled for April 26, was seen as highly likely to pass, as conservative President Sebastián Piñera struggled with rock-bottom approval ratings that have only slightly improved since the COVID-19 pandemic.

But thirst for reform has in all likelihood merely hit a pause. The energy of the protests is now focused on the new constitution, and the biggest political story of the continent last year will return to the forefront as soon as public health allows.

From protests to reform
It took a global pandemic to take protesters off Chile’s streets

Had it not been for the health catastrophe that threatens to claim the lives of millions around the world, hundreds of thousands of marchers would have kept staging events like the last one of notice, the March 8 mobilization that marked the largest women's demonstration in the country's history.

The demonstrations first broke out on October 18, when high school students began to jump barriers in groups following a fare rise which put Santiago’s metro among the most expensive in Latin America. The mass fare-dodging quickly expanded into city-wide protests leading to violent clashes between protesters and police. Meanwhile, Piñera was spotted at an elegant pizza restaurant, only enhancing the image of an out-of-touch elite that did not understand everyday realities.

Protests rapidly escalated. More than a million people took it to the streets, bringing workplaces to a halt, and a new demand eventually unified the movement: a call to overhaul the country’s constitution, widely regarded as the embodiment of Augusto Pinochet’s neoconservative model.

Last November, Congress agreed to a referendum on replacing the constitution, hoping that the move could help end weeks of political unrest. Originally called for this week, the plebiscite now has been penciled for October 25.

An illegitimate origin
“The 1980 Constitution brought some new elements tied to its authoritarian and illegitimate origin,” former presidential candidate Marco Enríquez-Ominami told The Essential. “It defines the State as centralized and unitarian and introduces the concept of a subsidiary State, which allows it to intervene only where the market cannot provide the good or service.”

Pinochet finally stepped down after losing a 1988 plebiscite on his rule. Official estimates say more than 3,000 Chileans were killed by his military government. Many observers from that period said the country's transition from Pinochet’s rule to civilian government had been remarkably smooth. Others pointed out that the dictatorship had implanted several structures that could later limit the transition to full democracy — something like a “guardian democracy.”

According to public law expert Felix-Anselm van Lier, the constitution constructed solid legal dykes that cemented the regime’s socio-economic and political vision beyond the end of the dictatorship. The so-called “binomial” electoral system ended up creating a two-party model dominated by centre-left and centre-right coalitions, effectively excluding minority parties from political participation. (This system was abandoned in 2015 and replaced by a more moderate political representation scheme.) There were also a number of supra-majoritarian requirements for the amendment of the “organic constitutional laws,” which dealt with issues like the education system and the conservative Constitutional Court.

“Pinochet’s constitution established a number of ‘counter-majoritarian’ mechanisms that made it very difficult to amend,” political analyst Ernesto Águila, an academic from the University of Chile, told The Essential. “That is why many people here refer to it as a constitución tramposa (‘tricky’ or ‘crooked’). This is what exploded on the 18th of October.”

What could change
Águila believes the new constitution will surely be more “neutral” in economic terms, leaving more room for the people to decide how to run the country’s health and education systems. “But it cannot be neutral in terms of social and human rights,” he warns. “It must address the issue of regionalization — Chile is a very unitarian state — and the political participation of indigenous communities, especially the Mapuche.”

Tomás Duval, a professor at the Autonomous University of Chile, believes the new text should address a number of important political and social demands. “The former could be addressed by introducing some sort of semi-presidentialism, and the latter by enshrining the state role in terms of health and pensions,” he said.

For Enríquez-Ominami, other main amendments should include education and housing rights as well as an overhaul of the Code of Waters and the Code of Mining. Some of these proposals could include charging for the use of water for large-scale mining and other policy responses to serious tensions and conflict emerging around natural resources.

Chileans will decide whether they want a new constitution and if they do, whether the body that draws up the new document should be a popularly elected assembly or one mixed with current lawmakers. Latest polls showed that some three quarters of citizens do want a new draft and that the majority favored a popular assembly — yet another sign of distrust of the country’s political elite.

A messy schedule


But not everyone agrees with this direction.

