On a sunny September day in 1998, Argentine president Carlos Menem inaugurated Buenos Aires’ newest landmark. The glittering dockside district of Puerto Madero had once served Argentina’s formidable meatpacking trade. By the early twentieth century, however, the area had fallen on hard times as a result of a new port opening farther north. Now, the brick warehouses built by British shipping interests were converted into sleek residential and office space. Docks became pedestrian walkways, complete with a footbridge designed by celebrity architect Santiago Calatrava. The area’s redevelopment had been inspired by the conversion of Manhattan’s South Street Seaport into a “festival marketplace,” boasted President Menem at the ribbon cutting.1 Inaugurated at the height of promotion for Argentina’s open-market model, the new port’s hermetic isolation and homogeneous upper-class character were apt metaphors for Menem’s economic program of large-scale privatization and pro-market reform.
Nearly a decade after Puerto Madero’s inauguration, another politician from the political right would kick off a very different period of city building in Buenos Aires. In his 2007 electoral campaign, mayoral candidate Mauricio Macri (elected president of Argentina in 2015) promised to reinvest in impoverished southern neighborhoods of the city and make gritty downtown streets more “humane” through pedestrian-friendly urban design. Departing from the exclusionary logic of Puerto Madero, the south of the city would be bolstered with new green spaces, cultural offerings, and the clustering of nonpolluting activities such as technology and the arts in the city’s “creative districts.” A bus rapid transit (BRT) line, promoted by a New York–based sustainability NGO, would run alongside the newly pedestrianized downtown banking district, the Microcentro. The city government framed these plans as socially inclusive and pluralistic. Widened sidewalks and walkable streets marked the importance of an urban public sphere, producing, as the mayor put it, the first sustainable city center in Latin America.2 According to city officials, shantytowns in the south of the city would be socially and territorially incorporated into the fabric of creative districts.3
This new agenda took its cue from models of urban development and design being diffused throughout the globe, which stressed creativity, sustainability, and livability in city planning.4 It reflected the consensus of transnational NGOs, urban think tanks, and multilateral institutions, which disseminated such policies through the language of best practice. Although these strategies borrowed from older progressive planning models stressing people-friendly use values over urban land values, these new policies sought to foster market-based forms of development. For example, creative districts not only aimed to spur investment in impoverished areas but also represented a strategy of urban branding, positioning downtrodden neighborhoods as spaces for the arts, tourism, and a creative class of skilled and educated cultural producers. The city government cast its sustainable reinvention of the Microcentro as a pedestrian-friendly site of social encounter, marked by public art and quality public spaces, but simultaneously sought to raise downtown property values and promote hotel development.
In reality, these optimistic images chafed against both a recent history of economic crisis and the very rhetoric of public democracy that they promoted. For example, artisan street vendors sought access to public space to capitalize on a booming tourist trade in the historic district of San Telmo, blocks from the Microcentro. The Macri administration’s attempts to remove these artisans—even as it sought to create a culture-and-arts-based “creative district” blocks away—raised questions about the uses and control of culture in city policy and the market-centric agendas lurking just beneath the surface of culture-led approaches to economic development.
The competing logics characterizing the projects and periods above alert us to more than new fads in urban design. These normative images—of sustainable, creative, and inclusive urban growth—represented a naturalization of technocratic logics in Buenos Aires’ planning culture and signaled new ideas about the role of cities in mitigating inequality. Rather than confronting the unequal distribution of urban resources or social power, the conservative city government’s approach to urban redevelopment projected a consensual, win-win process of economic investment and social renewal. Social and territorial disparities emerged as technical problems to be overcome through innovative design, the unleashing of the creative potential of residents, and the creation of a more “people-centric” city. Urban officials defined the public values characterizing this approach—such as sustainability and livability—narrowly, through physical improvements to the built environment such as new public spaces, recycled buildings intended for the arts, or pedestrianized streets.
What do these strategies tell us about the global circulation of urban planning models and the priorities of the cities, multilateral agencies, and NGOs that promote them? How can scholars understand a prominent policy emphasis on sustainability, inclusion, and creativity alongside the growing inequalities characterizing cities in both global North and South? In this book I argue that culture and sustainability—as key idioms framing reinvestment in Buenos Aires—reflected a novel set of ideological disputes characterizing the local adoption of international best practice. City officials’ desire to organize inclusive urban development around the sharp edges of the market promoted both deepening class divides and new forms of resistance and survival.
