Geopolitics

Puerto Madero Postcard: How A Buenos Aires Neighborhood Came To Life

The former docks in Buenos Aires have become a model of how to turn an area in the doldrums into a multi-million dollar investment magnet.

Bridge in Puerto Madero
Bridge in Puerto Madero
Karina Niebla

BUENOS AIRES — Thirty years ago the stable population of Puerto Madero, today one of Buenos Aires' most upscale neighborhoods, consisted mostly of rats. The rodents swarmed across the waterside district like a plague, and anyone walking there had to wear boots to avoid an unpleasant touch. That's exactly what architects did, as they came to map an area abandoned decades before, like an outlaw territory.

Their mission was to turn the storage part of the port into a district of homes, offices and leisure activity. Today, Puerto Madero welcomes thousands of workers and tourists every day. Its luxury tower blocks house the powerful — businessmen, politicians, union leaders — and its real estate prices are now much higher than those of even the best known areas of the Argentine capital. Its tale of rats to riches unfolded over years and in stages.

In 1989, the central and city governments established the Corporación Antiguo Puerto Madero (today's Puerto Madero Corporation) to lead the area's overhaul. By 1996, 16 docks on its eastern side had been restored, and restaurants and offices began to open. The television magnate Alberto González financed the second phase of the district's revival with projects like the Hilton hotel and the Woman's Bridge, designed by Spain's star architect Santiago Calatrava. More offices and flats were built in the third phase this century, creating the city's tallest buildings and a skyline in the spirit of Manhattan or Miami.

Puerto_Madero_Buenos_Aries_Argentina

Skyline of Puerto Madero — Photo: Deensel

Residents, however, moved in more slowly. A 2001 census counted barely 296 permanent residents, though the numbers rose to 7,000 a decade later, and 13,500 today. But the district has attracted millions of dollars from the wealthiest investors and homebuyers. Initially many sought to "hide" money here, and some apartments became linked to corruption scandals. Perhaps the most notorious crime here remains the death in one of the flats of Alberto Nisman, the prosecutor investigating the 1994 terrorist bombing of the city's Jewish community center that killed 85.

Overall the number of people spending time in Puerto Madero every day has increased. Before works began on the Paseo del Bajo underpass in 2017, some 75,000 people including residents, professionals and visitors spent time here every day. Today that number has reach some 105,000.

Perhaps the most impressive numbers concern prices. Local consultants Reporte Inmobiliario recently priced a used apartment in Puerto Madero at about $5,998 per square meter, quite above the $3,430/m2 for Recoleta, traditionally one of the most desirable parts of town. Some new properties have fetched $6,583/m2, and "the most exclusive ones can hover around $12,000," says Federico Andreotti, a local realtor.

We love having the ecological reserve so close by. It is the "lungs' of the city.

One reason for booming purchase and rental prices here, says another estate agent Pablo Papadopoulos, is because "the quality of life you have here, you don't have in the rest of the city. There is a lot of greenery, which is what people are looking for." Specifically 26 square meters of green space per person, compared to 5.9 on average elsewhere in Buenos Aires.

Two residents drawn here in 2014 by the greenery and especially the nature reserve, were Miriam Torres and Henry Moreno, a couple from Bogotá. "We love having the ecological reserve so close by. It is the "lungs' of the city," says Miriam.

While she says the couple enjoy eating out here, local food shopping and amenities are not so great. "I go to San Telmo to buy vegetables and meat," she says, referring to a nearby neighborhood. Another resident, Carla, says "there are no bakeries or green grocers nearby," and existing shops are exorbitant: "they charge 90 pesos (about 2 euros) for two peppers."

This is gradually changing as Puerto Madero becomes an increasingly "normal" neighborhood. There are intermittent food and vegetable markets offering cheaper products, while fast food joints have opened beside the posh restaurants. "It is interesting to see how gastronomy, which was initially presented as very elitist, has gradually lowered its profile," notes city planner Alfredo Garay. "It is not just the five-star restaurants of the old docks any more, but also a lot of little bars and restaurants catering to thousands of office workers. The neighborhood is slowly consolidating itself as a place where people live and work."

The present head of the Puerto Madero Corporation, Agustina Olivera, says the area is a "unique case" of urban development, so much so that other would-be projects come here for advice on replicating the model of turning an abandoned port into a modern neighborhood. It's come a long way indeed since the days when the rats were in charge.

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Green

In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

CAUCHARI — Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.


It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park

Xinhua/ZUMA

Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

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