Like many small and medium-sized cities
in South America, Nueve de Julio faces a double issue of size and resources. Nueve de Julio lacks both human and financial resources, as well as institutional capacities that would enable it to anticipate the urban impact of its rapidly-growing population and manage its impact on territorial occupation and organization.
6.4.1 What Intermediate City for the Region?
Let us recall that, in our analysis, intermediate cities are characterized as much by their functions as by their dimensions, be they territorial or demographic (Bolay and Kern 2019). In order to refine our analysis of Nueve de Julio and its roughly 50,000 inhabitants, we will evaluate its development potential based on the interactions between the city and its environment.
The creation of the city of Nueve de Julio on the shores of three lakes dates back to 1863 and was part of politicians and military leaders’ strategy to conquer the Argentinian territory. The city is located in the central northeastern part of the Buenos Aires Province, at 76 m above sea level (35°27′S latitude and 60°53′W longitude), 262 km from the federal capital. Its surface area is 1,045,256 acres, 963,711 of which are dedicated to agricultural production and livestock.Footnote 7 According to the most recent population census (2010), Nueve de Julio’s population (the partido, meaning the municipality’s urban center and the rural territory) reached 47,733 inhabitants in 2010, 36,494 of who lived in urban areas (Fig. 6.6). According to the municipal authorities (but with no official source of reference), the 2017 estimate was roughly 52,000. This indicates that the population has grown faster over the past decade, given that the city already had 45,998 residents in 2000 (with 34,350 in urban areas) and 44,021 in 1990 (with 30,356 in urban areas).
With a span of 20 years, between 1990 and 2010, the communal population grew by 8.43%. During this same period, Nuevo de Julio’s urban population increased by 20.22%. If one gives credence to the local councilors’ estimates regarding the current population, this decade has been marked by a demographic upsurge that started in 2010 and reached 52,000 in 2017 (8.9% population growth between 2010 and 2017!) (Fig. 6.7).
This remains to be confirmed in the coming years and will be verified (or not) in the 2020 census. However, local informants’ comments lend credibility to the theory of an increase in the municipality’s population.
Given this, municipal urban planning leaders have identified several priority issues. The first is controlling the city’s territorial expansion as a result of its ever-growing population, with human settlements that are increasingly scattered and distant from the historical center. Doing so means reinforcing the urban network by creating areas that serve specific functions (housing, industry, nature reserves, etc.). The other is meeting the basic needs of the city’s most destitute population. In this case, the focus should be on the “Ciudad Nueva”Footnote 8 area, the city’s most precarious neighborhood (12,000 inhabitants), and where infrastructures, housing, water supply and drainage networks (to fight against floods) must all be improved to avoid flooding.
6.4.2 An Ordinary, Modern City in a Rural Landscape
It is therefore less the idea of urban modernity confronted by the promotion of urban development – to use the words of Kern (2017) – that underpins our analysis of Nueve de Julio, than that of constitutive elements of urban identity. In many parts of the global South, urban economies are dominated by the informal sector. The example of Nueve de Julio puts us face to face with a completely different Argentinian reality, through planned cities built based on formal and legally-recognized systems of economic production whose prosperity largely depends on international connections of supply and the distribution of goods and raw materials. In this respect, urban sprawl in Argentina refers more specifically to the analysis of new cities created in the nineteenth century based on a European model and implemented in Latin American. Understood in terms of their similarities and differences, these “modern” cities are symptomatic of one just one kind of urbanization taking place in the Global South among others (Schuermans 2009; Robinson 2006). Understanding the role of an intermediate city like Nueve de Julio brings us back to Fraser’s observations (2006). For him, the concept of ordinary city “…provides readers with an invigorated call to develop a post-colonial urbanism that is cosmopolitan in the sense of conceiving all cities as sites of modernity. This does not diminish the stark differences between places that are differentially connected to networks across the globe, and it does not ignore the differential challenges cities face as a result of uneven development patterns and unequal resources.” (Fraser 2006:196). While it is certain that Nueve de Julio is not a global city by S. Sassen’s definition (2001, 2002), with functions of monitoring and control over the internationalized economy, it is a mixture of modernity and tradition, and is likewise a part of this globalized market economy (Robinson 2002). Nueve de Julio is but one piece on an international chessboard of flows of raw materials and services, in service of Argentinian agro-export.