“Chile is about to make a huge mistake,” wrote Patricio Navia, a political scientist who teaches at New York University. The expert claimed that the electoral calendar will get in the way of reform, saying the constitutional convention will be drafting the new text at the same time as the new presidential election cycle is unfolding. “It is difficult to imagine that the two processes will not adversely influence each other. Presidential candidates will be actively opining on the issues being discussed by the constitutional convention and the convention will inevitably react to voter intention polls for the presidential election,” he said in an article published by Americas Quarterly.

Navia argued that while drafting a whole new constitution might correct the illegitimacy of origin of the current one, the two-year calendar that the change will entail will be too much of an effort. “Indeed, it may simply end in frustrated expectations – and cause society to become even angrier,” he said.

With the added uncertainty of the pandemic, the schedule could get even messier. The October 25 date set tentatively by lawmakers still needs the approval of two-thirds of congress in a formal vote.

“Should a Yes vote prevail, there will be a two-year-long discussion and we may have a problem with the dates, electing a new president with the current rules while at the same time changing the constitution. And the coronavirus pandemic will surely play a role in this process,” Duval agrees. “But I still believe a new text could represent an important social and political pact for the country.”

Are protests ending the ‘Chilean model’ hegemony?


por Federico Poore
The Essential, 06-02-2020

The protests in Chile have continued for more than 100 days. What began with student demonstrations against a now-rescinded subway fare hike soon spread to encompass general discontent over high costs of living, privatization and inequality in the country led by center-right president Sebastián Piñera.

For months, hundreds of thousands of Chileans have been taking the streets. Protesters seized, vandalized and burned down 17 metro stations in Santiago as Piñera announced a state of emergency and declared martial law. Local and international media reported that the army and the Carabineros national police were systematically blinding protesters by shooting lead pellets into their faces, among other acts of police brutality. At least 27 people were killed as demonstrators continue to demand changes in pensions, education and health care while calling for a constitutional assembly.
The Chilean model

As in many other parts of the region, social tension emerged as the counterpart to unsatisfied social demands. But the unflinching nature of the protests was still a shock to most of Chile’s political and economic elites. Despite years of a growing undercurrent of discontent, trust in the regionally-famous “Chilean model” was still high until not long ago, at least among decision-makers, with center-right leaders elsewhere in the continent also using it as an example of what their countries should be striving for.

So what exactly is the Chilean economic model, how did it become so influential, and why is it now losing its hegemony?

If we adopt the definition by Rafael Rincón-Urdaneta Zerpa, director of Strategy and Global Affairs at the free-market think-tank Fundación para el Progreso, the Chilean model is the economic organization that resulted after the military government of Augusto Pinochet, featuring a combo of economic openness, deregulation of prices, a number of privatizations and an independent Central Bank.

More interestingly, the model was adopted and continued to be implemented after the dictatorship by two decades of a Socialist Party / Christian Democrat coalition known as the Concertación, who didn’t question many of its central tenets. “The implicit assumption is that the political and economic system has mechanisms and methods that allow for permanent adjustments and corrections,” Rincón-Urdaneta Zerpa explained in 2012.

But then things got out of control.

A violent birth

Although radical left questioning of the system was unthinkable during the heyday of the Chilean model, that had actually been the norm a few years before.

In 1970, Salvador Allende became the first president with a Marxist program to be elected in a non-Communist country. According to Richard Gott, a former Latin America correspondent for The Guardian, he was “the man who offered a peaceful road to socialism in Latin America as opposed to the path of armed struggle advocated by Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara and his followers.”

Allende famously nationalized the foreign-owned copper industry, a move that had begun during the Christian Democratic government of Eduardo Frei, which had also overseen significant land redistribution initiatives. Allende went even further, moving forward with the nationalization of banking and credit and an even wider land reform as well.

Allende’s reforms were met with two distinct sources of trouble. One was political resistance, both at home and abroad. Richard Nixon’s government saw them as an attack on US interests, and launched an economic blockade that was joined by international organizations such as the Inter-American Development Bank and the World Bank, with orders to “make the economy scream”. At home, meanwhile, middle and upper-middle class neighborhoods gave birth to the modern cacerolazos, a protest tactic consisting of clanging pots and pans.

