Deteriorating public spaces in Buenos Aires crisis of values

By Ro Marti  |  Jan. 7, 2013 at 5:12 PM
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BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (GPI)-- Susana Gómez takes her 4-year-old to nursery school every weekday morning in San Telmo, one of the the oldest neighborhoods in Buenos Aires, Argentina’s capital. But she says the walk is never easy because of the broken sidewalks and hazardous public repairs. “It’s terrible,” she says. One misstep on the broken sidewalks can lead to a twisted foot. “When I don’t trip, my son does,” she says, “and so we go these seven blocks falling down and getting up.” She also pushes her baby, who is less than 1 year old, in a stroller. But she says that the broken sidewalks have forced the little wheels to come off several times. The only alternative is taking a longer route. Gómez says that the poorly maintained public spaces are not only inconvenient, but they also threaten the safety of her children. She recounts one humid winter morning when she was walking her son to school. “We were about to cross a stoplight, and my 4-year-old son was leaning on a wall that had a tape that said ‘DANGER,’” she says. “I took him away from there, and there were sparks.” She says they left the area, where the situation worsened. “That same day, there was an explosion,” she says, “but I don’t know if it was from electricity or from gas or from what.” She says it made her fear for her children’s safety during their walks to school. “It scared me a lot,” she says. The deterioriation of public spaces in Buenos Aires exposes a lack of coordination among citizens, services companies and the government. The government and service companies are working together to improve maintenance, but the city ombudsman says that the government needs to increase its initiative and regulations. A recent death has escalated concerns. City officials say citizens must also take responsibility for respecting the public space, citing a crisis of values in the capital and nationwide. The Buenos Aires metropolis spans some 200 square kilometers (80 square miles), says Diego Santilli, the city’s minister of environment and public space. Three million people live here, while another 3.2 million people come into the city every day from the suburbs. Diego Mielnicki is the chief of urban affairs, spaces and public services for the Defensoría del Pueblo, the autonomous ombudsman established by city law to receive complaints from citizens about violations of their rights. Mielnicki defines the public space as the area that belongs to the citizens, including sidewalks, streets, highways, plazas and monuments. “The Defensoría del Pueblo observes the deterioriation in the area of the public spaces,” he says, “broken sidewalks, signs that indicate [an] electric current near a nursery school or a center for the blind.” One of the most common issues cited is the city’s broken sidewalks. Mielnicki says that the responsiblity for repairing them falls to the owner of the property, the government or the service business that opened it, depending on the case. “In principle, the responsibility of the maintenance and conservation of the sidewalks belongs to the street-level owner when the damages are caused by the normal passage of time,” he says. “The government of the city takes charge of the repair of the sidewalks when these are damaged by the execution of public works.” When service companies, like electric, water or gas providers, open the sidewalks to perform work, the repairs fall to them. Santilli of the Ministerio de Ambiente y Espacio Público says that service companies open 6,000 sidewalks or streets every month in the city and may fail to repair them. In these cases, the government intervenes.

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