In light of this, and with the goal of better understanding Nueve de Julio’s current situation, certain elements of “modernity” and “development” set this city apart while, at the same time, harmonizing its trajectory with that of the Buenos Aires Province’s pampas region.
Like many other cities in the Buenos Aires province, Nueve de Julio is the result of the then-federal government’s policy of territorial expansion in an effort to incorporate fertile lands (then occupied by indigenous dwellers) and increase livestock production (Ratto 2003). The strategy combined military incursions, peace treaties with indigenous populations and the creation of new towns.
In its 150 years of existence, Nueve de Julio has been highly representative of the modern urban organisation that underpinned planning in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the fruit of the technological and social advances that have shaped both Europe and Latin America: human migration from Europe to Argentina, accelerated industrialization of primary and secondary production, financial gain from an export economy and human settlements that meet the most advanced standards of the times Velásquez (2015) confirms that, in the nineteenth century and more notably the twentieth, the Pampas region’s medium-sized cities greatly benefited from this agro-export model (Europeanized urban society, generalized wages and social integration). Things started changing in the 1970s, with more marked socio-economic differences and social exclusion of large segments of the population. Nevertheless, Greater Buenos Aires and the Pampas region (and the province of Buenos Aires in particular) are still the areas where industry prevails, favoring urban growth. “Argentina is typical of a manufacturing country with a center in the metropolitan area of Buenos Aires, an inner belt formed by the most industrialized Pampas provinces and an outer belt with the rest of the country.” (Platino and Pellegrini 2016:109).
6.4.3 Between Territorial Expansion and Social Inclusion
More recently, Nueve de Julio has faced problems similar to those found in most of the province’s medium-sized cities. While its undeniable prosperity is reflected in the city’s layout (e.g. the central square or General San Martin Park) (Fig. 6.8), its economic growth and stability are not guaranteed over time as its success largely depends on the vagaries of the agro-export sector and fluctuations in the global market for cereals and meat products. Moreover, given its continual population growth, many urban dwellers are becoming increasingly attracted to this type of medium-sized city, which many feel offers a viable alternative to the urban congestion of Greater Buenos Aires. These new residents have individual, family and social needs, be it in terms of professional integration, education or health. Yet, the government’s response to the needs of Nueve de Julio’s 50,000 or so inhabitants seem to fall short of the mark, or at least raise questions as to the priorities in terms of future urban projects.
Social and economic figures and data pertaining to Nueve de Julio are almost impossible to find either directly (in documents relative to these aspects of the city) or indirectly (via the Internet). It was for this reason that we chose to combine the information gathered from interviews and, later, a field study, surveys and the monitoring of public works.
What is accessible on the Municipality of Nueve de Julio’s website is the municipal budget for recent years, with receipts and expenses, which provides an initial overview of local public action. The estimated budget for 2017 was 712.62 million pesos,Footnote 9 the equivalent of roughly 35 million U.S. dollars.Footnote 10 Over 323 million pesos were allocated to municipal staff, and 21 million to debt service. The main areas of expenditure were: core activities (supposedly related to municipal services) at 144 million; the maintenance of public roads at 127 million; the development of primary health care policies at 52 million; collaborative works with the CEYS cooperative at 45 million; the maintenance of municipal and provincial roads at 44 million and; urban and community hygiene services at 42 million. This was followed by budget allocations (20–30 million) for items such as education and youth services, safety, buildings and public spaces, reforestation, green spaces and insect control. In fact, according to municipal information provided in 2018, the actual budget was somewhat lower; according to them, national, provincial and communal funding totaled 570 million pesos.
Browsing Nueve de Julio’s online press, several insights provide additional information regarding the region’s economic situation, albeit in a piecemeal way. According to the head of the Chamber of Commerce, the local economy is stable but lacks real growth, and is entirely dependent the revenues from the 2016 to 2017 agricultural harvest. Inflation, which is still poorly controlled at the national level, weighs heavily on local entrepreneurs. To his mind, the often evoked idea of an industrial park would energize the city and region’s economy.Footnote 11 According to another private source quoted by the same newspaper, new jobs in Nueve de Julio in 2017 increased by 30% relative to 2016, mainly in the areas of services, business, administration and sales, and mainly benefit higher education professionals.Footnote 12 And since 2018, the devaluation of the Argentinian peso can also felt (positively by large landowners, who sell their crops and livestock abroad in dollars, and negatively by employees and owners of small companies whose business charges are constantly increasing.
