(ATR) Even amid a daunting financial crisis, Buenos Aires says hosting the Youth Olympic Games shows a vision for a more active city that is well invested in the long term.
3x3 basketball at the YOG Urban Park (ATR)
But is that actually the case?
The 2018 Youth Olympic Games were hailed by organizers and politicians as a shift in the way the Olympic Games could be staged. Buenos Aires used three parks spread out across the city with free entry to drum up enthusiasm for the Games. It was so successful that the Argentina Olympic Committee is exploring the possibility of Buenos Aires hosting events for either the 2026 Winter Olympics or the 2032 Summer Olympics.
A modified sport program brought new events into the Olympic family, and sport officials consistently touted the event as a laboratory for future events at the Olympic Games. Over one million people went to the Games’ opening ceremony in downtown, or enjoyed an open air “deconstructed” park.
Events were staged in different areas of the city, with two of the parks on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, where the city stops and the greater Buenos Aires Province begins.
Political Will for Lasting Legacy
Diego Santilli, Deputy Mayor of Buenos Aires, said in a interview with Around the Rings
that the biggest beneficiary of the Games was the southern part of the city where the Olympic Park had been held.
Also benefiting from the project was the current administration, which showed it is “capable of carrying out long-term projects with quality and thinking about the welfare of the people”.
“For us, it was a huge challenge to make these Olympic Games because for Argentines it is a paradigm shift; we are a country that is used to thinking in the short term and this organization took five years,” Santilli said. “They are enduring public policies, no matter that in the middle there are changes of government.”
Convincing the Buenos Aires population to embrace exercise and physical activity is one of the main goals from the current administration of Hector Laretta, the city’s mayor. Santilli said that Buenos Aires was the only city in Latin America, of six total, to be recognized during the Olympism in Action Forum held before the YOG for its “Ciudad Activa” program.
Diego Santilli, right, with Buenos Aires Mayor Hector Larreta, center, at the 2018 YOG (Diego Santilli/Twitter)
Bike paths continue to be built to accommodate the new bike share program, which the city of Buenos Aires made free of charge for its citizens. In many public parks, exercise equipment was installed to encourage more activity.
Work now begins to retrofit the Youth Olympic Village, which will become affordable housing in the Villa Soldati neighborhood of Buenos Aires. The area also received new infrastructure to better connect the roads in the area, a second housing development, and a cargo transit center according to Santilli.
Village apartments will be allocated in a quota system to families “who until now could not have access to a home” at a below market rate. Santilli says that more than 1,000 homes will come from the village, and another housing project is in the works.
Larreta’s administration has sought to downplay concerns that the new housing units could end up raising prices in other areas of the southern part of the city through the influx of new developments. Santilli said that “the area needs to encourage development, because historically” it had been delayed by Buenos Aires. The city says that any development will encourage business growth in nearby neighborhoods “[integrating it] with the rest of the neighborhoods of the city”.
Buenos Aires Must Overcome History
Daniel García Delgado, a political scientist in the Department of Public Policies and Studies at The Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences, told ATR
, that many of the successes touted by the Larreta administration are “attempts to reaffirm some management successes” in a negative political and economic climate.
“The history of urban planning in Buenos Aires is short with some successes,” Delgado said.
Those successes started at the beginning of the 1900s with an urban design of Buenos Aires that centered around defined neighborhoods with public squares and park space. Buenos Aires expanded outward from the La Plata River, which formed a port and natural border. That port drew waves of immigrants to the city, leading to sustained growth until the 1960s that necessitated urban planning.
High rises in Puerto Madero (ATR)
The port area became the site of the Puerto Madero neighborhood, the site of the YOG Urban Park, which brought modern skyscrapers and another example of a successful era of urban planning, Delgado said.
Placing YOG venues near the outskirts of city brought attention to the fact that Buenos Aires continues to lack links to its greater metropolitan area in Buenos Aires province. The city itself is home to just over 2.8 million people, but the province is home to more than 16.6 million.
Two of the YOG Parks, the Olympic Park and Technopolis Park, were located near General Paz Avenue, which serves as the border of the city. The large highway clearly showed investment by the city on one side and the lack thereof by the Province on the other side.
Some efforts have been made to link the city to the province, Delgado says, but “initiatives are still far from solving the transport, connectivity and health problems of the metropolitan area”.
Urbanization Needed to Move Forward
The Olympic Village, which will become housing, in the background of the YOG Closing Ceremony (ATR)
Buenos Aires still has a housing deficit of around 100,000 units, Delgado estimates, and the apartments born out of the Youth Olympic Village represent a strategic shift of thinking of how to address this issue. Traditionally, the city administration of Mauricio Macri, the previous mayor and now President of Argentina, and now Larreta focused on high-end real estate and privatization of public lands to be converted to real estate.
Larreta’s administration has also begun urbanizing Villa 31, the city’s largest favela, another advance in urban policy to go along with the urbanization post-YOG. Still, concerns remain with how the new apartments are being administered.
“It is beneficial that these homes are delivered according to the needs of the people, however, there have been some criticisms and doubts about the level of transparency of the award criteria that will be used,” Delgado said.
Work remains for the political leadership of Buenos Aires to not squander the opportunities presented by urbanization. The Olympic Park is undergoing renovation to become a high performance training center for athletes, which will also include a hotel athletes can stay in when visiting and a full-time school. There is also no time to lose in moving families into the new apartments.
“The Olympic legacy at Villa Soldati is not a specific project, but is part of a comprehensive plan that we have been implementing for a long time and aims to develop the area,” Santilli said. “We did something similar in Parque Patricios, for example, which was another very similar success story.”
Written by Aaron Bauer
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