The local state’s reliance on these planning idioms in turn connects Buenos Aires to broader social and political transformations taking place across the globe. In describing the ways that contentious claims-making has been replaced by a veneer of consensus in a range of institutional and geographic settings, political theorists such as Erik Swyngedouw argue that the contemporary period is characterized by a “postpolitical” or “postdemocratic” form of rule (Swyngedouw 2011; Swyngedouw and Wilson 2014; MacLeod 2011). By casting decision making as the product of expert know-how, unassailable administration norms, and the unequivocal superiority of market solutions, the postpolitical refers to efforts to naturalize technocratic and market principles in public policy (Ong 2006). Local officials’ approach to building a globally competitive Buenos Aires sheds light on the transnationally circulating meanings affixed to terms such as livability and sustainability, which position these values in starkly depoliticized terms.
This book presents a study of reinvestment in Buenos Aires following Argentina’s devastating 2001–2 economic crisis. It examines the policies and imaginaries circulating within the local state, their connection to transnational urban planning discourses, and the ways everyday residents, cultural producers, and the urban poor have engaged with and contested this form of development. Two different administrations mark this period.5 However, one constant of both the progressive Ibarra city government (2000–2006), in power during the country’s 2001–2 economic crisis, and the conservative administration of Mayor Macri (2007–15) was the desire to squeeze more economic development out of culture and tourism. The Macri government in particular sought to reinvest in undercapitalized, yet central, districts of the city by tying urban redevelopment to the engine of cultural activity. It did so by incentivizing industries such as the arts and design as well as postindustrial services such as entertainment and tourism, leading to new commercial and residential development for higher-income residents. These local strategies aligned with an increasingly standard toolkit of urban policy and advanced a more commercial definition of culture to better position Buenos Aires in competition with other cities.
Economic Crisis and the World-Class Ideal
The 1990s were high-flying times in Buenos Aires. Locked into structural adjustment policies advocated by the International Monetary Fund and embraced by the local political class, Argentina became a major emerging market for global investors. Large-scale urban redevelopment projects converted the former wholesale fruit and vegetable market into an urban shopping mall, while new highways connected the city center to rapidly expanding gated communities to the city’s north (Carman 2006; Libertun de Duren 2006). Puerto Madero’s sleek reinvention capped off a decade of megaprojects that aimed to transform Buenos Aires in line with the country’s growing international clout.
But the exuberant inauguration of Puerto Madero came as President Menem’s economic program showed signs of exhaustion. Shortly after Menem’s term ended in 1999, Argentina’s economy, and Buenos Aires’ redevelopment, had stalled under the freight of a crushing economic crisis. With the country mired in recession and drowning in dollarized debt, the fragility of its open-market model was evident. In early 2002 Argentina devalued its currency, defaulted on its debt, and sent over half of the country’s urban population below the poverty line (Beccaria, Groisman, and Maurizio 2009).
But then something peculiar happened. As the local media looped startling images of children begging in the streets and formerly middle-class citizens searching through the trash, few could have imagined that the foundation of a new urbanism was being laid. Overnight, the country’s sharp currency devaluation transformed Buenos Aires from one of the most expensive cities in the world to one of the cheapest. Travel media from around the world buzzed with tales of bargain basement prices. Tourism grew rapidly, while foreign buyers snapped up crumbling nineteenth-century mansions in the city’s historic center. In this mix, culture and tourism became significant growth sectors. As progressive mayor Aníbal Ibarra put it in the aftermath of crisis, Buenos Aires was not going to compete internationally with the “slave labor” of other developing countries, though the city “did have creativity” (Centner 2007, 20–21). In fact, city officials came to see culture as Buenos Aires’ “most valuable resource” (Luker 2016, 27).
To seize upon the uptick in international visitors and reshape the city for novel forms of postindustrial growth, the local state adopted an increasingly standard toolkit of urban policies. From declaring the city the “cultural capital of Latin America” and organizing international festivals, to the establishment of “creative districts” meant to foster nonpolluting industries such as the arts, technology, and design, the implementation of these policies reshaped long-standing aspects of social and geographic inequality (Dinardi 2017; Kanai and Ortega-Alcázar 2009). Unlike past forms of state-led economic globalization focused on enclaves of finance and business services (such as in Puerto Madero), these strategies relied upon the everyday cultural practices of ordinary residents, artisans, and cultural producers in the city’s central districts. In fact, the 2001 economic crisis, compounding the free-market policies of the 1990s, created a novel stratum of the so-called new poor (Feijoó 2001). Some formerly middle-class professionals became artisan street vendors in touristic neighborhoods, while working-class residents struggled to maintain their right to vend in public spaces now infused with culture and tradition.