The picture would not be complete were we not to highlighting one of Nueve de Julio’s particularities which, like other cities in the Buenos Aires Province, organizes community services in joint-management with the “Cooperativa Eléctrica y de Servicios Mariano Moreno Ltda.” The latter currently has 21,000 partners for the distribution of electricity, 12,900 for natural gas and 8300 in mobile telephony and internet access. According to its manager,Footnote 13 all of Nueve de Julio’s households are affiliated with the cooperative, thus giving him extremely detailed knowledge of the local population and its needs. The origins of the cooperative date back to the 1920s, when Nueve de Julio’s inhabitants, faced with the poor quality and exorbitant cost of electricity, decided to produce their own energy. Hence, the first popular electric plant was built in 1949. With the years came other services to complete the offer: street paving in 1972, natural gas in 1989, running water in suburban localities, ambulance services, health insurance, funeral and burials, consumer loans (since 2007), and in 2010, Internet and mobile phone connections.
A collaborative agreement exists between the municipality of Nueve de Julio and the Cooperative. However, it goes without saying that relations have fluctuated over time and according to political affiliations. Over the past 3 years, the election of a new political majority and a new mayor (from the presidential majority party, the PRO, the Republican Proposal, and likewise the majority in the Buenos Aires province) has put strain on relations with the Cooperative, which traditionally has been radically obedient. In 2018, after 13 years of unopposed cooperative management, elections were held to renew the CEyS’s board of directors. Victory went to the “democratic transparency” list,Footnote 14 making negotiations between the Cooperative and the municipality inevitable. Though unable to prove it for lack of access to information but based on the comments from the field, an unusual competition exists between the two institutions; the CEyS is generally seen as an historically-rooted organization that manages large swathes of urban development and works in service of the municipality’s residents. It is recognized for its administrative and financial rigor, as well as its efficiency in the production of goods and services, but is criticized by some for its monopolistic tendency to manage all profitable utilities. Municipal services, on the other hand, are mentioned first and foremost for their poor management of civil servants, their material/logistical shortcomings as well as relative to political changes and their impact on priorities. What characterizes municipal action largely depends on the political affiliation of it leaders from one election to another. With neither the means to fulfill their ambitions nor a long-term vision for the city and region’s future, the mayor and his team are primarily concerned with being re-elected, and thus focus on short-term investments that make them more visible and popular. One must, however, see this collaboration between the municipality and the Cooperative in its historical perspective, bearing in mind that cooperatives have had a strong presence in Argentina since the nineteenth century, and that the province of Buenos Aires is, by far, the region with the greatest number of them: according to Montes and Ressel (2003), in 2003, 4498 of the country’s 16,000 existing cooperatives were active in the province. Of these, 624 were provided services to the community. According to “Centro Cultural de la Cooperación”, at the national level, the cooperative sector generates 10% of the GDP and 500,000 jobs. In terms of services to the community, cooperatives supply water and gas, produce energy (often renewable), and distribute it to consumers in over 1500 municipalities of various sizes throughout the country.Footnote 15 Thus are we facing a recurring phenomenon that is relatively little studied in terms of its social and institutional impact. Through the case of Nueve de Julio, we discover that the association between the municipality and the Cooperative confers on the latter a crucial role in regional planning that falls outside the usual channels of public action. The CEyS is proving to be a dominant urban player, both technically and financially. It is therefore not surprising that this economic and planning primacy, which escapes the services of the local administration, generates power struggles and other conflicts of interest.
6.4.4 Daily Disturbances: How to Manage Better the Expansion?
During our interviews with the mayor and Nueve de Julio’s director of urban planning, the big question was that of urban planning, or more specifically the lack thereof. What notably was missing was data that would allow for “status report,” making it possible to trace the city’s evolution in its various territorial and societal dimensions in order to develop a realistic, tangible masterplan. The question may seem surprising coming from the authorities of a medium-sized town that, at first glance, seems relatively well-organized and esteemed by its inhabitants. But facts have confirmed these shortcomings of the planning, leading us to make an initial diagnosis with regard to urban planning, and to define the various stages of a procedure to collect, archive and process useful data in an organized way in order to establish develop planning based on actual figures and the use of data in space via a Geographic Information System (GIS).
