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Sunset in Buenos Aires
Sunset in Buenos Aires
Pablo Novillo

BUENOS AIRES — The daily arrival of droves of people to work in Argentina's capital has economic benefits, since these commuters are also consumers who spend their money on goods and services inside the city. But that windfall is more than cancelled out by increased spending on education, health, maintenance of public spaces and other elements that must be paid from city coffers.

This reality is leading the Buenos Aires government and some city experts to push for policies that encourage people coming from beyond the exterior thoroughfare General Paz Avenue and Matanza River to simply live inside the city.

Why is this not happening? Beyond cultural factors that keep certain people from moving into urban areas, there is also a shortage of investment needed to make some of the residential areas of the city with fewer residents more attractive, and eventually increase their population.

"It is not positive for the city that so many people come to work every day. It means more fuel consumption, time lost commuting, traffic jams and more pollution,” says Francisco Cabrera, head of the City Government's Economic Development office. “In terms of energy use, environment and quality of life, it would be best for all if everyone moved into the city.”

Cabrera notes that about one-quarter of all apartments and houses in Buenos Aires currently remain empty.

Some simply attribute this to a lower overall cost of living in the suburbs than inside the city. Not necessarily, says José Razados of Reporte Inmobiliario, a property consulting firm. "It depends a lot on the areas,” he says, noting that prices are comparable inside the city limits to better known suburbs.

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Buenos Aires' Av. Diagonal Norte — Photo: Juanedc

The difference then is in what each area offers: Someone living in Lanús, just outside the city limits, for example, has so many or more services (shops, schools, eateries) than someone with a house in the city neighborhood of Villa Soldati.

It seems southern Buenos Aires is the only place that could absorb more population. In fact when the market advanced with high-rise construction in Palermo, Caballito and other densely populated neighborhoods, people objected vigorously.

Certainly actions like extending the metro or building the Technology expand=1] District in Parque Patricios did boost the area a little. But city districts south of the Avenida Rivadavia are struggling to take off. "The problem is not population but the public investment that would go with greater density and make an area more attractive,” says Enrique García Espil, president of the Central Society of Architects.

“Paris and Barcelona are more densely populated than Buenos Aires, yet many people would tell you living there is better than here."

Meanwhile, transport remains the key. In other cities, says Andrés Borthagaray of the "urban mobility" think tank Ciudad en Movimiento, "people work in the center and live in the periphery, but with a fast and high-quality public transport system."

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