But the leftist government was also facing economic problems of its own. A massive stimulus package on the first year of Allende’s government helped bring strong growth initially, but the combination of low copper prices, deficit spending leading to skyrocketing inflation, and price controls that gave way to shortages of basic goods meant the good times did not last for long. The government quickly lost the political center, with many eventually supporting its violent overthrow.

On September 11, 1973, the armed forces led by General Pinochet brutally seized the government and bombed La Moneda, the presidential palace, where Allende committed suicide. (The tumultuous events that led to Allende’s downfall are well documented in Patricio Guzmán’s landmark film The Battle of Chile.) Economically, Pinochet turned to the pro-market right for ideas, and found them in the Chicago School of Economics, whose global influence was barely starting to grow.

The “Chicago Boys”

Students from Milton Friedman’s Chicago School, known as the Chicago Boys, were now launching radical reforms in the opposite direction, which would then spread from Chile to others in Latin America and even Europe and the United States, historians across the political spectrum agree.

“Friedman advised Pinochet to impose a rapid-fire transformation of the economy—tax cuts, free trade, privatized services, cuts to social spending and deregulation. Eventually, Chileans even saw their public schools replaced with voucher-funded private ones. It was the most extreme capitalist makeover ever attempted anywhere, and it became known as a ‘Chicago School’ revolution, since so many of Pinochet’s economists had studied under Friedman at the University of Chicago,” Canadian author and social activist Naomi Klein wrote in her best-selling book The Shock Doctrine, perhaps the most popular English-language critique of Chile’s economic reforms.

The changes were in fact radical. José Piñera, elder brother of the now-president, imposed a retirement system based on private personal accounts, known as the AFP system. Economy minister Sergio de Castro cut public spending by 27 percent in one blow, with health and education taking the heaviest hits. By the end of the decade, it had more than halved.

Inflation ended up declining from 1975 onwards, but the economy continued to suffer traumatic episodes. Unemployment—only at 3 percent under Allende—reached 20 percent, a rate globally unheard of at the time. In 1982, a run against Chile’s now highly deregulated banking sector and a massive debt crisis cost many of Chile’s “Chicago Boys” their positions.

But by the second-half of the 80s, however, the economy was stable and growing at impressively strong yearly rates. Poverty was still high and inequality had increased massively, but a market-friendly consensus was starting to emerge, and would continue after the restoration of democracy in 1990, even if some of the most extreme aspects of the Chicago years were adjusted.

Free market hegemony

During the 1990s, the Chilean model of development took the center-stage of discussions in financial institutions, academics and policy makers. R. L. Chawla, an associate professor at the Center for American and West European Studies, said the country had adopted a sustained free market ideology (at least for a longer time than other Latin American countries like Argentina or Brazil) and pursued a policy of keeping open access “to as many regional trading blocs as possible.” It also implemented a privatization program that achieved many objectives, including the financing of infrastructure and a reduction of its fiscal deficit while also creating a social fund.

But this generally pro-market scheme also included a key heterodox feature. “Unlike the major Latin American countries, which have given free reign to capital inflows, Chile imposed taxes on short time capital inflows and also reserves requirement on foreign investment inflows,” Chawla said.

Chile’s centrist governments also slowly introduced some poverty alleviating measures, which eventually showed results in terms of inequality. Some interesting statistics commissioned by local economist Óscar Landerretche show how, throughout the 1990s, growth continued to be very strong but income distribution also eventually improved, as opposed to the dictatorship years.

“Chile indeed had a remarkably good record of growth, and while in the 1960-70s it was in the middle of the Latin American league by GDP per capita, it is now the richest Latin American country. It was of course helped too by high prices for its main export commodity, copper, but the success in growth is incontestable,” wrote Branko Milanović, visiting professor at the Graduate Center of New York University.

Four governments of the Concertación (a coalition of Christian Democrats and Socialists, although with a much more moderate program than in the 70s) took turns to rule the country and in 2010 Chile was accepted as a member of the OECD, a club of developed countries. It was the first South American nation to get access to it.