The first observation was that existing data are not shared between the CEyS Cooperative and the Municipality, even less so as the cooperative subcontracts the harvesting and processing of data to a private company that archives the information and produces summaries. Secondly, the Buenos Aires Province’s administration, like the competent national departments, also manages statistical data relating to the city of Nueve de Julio as it does for all of the province’s other municipalities. However, they are not available in open access. Moreover, the many requests made by the Municipality have remained unanswered! Here one can clearly appreciate the importance and utility of collaborative efforts to be made by the Municipality and the Cooperative. The Cooperative indeed has ample data on its customers. Moreover, its customer base, whose electricity, natural gas and other utilities it supplies, is close to that of the municipal population. If made available to the City, this information could provide a solid base for sound and dependable planning. But the risk that this alliance will never see the light of day is high, as the Cooperative does not really want to share its “business” with soon to be re-elected public bodies.
This does not mean that communal departments have no data, but rather that there is no coherent, organized way of sharing information internally among the different departments, or between the State administration and its outside partners, which are mainly cooperatives.
What has been acquired and is managed by Nueve de Julio’s Secretariat of Housing and Urbanism is the city code and the resulting zoning, which integrates parcels of land. In this way, it determines city’s the lines of growth as well as priority actions depending on the neighbourhood, including the services and infrastructures the city wants to bring to the various districts. The top priority is the historical center and nearby residential area (R1), followed by the more recently-built concentric residential areas (R2). The second priority in terms of public intervention is the residential growth areas located southeast and northeast of the city (R3 and R4). In third position comes the rehabilitation of the “Barrios Unidos” neighborhood (formerly Ciudad Nueva) (R5), the poorest part of the city as mentioned earlier, and the less densely populated outlying areas (R6). Concretely, this means that solving the problems of the poorest 25% of the Municipality’s population is not a priority in the city’s social and spatial layout (Figs. 6.9 and 6.10).
The cadastral and special works department, which is part of the Secretariat of Urbanism, also has vital information regarding existing parcels of land, public properties, buildings and building permits. The problem is that this data still only exists in paper version. Much more data exists and would be highly useful for establishing a geo-referenced information system (clinics, hospitals, schools, public spaces, green areas, industrial zones, etc.). This data is collected and managed by various municipal administration departments that do not communicate with each other and rarely update the information in their possession. Other data relative to water networks, drainage, wastewater, gas and electricity (all managed by the CeyS) are inaccessible.
The information is scattered and completely disconnected from each other. Due to a lack of time and human and financial resources, the Municipality, though aware of its obligation at both the national and provincial levels to look more closely into the plight of the poor (Fig. 6.9), manages urban problems on a day to day basis, more in the reaction to events and to satisfy pressing social demands than to prevent and plan.
6.4.5 The Example of Ciudad Nueva, a Low-Income Housing Area
It is astonishing to think that, in 1996, in anticipation of the World Habitat Conference in Istanbul, we published a comparative book to recap the traveling seminars we had organized with our Latin American colleagues, with the support of the Leopold Foundation Mayer for Human Progress (Bolay et al. 1996), and in which David Kullock and his colleagues at the Faculty of Architecture and Urban Design of the University of Buenos Aires reported on the training urban actors in Nueve de Julio had participated in 2 years prior (Kullock et al. 1996) (Fig. 6.11). Of the three Argentinian cities investigated at that time – Resistencia, San Juan and Nueve de Julio – the latter had 30,000 inhabitants, and the study area, “Ciudad Nueva,” was comprised of 371 acres in the southeastern part of the city, between the historic Sarmiento railway line and the national road No. 5.
Railway workers had originally settled on the site. The population grew in number, building on plots of available land along the urban-rural boundaries. One characteristic of the urban planning is that land use is disparate and sparse, combining housing and artisanal production units and isolating it from the historic city center due to the train tracks. Infrastructures and public facilities included water and electricity networks, natural gas in one of the zone’s four areas, and a public school. The streets were unpaved and without sidewalks. The majority of the houses were small and rudimentarily equipped. The recommendations that came out of the 10-day seminar focused on six elements to improve the area’s urban integration. These conclusions are still valid today, 25 years later. They included job creation, urban integration of neighborhoods, improving school and health services, rehabilitating existing housing, implementing building standards, and improving infrastructure and communication networks.
A diagnosis of the same part of Ciudad Nueva done in 2017 allows us to compare the nature of the problems and the solutions envisaged.