To analyze these processes, I advance the framework of chasing world-class urbanism. Chasing reflects local officials’ constantly evolving aspirations, tied to a set of never fully achievable objectives. Rather than a rigid suite of policies with measurable benchmarks, world-class urbanism evokes an orienting vision and yardstick against which urban interventions are measured in Buenos Aires and, increasingly, around the world (Ghertner 2015).6 This analytic formulation allows us to see how transnational influence in terms of urban policies, designs, and normative images have shaped the priorities of the local state in the aftermath of the 2001–2 economic crisis. While no concrete or uniform benchmark strictly characterizes the world-class city, local officials recognize that urban improvements situate them within a larger competitive field of cities (Beal and Pinson 2014)—what anthropologist Aihwa Ong (2011, 13) refers to as a “bigger game . . . of world recognition.” The accelerated mobility of human and investment capital has meant that cities increasingly compete for industries and populations that link them to the global economy, increase land values, and grow the local tax base (Ward and Jonas 2004; Lauermann 2018). World-class urbanism, then, can be thought of as a contextually specific configuration of these competitive pressures, local image-making priorities, and transnational best practice.
Geographers Jamie Peck and Nik Theodore’s (2015) insightful work on “fast policy” examines the rapid circulation of urban policy models and the proliferation of globe-trotting experts, from consultants to city gurus, who promote them. Chasing World-Class Urbanism, however, trains its sights on the local and transnational production of an orienting ideal in city planning, not a set of policies per se. The precise benchmarks characterizing this ideal may be vague, yet officials chasing this vision have firmly embraced a highly influential set of urban priorities. These priorities are expressed through nonmarket, public values such as sustainability and livability in urban planning. Local officials, however, have integrated this language into projects aimed at reshaping the city through new market-centric development. The action implied by chasing this vision is analytically advantageous: It invokes the always incomplete nature of this project and the importance of image and orientation over concrete policy or technical know-how. Chasing the world-class ideal reflects the growing role of urban design and image making for cities aiming to attract new residents, investment, and international recognition. Local officials have attempted to enhance Buenos Aires’ global reputation through planning idioms such as urban sustainability and creativity. But these priorities are malleable in their technical implementation even if they are more concrete in their aim to promote the urban core as clean, green, and economically competitive (McCann 2013). In the end, chasing this vision suggests the always unfinished or incomplete—indeed never fully realizable—character of these aspirations for cities seeking a place in this global competition.
An important argument this book advances, then, is that these plans need not adhere to any rigid guidelines for city officials or international funders to view them as successful. One consistent feature across a range of city projects has been their relative departure from any technical benchmark of success. Far from a strict suite of policies with expected outcomes, world-class urbanism encompasses what geographer Sara González (2011) refers to as a politics of “reassurance”—a soft institutional orientation that integrates local officials within global norms deemed rational, cutting edge, or commonsense. Although the cultural tools, urban designs, and planning principles that the local state adopted aimed at chasing a vision of world-class urbanism rooted in competitive city strategies—that is, strategies to better position Buenos Aires for investment, in competition with other cities—these plans have been modified by the contentious claims of everyday residents as well as the genuine quality-of-life dilemmas that such improvements sought to resolve. Global pressures and forms of influence may inspire glossy city plans touting urban sustainability projects, or the well-designed PowerPoints of officials presenting projects such as the creative districts at international conferences. But the durability of local institutions and their unique social relations have undermined and reshaped even the best-laid plans. In what the city government touted—following the 2001–2 economic crisis—as the “cultural capital of Latin America,” everyday porteños7 of different class backgrounds sought to benefit from the cultural and touristic reshaping of their city, even as traditional labor markets splintered under the weight of economic crisis.
Throughout this book I seek to explain how new urban planning and policy models, rooted in paradigms of creative and sustainable growth and tied to a rhetoric of social inclusion, reshaped municipal priorities and everyday residents’ strategies of survival. An expression of these changes can be found in the expansion of the city center into formerly impoverished districts, local initiatives to spur cultural and touristic production, and the remaking of conservative approaches to inequality through “inclusive” policy idioms and normative visions of a livable Buenos Aires. For example, the conservative city government embraced the idea of sustainable transportation infrastructure by installing a bike-share program, pedestrianizing downtown streets, and inaugurating a BRT system. Of course, walkable streets and bike lanes are not merely an expression of some new urban fad, but the way these policies align with powerful institutions’ widely disseminated ideals means that scholars must look beyond the geographic origins of any one policy. The question is not as simple as where these ideas or projects originated. Rather, how do certain models gain currency in policy circles? In what ways do they align with new priorities of urban governance?