By the turn of the century, the influence of the Chilean model became undeniable. “For years I’ve been championing Chile as an example,” former Argentine president Mauricio Macri said in 2008. He would repeat his praise in 2015, after meeting with Socialist president Michelle Bachelet, and last year during a panel with Piñera. Brazil’s Economy minister Paulo Guedes, an alumni of the University of Chicago, is widely seen as an “admirer” of the economic reforms pushed by the Southern Cone nation, and is especially fond of the dramatic overhaul of its pension system.

Cracks in the model

But Chile’s development model was also showing some cracks. And its most visible face was arguably the country’s education model.

Since 1981, the country has adopted one of the most radically pro market education reforms. In primary and secondary education, the reform included the creation of a voucher-like mechanism as the single state funding system for schools, forcing all schools –both private and public– to compete among them to enroll students. According to education experts, this model has led to significant problems of academic sorting and socioeconomic segregation “by prohibiting disadvantaged students from accessing the highest quality voucher schools”. Chile has the lowest level of social inclusion in their school among OECD countries.

“Education in this country is treated as an expensive commodity,” Chilean economist and former presidential candidate Marcel Claude told The Essential. “And to deal with that, the youth and their families have turned to loans and bank credits, which compound the brutality of the situation.”

Claude, who worked at the Central Bank and ran as an independent in the 2013 elections, said education had become “mercantilized” through a growing number of private institutions that compete against each other in a cost-cutting race to the bottom. “We are in the worst of worlds: costly education and of a very poor quality,” he said.

A series of major student protests erupted in 2006 after a new increase in fees for the university admissions test (PSU). The demonstrations, known as “The March of the Penguins” after the students’ uniform, marked the first political crisis of center-left President Bachelet. Two years later, the Chilean congress passed an update to the national voucher policy, the Ley de Subvención Preferencial (SEP), which introduced an incentive for private schools to enroll poorer students.

A second wake-up call was the 2011 crisis, a new wave of student-led protests demanding a new framework for education in the country. Piñera, who had taken office a year earlier, responded by making some minor concessions but insisted that the state could not provide education for all. By that time, Chile had 3.5 million students (1 million attending university) who got into debt to pay for their studies, with monthly payments similar to mortgage-style amortization systems.

Last decade, hundreds of thousands of citizens protested in Santiago against the private pension system. Projections by the OECD suggest that the average Chilean earner will get less than 40 percent of their final salary in old age. Many Chileans try to improve their situations through exhausting work schedules, which resulted in Chile having the longest working weeks in the world. Several Chileans live with high levels of debt and end up paying more for higher education or health care than their rich counterparts who can pay in full.

Professor Milanović illustrates the problem with a comparison. “In 2015, its level of income inequality was higher than in any other Latin American country except for Colombia and Honduras. It exceeded even Brazil’s proverbially high inequality. The bottom 5 percent of the Chilean population have an income level that is about the same as that of the bottom 5 percent in Mongolia. The top 2 percent enjoy the income level equivalent to that of the top 2 percent in Germany. Dortmund and poor suburbs of Ulan Bataar were thus brought together,” he said.

In 2018, the OECD urged Chile to up its game in several critical areas, saying the country needed to take steps to improve access to quality jobs and reduce high levels of inequality. The organization’s secretary general Angel Gurría said improving the education system was vital to the goal of diversifying Chile’s commodity export-dependent economy.

Francisco Castañeda, an academic at Universidad de Santiago de Chile, said the population was eager “to access more public services, to improve their quality of life and to feel that the country belongs to them as well”. Castañeda explained that the economic model worked in terms of creating growth, but that it had generated “high expectations” that would need to be met.

“The problem is not with macroeconomics, that is the country’s strength,” said Castañeda. “The Chilean model works in terms of growth, but it is not efficient in terms of distribution. Income distribution will always be a problem because the market inexorably amplifies inequities.”

For the hundreds of thousands of protesting Chileans, that trade-off is evidently not good enough.