Now more commonly referred to as “Barrios Unidos,” this area still hangs on the outskirts of the historic city, without the city having taken any real urban planning or management measures to reduce the physical breach created the railroad, which is still used for transporting goods (Figs. 6.12 and 6.13).
Surveys done in two of the area’s neighborhoods in 2017 and interviews with public officials reveal two crucial points: as in 1994, the people interviewed spoke out against unemployment, underemployment and the difficulty of find a job. Many work sporadically, and usually undeclared. In terms of health, Nueve de Julio’s existing services no longer sufficiently respond to social demands. The area lacks a health center as well as a 24-h, on-call pharmacy. In terms of education, the dropout rate had increased; children could be seen wandering the streets, although the area’s only school functions normally (one public school for 10,000 inhabitants!). With regard to infrastructure and urban planning, respondents criticized the flooding and lack of wastewater drainage, the source of the former. At the residential level, respondents made mention of the makeshift nature of many houses in terms of their construction. In addition to all of this, there was a feeling of insecurity, as the area is notorious for the traffic and consumption of narcotics.
This finding explains why the Community Development Secretariat has implemented a distribution plan for building materials for at-risk families. However, the demand is high, and the procedures long and complex.
More specifically, we conducted a building census in two blocks of houses, one a social housing estate with 28 family houses built in the 1990s, and the other with 50 private, self-built homes (Vexina Wilkinson 2017).
The social housing development had changed very little in terms of number of houses.Footnote 16 All of the homes had access to water, electricity and natural gas networks,Footnote 17 though only one street had a sewage system. The other houses were equipped with septic tanks that were emptied twice a month by a private company. The perceptible changes described by the owners depended on how the family’s economic resources had changed, and mainly concerned extension of the living space, changes in the internal layout of the living space and the acquisition of household electrical appliances (Fig. 6.14). Given the poor quality of the construction and its age, the owners complained above all of the lack of insulation and resulting humidity.
The changes in the other block were more substantial. In 20 years, the number of houses had increased from 5 to 50. The constructions were more heterogeneous, though several makeshift homes (made of low-quality materials and with minimal implementation) were observed. The walls were made of bare brick, the roofs of polystyrene and cardboard boxes, and unprotected electrical wires were seen in the bathrooms. The differences from one dwelling to another reflect the financial capacities of each family over the years, bearing in mind that, according to their statements, none had received building materials from the municipality. In addition to these self-built plots (Fig. 6.15), several vacant plots remained, along with a few plots with houses of significantly higher quality that were in excellent condition and supplied by the public gas network.
In most cases, the work done on the houses was done by the occupants themselves, without official authorization, which is formally granted by the public authorities after verification and application of norms.
The “Ciudad Nueva/Barrios Unidos” area has evolved in a very heterogeneous way over the years, according to the district and the occupants’ means. In terms of housing, the changes that have taken place are the result of individual, private means, as few are eligible for loans. It seems that the municipal authorities’ only contribution to date has been a construction materials allocation program whose scale, beneficiaries, selection criteria, funding and debt collection processes are impossible to know.
At the infrastructural level, the situation has been better handled as basic needs (water, electricity and gas) are covered by collective networks and in partially by public facilities (school). “Ciudad Nueva” is still a stigmatized area whose standards as well as the reputation of the neighborhoods and its inhabitants are well below those of Nueve de Julio. The changes in the past 25 years are imperceptible. Generally speaking, it is those who are most in need that suffer most from Nueve de Julio’s lack of public transportation system.
The issue remains understanding how a city, its population, authorities, pressure groups and professionals can be aware of this grim reality of urban poverty
, acknowledge the fact that more than 20% of the city’s population live in conditions of material instability and create measures to rectify this...without any change taking place. There is no clear policy, strategy or master plan for the entire urban agglomeration. Nor is there an inclusive vision of the city – from a socio-economical o planning perspective – that focuses on the most disadvantaged populations and neighborhoods. This brings us to a final thought which concerns the uniqueness of Nueve de Julio as both exemplary of a contemporary intermediate Argentinian city and “ordinary” in its reproduction of nineteenth-century model of urban modernism. The challenge for it today is overcoming its inability to acquire the right urban management tools for understanding the urban reality today and projecting itself in a medium- and long-term future in order to decide on the priority actions to take, in dialogue with urban actors.