I propose that the instruments of world-class urbanism are not strict prescriptions but rather form something like an ideological toolkit. Local context and political exigencies differentiate cities from each other in unique ways. At the same time, Chasing World-Class Urbanism suggests that this toolkit of urban policies is best thought of as a discourse community influenced through international development and philanthropic circuits of experts. To a significant degree, the success of these projects is measured by how well host cities like Buenos Aires integrate the tenets of world-class urbanism, expressed through values such as sustainability, livability, and creativity, into their city branding and international reputations. Local officials in this sense are not acting with rigid ideological fealty to neoliberal demands. Rather, they are dealing with urban problems as they come about and bringing the tools they have at hand to bear on these problems. These tools must be assimilated within existing institutional structures, political needs, and local contexts. But they are not ideologically neutral. Rather, they have been shaped by powerful actors and forms of expertise that have infused them with dominant, competitive city planning priorities even when their application is decidedly local.
In terms of local officials, few appear to believe that these “global” strategies, such as the clustering of creative industries or the greening of downtown, can be neatly replicated in Buenos Aires. Yet their interest in pursuing these policies can be understood as a symbolic act that reveals other forms of influence: the worldwide recognition that such policies provide and the legitimacy they confer while officials pursue other urban priorities—such as downtown reinvestment—in their name. This toolkit of world-class urbanism, then, suggests the formation of a postpolitical urban development model circulating across the globe, which suppresses political and ideological framings in city building in favor of broad-consensus values that are difficult to challenge.
Chasing World-Class Urbanism scrutinizes the political uses of these policies while examining how transnational models shape everyday residents’ access to place-based resources during a period of economic change. At the local level, neighborhoods contain not only physical infrastructure but also an intangible set of benefits and resources in their dense networks, institutional know-how, and local cultural capital—what sociologists call “neighborhood effects” (Sampson, Morenoff, and Gannon-Rowley 2002; Small 2004). New forms of city building, then, intersect with an older set of urban-sociological questions: How does place structure inequality? How do residents draw upon the symbolic and material resources of changing neighborhoods to create economically useful ties with local institutions and networks with powerfully positioned actors, while resolving problems through claims to legitimate forms of belonging? In short, what are the effects of transnational paradigms on urban stratification? Global economic processes and paradigmatic city models shape these agendas, but the remaking of Buenos Aires also reflects contentious local politics, patterns of territorial inequality, and the city’s complex history.
Crisis and Everyday Survival
Zooming out a few blocks from the pedestrianization of the downtown Microcentro, with its claim to user-centricity, sustainability, and a lively public sphere, immigrant vendors sell mass-produced tango keychains to tourists in the historic district of San Telmo. In Latin America’s “capital of culture,” some formerly middle-class vendors, impoverished during the 2001–2 economic crisis, have had success converting cultural know-how into handmade artistic forms that align with dominant touristic themes. Others, however, remain marginal to the neighborhood’s new uses and visitors. Byzantine city laws and the political connections of middle-class artisans have pushed mostly Bolivian and Peruvian immigrant vendors farthest from the center of the neighborhood’s Sunday tourist market. These vendors may lack the artistic backgrounds, training, or production processes that would allow them to benefit from the cachet of Buenos Aires’ oldest neighborhood. Their goods, ranging from plastic tango figurines to keychains, generate little symbolic value or individual profit.
As sociologist Frederick Wherry (2011) notes, in districts redeveloped along the lines of tourism, forms of urban culture valued by tourists or city officials confer invisible privileges on those with the right set of cultural tools (Deener 2012). These neighborhood resources are contested, as individuals and social groups produce gatekeeping practices that result in the unequal distribution of place-based resources, such as access to tourist markets. In analyzing the local roots of neighborhood reinvestment and the internal organization of Buenos Aires’ international tourist and antiques fair in historic San Telmo, this book sheds light on the strategies through which residents engage this space to their benefit. This engagement brings together a preexisting set of cultural tools, knowledge, and production processes, some more useful than others. Beyond the physical elements of reinvestment, these relationships show how globally inspired paradigms intersect with local forms of inequality and everyday subsistence.
