Urban Fads and Consensual Fictions: Creative, Sustainable, and Competitive City Policies in Buenos Aires

Jacob Lederman

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Lederman, J. (1). Urban Fads and Consensual Fictions: Creative, Sustainable, and Competitive City Policies in Buenos Aires. City & Community, 14(1), 47–67. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/cico.12095

city branding , creative class , entrepreneurial governance , place marketing , policy , real estate speculation , sustainability , Urban regeneration

Scholarship in urban sociology has pointed to the reliance of city governments on ever-more market mechanisms for organizing social and economic policy. This form of governance involves prioritizing cities’ cultural and social assets for their value in a global competition of urban “brands,” each competing for new infusions of human and investment capital. At the same time, however, cities have been at the center of seemingly progressive policy efforts aimed at promoting innovation, sustainability, and creativity. These themes represent a newly dominant planning discourse in cities across the globe. While researchers have thoroughly examined how “creative classes” and “creative cities” may exclude everyday, working-class, or poor residents, new urban imaginaries focused on sustainability potentially imply less stratified urban outcomes. Analyzing two high-profile interventions in Buenos Aires, Argentina—a sustainable urban regeneration plan for the historic downtown, and the creation of an arts cluster in the impoverished south of the city—this paper argues that despite divergent narratives, creative and sustainable urban projects suggest similar policy agendas, planning assumptions, and relationships to market mechanisms. Increasingly, global policies, whose design and objectives may appear to contradict market logics, may have outcomes that further them.

Main finding
In Buenos Aires, a historic downtown and impoverished arts district were documented and analyzed to compare urban regeneration strategies. The researcher argues that creativity and sustainability are non-market values involved in market oriented discussions. Bike lanes, public spaces, better waste collection, historic preservation, and pedestrian-oriented streets were all included in Plan Microcentro. The primary goal of these projects was to increase tourism and urban growth. The plan for the Distrito de las Artes was sited in La Boca, an impoverished area of Buenos Aires. Tax subsidies were granted to those that developed artistic infrastructure, so the artistic character of the neighborhood would be preserved, albeit without investing in small-scale local artists. Even though their goals are structured around collective values, regeneration policies can still have negative impacts, including residential and commercial displacement.

Description of method used in the article
Government plans, reports by the media, and official statements from local stakeholders were analyzed. Semi-structured interviews involving residents, stakeholders, and city officials of the Culture, Economic Development, Public Space, and Urban Development ministries were conducted. Fieldwork using informal interviews with stakeholders and residents was used in conjunction with participant observations at community events (protests, neighborhood fairs, and community boards) from July 2012 to September 2013.

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