Buenos Aires - Lively, Vigorous and People Friendly
From a rough beginning in 1536, when Pedro de Mendoza arrived with 1600 hopeful colonists who soon died of various deprivations, Buenos Aires has survived and flourished.
By 1776, the city had grown to 12,000 inhabitants and was declared the capital of the Spanish Viceroyalty of the Rio de la Plata. In 1810, the Viceroyalty declared independence but then spent the next 50 years fighting civil wars. By 1880, the government had stabilized, Buenos Aires had been declared the Capital Federal of Argentina, and the city was prospering and growing at an astounding rate. European immigrants, primarily from Italy, caused the population to surge and by 1900, nearly one million people called Buenos Aires home.
Beginning in 1880, the city experienced a regeneration as large areas were razed and stately edifices were erected along a newly created grid of streets and avenues.
Mobility was provided by trams and buses and, in 1913, the Subterraneo, the first subway in Latin America, began operation. This original line is still in regular use with nicely refurbished stations, but newer equipment. In recent years, the system has been expanded as the city grew.
During this time, the wealth of the city's elite was unparalled and the middle class enjoyed a standard of living that exceeded that of many European city dwellers. At the same time, the working class folks lived in squalor and poverty.
By 1945, this period of development came to an end as income inequality along with political turmoil and instability caused an economic crisis, followed by military dictatorship. In 2001, massive debt and grinding recession, currency devaluation and bank failures took their toll on the city. But Buenos Aires (BA) survived all this and today, the city we called home for a while is a vital, apparently prosperous, lively, vigorous, functional, People Friendly place.
BA's physical setting was reminiscent of Chicago with the waterfront (the Rio Plata) to the east and the city spreading out in a vast arc on the other three sides. The physical form of the parts of the city we explored was quite pleasing and efficient. The architecture was an eclectic fusion of older Italianate, Spanish colonial, and Neoclassical and even art nouveau....
...interspersed with plenty of four to eight story buildings of all ages with shops on the ground floor and residences above, and
.... glass walled more modern high rise buildings.
One of our favorites was the 1880s era 'Casa de Agua', that housed the tanks for the city's water supply for many years.
Walking along any calle or avenida, an extraordinary array of large, small and micro shops thrived. Bakeries and book sellers, fruta y verdura mercados, and locutorio/Internet shops alternated with shops selling home furnishings, electrical supplies and tires. This city has quite nicely attained "mixed use", that elusive land use form that is so highly valued by urbanists and so difficult to achieve in new, planned developments, especially those in the US!
We found that a few large glitzy gallerias and malls did exist, but that the smaller shops were apparently competing quite well.
We learned that the big box stores were present, but out on the far edges of the city.
Cafe culture was exceptionally well developed here - Portenos have a highly developed appreciation for cafes and bars and the really historic ones that were established many years ago are especially treasured. These establishments, with their professional waiters, welcoming, efficient and neatly dressed, offered an array of food and drink available from early morning to late night in an atmosphere that exuded comfort and charm.
In addition to walking and bicycling, mobility alternatives to automobile travel included the Subte (subway), numerous buses traveling well planned routes on short headways, and regional trains.
The Subte lines followed the city's development spreading from the city centre generally westward like the tines of a fork, thereby offering thousands of Portenos the mobility they need and a viable alternative to driving.
The bus system was extremely comprehensive, but it took a bit of study to understand how to find the right route to travel to a destination and back. A past decision to make most main thoroughfares one-way creates the challenge for bus riders in that the bus going in one direction will not be returning on the same street, but rather on a nearby parallel one.
Bus riders were mostly very polite, forming a queue to wait for the bus and boarding in a very orderly manner. The bus fares were paid in monedas (coins), which were inserted into a machine that dispensed tickets and change. The riders would tell the driver their destination; the driver then pushed a button so that the required fare was shown on the fare machine. Riders were very determined to pay their fare - even on very crowded buses, when they could not reach the machine they would pass their coins to another rider standing near the machine.
Regional trains served the farther suburbs, departing from the the classic stations downtown.
Bicycling is not well developed. Riders were mostly consigned to streets as there were few bikeways, but streetside parking was severely limited thereby leaving more room for all traffic. We also learned that more bikeways were planned (picture of one we did find is below).
In some places, the pedestrian environment suffered due to broken or badly repaired sidewalk pavement and dog poo ....
...but in most areas, sidewalks were in good condition, with street trees providing welcome shade, so that overall, walking was quite a pleasure.
Connections to the natural world were offered residents in an abundance of parques and green spaces, from street medians to neighbor parques to larger parques with great old trees, benches, paths, sculpture and monuments.
We have Charles Thays, a French botanist and landscape architect, to thank for this. Thays traveled to South America in the 1880s to study the rich flora and was inspired by the continent's numerous tree species. In 1890, he was appointed director of parks and gardens in Buenos Aires where he immediately went to work transforming paved plazas into plazas verdes, which have been preserved and enhanced through the years. Our only observation was that the parques were not evenly distributed throughout the city, with most in the nicer neighborhoods near the Rio de la Plata.">
The city offered a high level of public safety, clean drinking water, dependable electric service and frequent garbage pick up. Air quality was good most days, too.
Our overall evaluation was that Buenos Aires was a highly People Friendly City and that living here would be pleasant, fun, culturally rich and also affordable. We urge you to visit and see for yourself
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