Rather than assuming a clear division between a heroic vernacular culture and the instrumental uses of creative city dogma, I analyze these concepts and the policies that invoke them through the lens of everyday survival. Another way of putting this is that the intertwining of cultural and economic policy—that is, the expanding “uses” of culture for economic development (Yúdice 2003; Luker 2016)—has altered the politics of urban space and the wages of social class. The stakes of this transformation reflect symbolic power and everyday survival in terms of who controls the city’s dominant cultural profile, who can invoke legitimate artistic identities and forms, and who can benefit from the marketing and merchandising of city spaces for local and international publics. But in Latin America’s “capital of culture,” claims to an authentic artisanal tradition may be powerful tools even in the hands of informal street vendors. In some cases, working-class and impoverished residents in the city’s downtown and historic center have successfully appropriated the local government’s culture-led program of economic revitalization to push for more-democratic access to public space.
Research on these issues engages broadly not only with debates around city policy and urban development under conditions of neoliberal globalization but also with more specialized questions about the travel and transformation of urban planning discourses, conservative politics, and the representational space that culture-led and “inclusive” policies cede to grassroots opposition. By stressing inclusion and livability, the city government’s policies open a political space in which everyday residents can mobilize such rhetoric to demand more genuinely democratic urban futures. They have done so, however, on the slippery terrain of influential urban paradigms, claiming an authentic cultural tradition in a city reshaped by tourism and culture-centric approaches to economic development.
A Transnational Discourse Community
Increasingly, certain urban policies and designs seem to generate almost universal attention from policy makers and officials. Interest in extralocal policy solutions, however, is nothing particularly new (Healey 2010; Huxley 2013; Harris and Moore 2013). Argentina’s Eurocentric governing elite spent much of the late nineteenth century attempting to adopt international policy models in everything from the education system to a Haussmann-inspired city center complete with lavish boulevards and Second Empire architecture. But urban scholars have recently taken a more constructivist approach to how policy travels by reimagining an existing literature on “policy transfer” (M. Evans and Davies 1999). Rather than viewing policy adoption as simply a search for “what works” under conditions of rational choice, these scholars understand it as a power-laden process in which certain solutions are strategically selected and disseminated (Peck and Theodore 2015; González and Healey 2005; McCann and Ward 2012).8
Some models gain purchase in governing circles, while others may be discarded or deemed too incongruous with local conditions. Ananya Roy and Aihwa Ong’s (2011) research on Asian city building is instructive in understanding this sociopolitical undertaking. Focusing on what they call “worlding practices,” they show the significant work that goes into bringing these models to bear on local problems. Policy makers engage in “policy tourism” to sites of best practice (Baker and McGuirk 2018), while local decisions are made with implicit reference to a wider competitive set of “world-class cities” (Roy and Ong 2011). Officials, then, are motivated not only by what works but also by what situates them within broader circuits and denser networks of world-class urbanism.
To promote policies to receptive urban officials, new actors (e.g., urban consultants) and institutions (e.g., urban policy think tanks and NGOs) strive to translate policy models and experiences across contexts (Rapoport and Hult 2017; Prince 2012, 2014; Vogelpohl 2018). Multilateral agencies, philanthropies, and sustainability nonprofits produce forms of recognition deemed congruous with these achievements, such as awards, prestigious city networks, and the promise of lending from multilateral agencies. Transnational NGOs, such as the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP), and climate-change philanthropies, such as C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, promote certain models of urban development, such as those related to green or sustainable transport, culture-based revitalization, or “people-centric” regeneration and renewal (Montero 2019). Agencies like UNESCO and NGOs such as C40 create “city networks” between municipal officials around the world, such as the UNESCO Creative Cities program aimed at promoting culture-led urban policy. They do so by actively seeking out and engaging with local civic and political leaders to implement these projects and then circulate these case studies through the professional networks of planners and practitioners at conferences and trade associations (Prince 2012; Pow 2018; Montero 2017c).
As urban officials adopt these policies, a subset of cities emerges as models of best practice, such as Barcelona for culture-led reinvestment or Bogotá for inclusive and sustainable development (such as BRT) (Degen and García 2012; Montero 2017a; Monclús 2003; González 2011; Galvis 2017). New York City’s innovative High Line Park has become a global touchstone for adaptive reuse of outdated structures (Loughran 2014). International organizations circulate these cases at conferences for city planners and administrators. The fact that BRT originated in Curitiba, Brazil, demonstrates how organizations like ITDP, at one point led by the former mayor of Bogotá,9 strategically cast some interventions as best practice while discarding others (Wood 2014, 2015; Montero 2017b). In many cases multiple institutions work together, with nonprofits like ITDP pressing their case, presenting their work, and sponsoring sessions at meetings of policy makers, such as the UN Habitat’s Conference on Housing and Sustainable Development. A feedback loop of awards, networks, and conferences constructs a discourse community that constitutes a normative vision of world-class urbanism. As geographer Astrid Wood (2016, 392) notes, these meetings rarely lead to “direct uptake,” but over time they accrue as a powerful set of orientations.
