When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

Already a subscriber? Log in .

You've reached your limit of one free article.

Get unlimited access to Worldcrunch

You can cancel anytime .


Exclusive International news coverage

Ad-free experience NEW

Weekly digital Magazine NEW

9 daily & weekly Newsletters

Access to Worldcrunch archives

Free trial

30-days free access, then $2.90
per month.

Annual Access BEST VALUE

$19.90 per year, save $14.90 compared to monthly billing.save $14.90.

Subscribe to Worldcrunch

Eternal Urban Design Debate: Should Public Squares Be Green Or Dry?

The Latin world loves its city public spaces, and their evolving aesthetics can often lead to heated arguments that go beyond simple matters of urban planning.

Sunbathing in a Buenos Aires' park
Sunbathing in a Buenos Aires' park
Berto González Montaner

BUENOS AIRES – One day my mother, a botanical science professor and plant lover, became fed up and tiled over the patio, leaving just two pots around the edges.

In those days the only thing my friends and I cared about was playing soccer, sure to drag mud inside every time we came in for a glass of water. I can still hear the sound of the ring on my mother's finger tapping against the kitchen window: Boys.. the plants! She was trying to save what was left of them. We would have preferred she focused her attention on installing a fence around the yard to stop the ball flying onto neighbors' property.

For some architects and urban planners, the city is a big home. And like our own family quarters, but with greater intensity, interests can clash inside. If the streets are like corridors in the house, the public square is the patio. Some people want it all green, and others, covered in tarmac or cemented over.

Plaza Vicente López for example is quite nice, yet the architect Horacio Baliero once said they could perhaps get rid of its trees. The squares of Buenos Aires were designed for moments of contemplation, not literally for use of the grounds or sunbathing, which is a cultural novelty here.

Baliero would say that seeking out the shade in summer was as elementary as seeking the sun in winter: "Obviously you have to plant deciduous trees."

[rebelmouse-image 27087932 alt="""" original_size="3072x2304" expand=1]

A park in Buenos Aires — Photo: Chris Goldberg

Likewise the so-called "dry" squares have their own merits. We love to arrive at the ample Piazza Navona in Rome, or the Plaza Mayor in Madrid after walking through narrow streets, not to mention our own Plaza Dorrego in San Telmo. And there are contemporary-style versions of these squares like the Patio Salguero being prepared by the city government, covered alternately by cement and rubber tiles.

Cement is the star material of the Skate Plaza on the Avenida Figueroa Alcorta, though its use there is unrelated to aesthetics. It is the material used to build the tracks skaters love so much. One Saturday I counted some 50 kids - and not just kids - skating and shredding their hearts out. Another group parked a van on the side and took out boards, bars and weights, inaugurating a little open-air gym.

Another "latest-generation" dry square is the Plaza Estado del Vaticano, next to the Colón Theater. The architects Matías Gigli and Rodolfo Nieves turned this underused area into a multi-purpose space that provides underground venues for the theater, extends the Pasaje de los Carruajes and highlights the theater's showpiece quality. Giant LED screens allow people to enjoy theater and operas there in the summer.

Another of the city's recent acquisitions is the Distrito Arcos, built on what used to be railway tracks. Its difference is that it is an open-air mall, destined for prestige shopping. Or would be, depending on the outcome of legal disputes over the project, which has pitted those denouncing the mall as a piece of crass speculation against developers who say they recovered a decaying zone and created a quality urban space some are comparing to New York's High Line.

As can be seen, clashing interests, whatever their intensity, are essentially not unlike those back in our family's old house. But beyond differences over "green" or "dry" spaces, the important question is whether a space is public and accessible to all, or subject to restrictions.

To paraphrase Gustavo Restrepo, the architect who helped transform Medellín: Remember that everything under the sun teaches us something.

You've reached your limit of free articles.

To read the full story, start your free trial today.

Get unlimited access. Cancel anytime.

Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.

Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries.

FOCUS: Israel-Palestine War

Israel's Choice Right Now: Halt "Collective Punishment" Or Lose U.S. Support

As fighting has resumed and intensified in the southern area of the Palestinian territory, more and more criticism builds from around the world. How much longer can Israel fight this war for if it loses the support of even its most steadfast allies?

Photograph of Palestinians carry an injured man following the Israeli bombing on Khan Yunis. They are surrounded by people and photographers.

December 1, 2023, Khan Yunis, Gaza: Palestinians carry an injured man following the Israeli bombing on Khan Yunis, in southern Gaza

Saher Alghorra/ZUMA
Pierre Haski


PARIS — Can Israel wage its war in Gaza without caring about the opinion of its allies?

Since fighting resumed in the Palestinian territory on Friday, serious disagreements have emerged with the United States and, to a lesser extent, with France. It is the disagreements with the U.S. that carry significant consequences: Washington plays a vital role in this conflict by supplying weapons and deploying a considerable military apparatus to deter the regional expansion of the confrontation.

For the latest news & views from every corner of the world, Worldcrunch Today is the only truly international newsletter. Sign up here.

This weekend, both Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Vice President Kamala Harris expressed serious reservations about how Israel is conducting its operations. The issue at hand is the massive aerial strikes on densely populated areas, resulting in a considerable number of civilian casualties.

These criticisms came after Secretary of State Antony Blinken was in Israel last week on the eve of the resumption of hostilities, urging Benjamin Netanyahu to change to a strategy that better protects civilians. Israel chose not to heed this advice, resulting in the current diplomatic tensions.

Keep reading...Show less

The latest