Making the City. Unsustainable Tendencies in Mendoza, Argentina. How Gated Communities Put the Province at Risk

The city of Mendoza is in a 100-year old artificial oasis protected by an extensive tree cover, which filters the sunlight as it shines down onto the streets and sidewalks. It is home to trees whose leaves of many colors intermingle, creating a warm natural environment and pleasant sounds when wind passes through the foliage.

Calles arboladas de la ciudad de Mendoza- Fuente: http://www.chacrasdemendoza.com.ar/
Mendoza. Source: http://www.chacrasdemendoza.com.ar/

Traveling those tree-covered streets is truly an indescribable sensation, with the city’s particular architecture and low-density housing helping to give the province of Mendoza a unique identity within Argentina. Identity. This is a term we will use later on, but think about what comes to mind when we talk about identity in terms of a city.

How was this oasis created in the middle of the desert?

It has to do with one of the most important works of engineering in the whole country. Water is brought into the city via 5 rivers that pass through the mountains, with the largest amount of water gathered in spring and summer, due to the melting of snow. A system of man-made canals collects this fresh-water runoff, bringing it to the city to be used in forestry, the generation of energy, agriculture, and for civic purposes. The Northen Oasis and the Uco Valley are fed by the Mendoza and Tunuyan rivers, while the Southern Oasis is supplied by the Diamante and Atuel rivers. These rivers and oasis constitute only 2.5% of the total surface area within Mendoza, with the rest being desert. On average, Mendoza receives only 250mm of precipitation annually.

Mendoza, without controls.

We have seen that Mendoza was engineered to be a fertile, productive zone which is different than what is perceived today when visiting greater-Mendoza. The widespread gated-neighborhoods throughout the whole province and the restriction of public access to certain streets in greater-Mendoza should worry everyone who calls Mendoza home. Not only because of the loss of its cultural heritage which contribute to its identity, but also because of the lifestyle changes and the modern day dependence on cars for transportation. What I witnessed in Mendoza was so unsettling, that I stopped to take a picture of how public spaces are being closed – as if this was something normal. What worsens the situation is that there is now a law, which could put a stop to the current chaos the city is living, which after 6 years continues to not have been put into practice (since May 5th 2009) on a local level within the province.

Imagen tomada en calle San Martín, Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza en Julio del 2015
Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza (2015)

The problems created by Gated communities in Mendoza are out of control, and many authors have been describing this phenomenon, which in the end affects all citizens. Alberto Molina, in his book “Como una gran pecera” (Like a big fish tank), analyzes the politics of gated neighborhoods describing the phenomena of “privatization of citizenship” and raises interesting questions that we should respond to collectively.

(…) Do we live better gated up in private neighborhoods and condominiums? What has caused many modern city dwellers to modify the way of life in their cities? Is it perhaps, the fear of the rest of society, the desire to be different, or just a global fashion? Are we switching from a model of open cities, with public spaces, to a closed model?” [1] Original text: “(…) ¿Vivimos mejor encerrados en un barrio privado, en un condominio cerrado? ¿Qué ha llevado a muchos ciudadanos de las urbes modernas a modificar el modo de habitar sus propias ciudades? ¿Es acaso el miedo a los demás, el deseo de distinción o una moda global? ¿Estamos transitando de un modelo de ciudad abierta, con espacios públicos, a una suma de urbanizaciones cerradas?(…)”[1]

By 2011, politicians were starting to make their voices heard in this debate, like Vicente Abate. Abate, as the then director of the Provincial Environmental and Urban Development Council, he affirmed in 2010 that there were a total of 180 gated neighborhoods. Just one year later, there were more than 300. Both Abate and Juan Carlos Varela, Director of Catastro admitted that this is a complicated matter due to the current legal void regarding the situation. [2].

What is being done today to resolve this problem?

The University of UNCUYO, under the title “La Década Loteada” (The Divided Decade), is mapping private neighborhoods and is making a timeline animation which follows the growth of these gated developments. Furthermore, they are working in collaboration with land-management experts who coincide with UNCUYO regarding the URGENCY of regulating these uncontrolled urbanizations within Mendoza.

Mapa Interactivo de Barrios Privados en Mendoza Fuente: http://www.unidiversidad.com.ar/ladecadaloteada
Interactive map of Gate Communities in Mendoza Source: http://www.unidiversidad.com.ar/ladecadaloteada

 

Climate Change

desertificacion_1000_750
The oasis may disappear. Source: http://www.unidiversidad.com.ar/cache_2/desertificacion_1000_750.jpg

Climate change is not something foreign to us; rather, it is part of our everyday lives, and if we keep consuming natural resources at the current rate, creating extensive low-density, gated-communities, destroying fertile land for further developments, and increasing the consumption of energy (or in other words, what is being done right now), this oasis could disappear. Local climates are becoming more intense. Mendoza, according to Canziani, PhD of Physical Sciences and investigator at CONICET, is a susceptible region with very limited amounts of water, which is exacerbated by the fact that it has important and constant agricultural activities. “Grape growing, fruit growing, and olive growing could be impacted, given that they are long-term in nature.” [Original text: ““La vitivinicultura, la fruticultura y la olivicultura pueden ser impactadas, ya que son de largo plazo.”]

I agree with what Canziani emphasizes, which is that one of the problems most often repeated in Latin American cities is the lack of planning into the future and strategic anticipation, i.e., having a plan B. It is necessary to plan ahead, to confront the consequences of the process of climate change. In this sense, and in the case of Mendoza, he pointed out the importance of clearly defining the availability of water, and the need to ration its use not only for domestic consumption, but for agricultural irrigation and industrial use.

Final conclusions

Progressing into the future, Latin American cities like Mendoza need to undertake forward-looking studies and engage in strategic anticipation, taking into account the interests of all citizens and thereby stressing the importance of tools like CITIZEN PARTICIPATION, to define the way of “Making the City”, which is a way of promoting local development while integrating the whole community.

The problems of insecurity are not solved by merely living in a gated neighborhood. We can ask ourselves: could it be the promoters of private neighborhoods who want to make us believe that we’re safer living enclosed in communities, with which we don’t share the same beliefs/convictions? Or is it the state that should work for a safer city for everyone, inclusive and integrative?

Are there gated or private neighborhoods in your city? What are they like? Tell us!

[1] Molina, Alberto C.; (2013): Como una gran pecera: Urbanizaciones cerradas, ciudadanía y subjetivación política en el Gran Mendoza . Mendoza, Ediunc, 120 págs.

[2] Fuente: Diario Uno, Noviembre 2011 http://www.diariouno.com.ar/mendoza/En-un-ao-casi-se-duplico-la-cantidad-de-barrios-privados-en-Mendoza-20111117-0078.html17/11/2011

[3] Director del Equipo Interdisciplinario para el Estudio de Procesos Atmosféricos en el Cambio Global (PEPACG). http://archivo.losandes.com.ar/notas/2010/10/17/impacto-cambio-climatico-mendoza-521477.asp

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