Local policy adoption, then, may coalesce as part of a broader benchmark of urban success mediated by academic experts, media images, and global norms (Jacobs and Lees 2013; Ren 2011). As the concept of fast policy illuminates, the contemporary period is characterized by a growing number of policy models that are institutionally designed and “built for travel” as well as many actors set up to ensure that they do so (Peck and Theodore 2015, xvii; Baker et al. 2016). As geographer Eugene McCann (2013) suggests, cities have become “extrospective,” in that local officials are increasingly tied to an outward-looking community of transnationally linked policy makers, practitioners, and institutions. The models they promote require more than policy know-how or a one-size-fits-all road map to world-class urbanism; they necessitate the flexibility for local actors to situate their own contexts, political conditions, and local contradictions within a shared normative vision of the world-class city.
Here, then, we are not following a specific policy, produced through some type of technical benchmark, but rather a vague set of orienting priorities generated relationally (Jacobs 2012). The circulating images of world-class urbanism can be understood in this regard as an imaginary of city building, capable of being transposed upon local modernization projects and social and class relations within distinct cities. Another way to think about the construction of this imaginary and its constitutive parts—the ethereal images, mutable networks, and everyday people and sites of best practice that produce it—is the concept of assemblage. As urban assemblage theorists propose, policies are “assembled” by local governments and everyday actors from fragmented sources and discourses, inflected with and through local institutional patterns and myriad human and natural processes in a sociopolitical field that is continually made and remade (Anderson and McFarlane 2011; Farías and Bender 2012; McCann and Ward 2011). The “work” of assembling the world-class ideal in city building refers to “the composite and relational character of policies and cities and also to the various social practices that gather, or draw together, diverse elements of the world into relatively stable and coherent ‘things’” (McCann and Ward 2012, 43) through a range of material practices and perceptual schemas.
If policy models are not simply imposed by powerful actors or regions, but rather assembled from diffuse practices, actors, sites, and plans, it is difficult to assert that the richest or most powerful cities have a special claim to paradigmatic status. Pivotal in this regard is the call for a decentering of analysis from the most high-flying cities and regions, particularly North Atlantic contexts (Bunnell 2015). Postcolonial perspectives such as those of Ananya Roy (2011a, 2011b), Jennifer Robinson (2006, 2011b), and Colin McFarlane (2009, 2011) argue that a scholarly emphasis on paradigmatic cities like New York, Paris, or Chicago means that some cities emerge as models while others are merely engaging in policy mimicry. The result is a fictitious universality that divides the globe into conforming cities and local anomalies.10
The case presented here embraces the methodological openness and geographic decentering that assemblage and postcolonial approaches advance, but it also stresses the importance of politicizing the flow and direction of influential models and planning expertise. For example, the actions of city officials in Buenos Aires demonstrate that they have significant creative control in the selection, adoption, and circulation of policy and that local context matters a great deal in what policies are implemented and how. In fact, the critique of one-size-fits-all paradigms is itself evident among city officials in Buenos Aires. Since the ruinous economic policies of the 1990s, when the national government’s claim that Argentina was entering the so-called First World was powerfully refuted by economic crisis (Bonnet 2007), city leaders have been careful to avoid appearing impervious to local constraints. An example of this dynamic can be seen in the local success of BRT. City officials in Buenos Aires often reference Bogotá’s version as a model, but the adoption of BRT was in part the result of its resonance among multilateral agencies and sustainability NGOs, many of which are located in the most economically and politically powerful cities. Analyzing the transnational travels of this best practice sheds light on the global asymmetries behind such policy flows. As this book shows, influential NGOs located in the global North may mediate which models city officials view as viable, even if those models reflect the experiences of other global South contexts.
Although the prominence of South–South policy diffusion calls into question the power of northern institutions, the case here strikes a note of caution (Abdenur and Da Fonseca 2013; De Renzio and Seifert 2014). In recent years, multilateral agencies and transnational NGOs in the global North themselves tout South–South cooperation, leading some development scholars to argue that this is an attempt to “harness South–South cooperation in order to preserve and expand Northern influence” (Abdenur and Da Fonseca 2013, 1475). This dynamic suggests that northern development institutions are attempting to insert themselves in triangular fashion between global South development initiatives, preserving their legitimacy by emphasizing horizontal forms of knowledge production.
Beyond this purported form of manipulation, other factors play a role in officials’ adoption of these influential development strategies. Globally legible city paradigms can offer the promise of new investment, tourism, or a better city image that is consistent with the aspirations of local elites, influential policy networks, or indeed the promise of lending by multilateral institutions (Montero 2017c, 2019; Rizzo 2018; Beal and Pinson 2014). For example, in Buenos Aires, BRT began as an initiative sponsored by the New York–based Clinton Foundation, which engaged the New York–based ITDP as an expert consultant for the Buenos Aires project. The Clinton Foundation also touts this relationship with ITDP as a success in Johannesburg, a city that along with Buenos Aires was chosen to lead a “network” of BRT cities sponsored by the New York–based climate philanthropy C40.11
In this sense, certain organizations act as brokers and policy entrepreneurs around the globe even while touting a growing, and quite real, South–South exchange. The fact that BRT is heavily promoted by ITDP in cities around the world, including Buenos Aires, matters because many BRT projects are paid for by funds borrowed from multilateral agencies such as the World Bank. The origins of this policy in Curitiba and Bogotá are important, but it is worth noting that institutions like the World Bank recognize such projects as legitimate and are willing to fund them (Mitric 2013). It is crucial to the local adoption of BRT that transnational NGOs and consultants promote, diffuse, and provide technical assistance for these endeavors. And it is necessary to account for the influence that awards and recognition from prominent multilateral agencies and think tanks provide local governments. In short, an intervention like BRT is a legible project for city officials, international funders, and policy experts alike, aligning local actors with transnational benefactors.
These complex histories require a conception of South–South circulation that interrogates how certain “southern” models become paradigmatic. As Wood (2015, 1075) notes, the assumption that these exchanges simply “remain undiscovered” as a result of northern-centric scholarship belies the very real forms of influence that mark their uptake.12 And as Argentine sociologist Guillermo Jajamovich (2017) points out, the importance of geopolitical power relative to local decision making has a long history in Latin America, predating debates on policy mobility by nearly a century. Dependency theory’s origins in the region produced critiques around the essentialist nature of categories such as core and periphery as well as concepts such as mimicry and imposition. Comparing these paradigms with those in a postcolonial urban studies tradition suggests important lessons. Primarily, scholars must be aware of processes of hybridity and multidirectionality but not ignore the role of geopolitical influence. Rather than measuring the analytic value of these positions against one another, we must understand that processes of circulation always contain both.
Indeed, global best practices are never singularly powerful in shaping the decisions of city officials. Part of what this book explores are the very real forms of failure that these projects have confronted in Buenos Aires. For example, while a cadre of international urban development institutions were praising Buenos Aires’ sustainable downtown Microcentro, with its adjacent BRT line, an official working for a local transportation consultancy confessed in an interview that the political power of local bus companies and drivers made the adoption of a Bogotá-style “gold standard” (with subway-like stations and prepaid passenger fares) impossible. Many residents appreciate the exclusive bus lanes, but experts believe Buenos Aires’ BRT comes up short. Likewise, the city’s bike-share program has been plagued by thefts and vandalism that exceeded officials’ overly optimistic expectations, which were in part informed by bike-share experiences elsewhere.13 Moreover, local opposition parties succeeded for years in derailing the city government’s early attempts to privatize the system in line with global norms.
Chasing World-Class Urbanism shows how it is possible for cities to succeed in producing the physical improvements characterizing a world-class ideal, even while this ideal may leave unresolved the very real quality-of-life dilemmas faced by residents and policy makers. We can begin to recognize here that analyzing the influence of these policy priorities allows for a more systematic, if nonetheless locally contextual, critique of these processes. Policies may be assembled, disassembled, and refracted through complex local priorities, ideologies, and political disputes. At the same time, this book points to the ways international expertise is constructed hierarchically in the making of world-class urbanism, providing some expertise, institutions, and policies with outsized influence over local development. These durable structures reflect what Brenner, Madden, and Wachsmuth (2011) refer to as the broader “context of contexts” in which local actors are positioned within hierarchical global systems.
Postpolitical Values in City Building
How has a socially minded discourse in public policy grown in influence during a period that scholars commonly associate with an increasingly market-centric approach to city building? The traveling best practices of global urbanism suggest a stark paradox: Even as social scientists warn of increased inequality evident in cities in both North and South, the palette of world-class urbanism is characterized by shades of consensus and the supremacy of nonmarket values such as sustainability, livability, and socioterritorial equity. Multilateral institutions such as the UN and city networks such as the World Association of the Major Metropolises (Metropolis) tout social inclusion and urban vitality, expressed in conference titles such as “Cities for Life,” “Cities for All,” and “Caring Cities.” Mayor Macri’s conservative city government, in turn, promoted its own urban agenda under the aegis of “humanizing” the city for people (over commerce or automobile traffic), creating a more inclusive public sphere. The normative ideals of this discourse community have implications for the problem-framing strategies of local officials and the forms of opposition available to everyday residents.
Many of the planning orientations mentioned above are linked in complex ways to now global trends, such as the rise of New Urbanism, a movement in architecture and planning which argued that public space should be “universally accessible” and people-centric and that urban design should celebrate “climate and ecology” conceived through less car-centric cities and their architectural designs (MacLeod 2013, 6).14 These now dominant urban planning idioms generated and reflected a series of expert discourses, ranging from the so-called smart growth movement in urban planning, which aimed to curtail sprawl, to the United Nations’ first use of the term “sustainable development” in a now famous 1987 report (“Our Common Future”) documenting the tension between economic development and the environment.15 Architects with international influence, such as Jan Gehl, have exalted the role of urban design in creating “cities for people” produced at a “human scale” (Gehl 2013), a rhetoric later echoed by the Macri government’s attempt to “humanize” Buenos Aires.
Terms like placemaking—that is, an urban planning model that emphasizes community-based participation and prioritizes diversity and participation in urban design—gestures toward the role of everyday community members in shaping urban space. As the Project for Public Spaces (PPS), a nonprofit founded in 1975 to promote placemaking, succinctly put it in one of its principles for the term: “The community is the expert.”16 Figure 1 shows the growth of this discourse in books published in English from the 1970s to the present, capturing the new rhetoric of public participation emerging during this period.
While many Latin American urbanists see Barcelona’s touristic reinvention following the 1992 Olympics as a powerfully influential regional model (Angotti and Irazábal 2017), the values expressed by the New Urbanism have penetrated local approaches to economic and urban development in less overt ways. Today, multilateral agencies and global consultancies like PPS have embraced concepts like placemaking at a global scale. For example, PPS hosted a UN-sponsored placemaking conference in Buenos Aires in 2014. Around the same time, ITDP’s Buenos Aires office encouraged residents to adopt “Park(ing) Day,” a practice that had emerged in San Francisco, California, in 2005, in which residents converted parking spaces into miniature public spaces. PPS urges everyday citizens themselves to create vibrant urban spaces through their own practices, social meanings, and identities. “Placemaking inspires people to collectively reimagine and reinvent public spaces as the heart of every community,” PPS suggests.17 This vision for lively, walkable downtowns with active public spaces synched with the Congress for the New Urbanism’s (CNU) win-win rhetoric of ecological integrity, human scale, and democratic encounter.18 As the founding charter of the CNU put it, the New Urbanism sought to “reestablish the relationship between the art of building and the making of community, through citizen-based participatory planning and design.”19
Although the rhetoric of PPS or the CNU cannot fully explain the complexities of political and ideological change over time, it does offer a useful lens for studying a range of contemporary urban development orientations and the global policy entrepreneurs who promote them. Just beneath the surface of this rhetoric lies an assumption that participatory, open, and inclusive planning practices create consensus in terms of development and design. At their core, however, the nonmarket values described above often align with the demands of market-led urban development. They reflect cities’ evolving need to promote a lively public sphere as a condition for postindustrial investments in entertainment, consumption, and leisure activities in the context of fiscal constraints, increased competition for a mobile and educated workforce, and the expansion of global property markets (Zukin 1995; Florida 2002; Sassen 2001; Jessop and Sum 2000; Olds 1995). In analyzing urban sustainability policies, competition for investment and talent can likewise help to illuminate some of their appeal to policy makers. The exigencies of attracting new residents, knowledge economy industries, and visitors suggest that environmental concerns are “problems to be banished from the city undergoing redevelopment and integration into the new economy” (Jonas and While 2007, 144), representing a “sustainability fix” or “sustainability edge” for cities competing for new economic resources and human capital (Temenos and McCann 2012; Greenberg 2015).
The strategies of world-class urbanism are not so uniform or concrete in policy terms, but on balance they resonate with a consumer- and lifestyle-driven approach to attracting new businesses and residents. Chasing World-Class Urbanism suggests that pressure to attract these investments in part explains the appeal of this increasingly dominant toolkit of policies. These governing priorities center policy attention on particular understandings of urban problems—such as sustainability—and align them with quality-of-life improvements. Narrow conceptualizations of such problems tend to focus solutions on physical redevelopment (Rosol, Béal, and Mössner 2017; Montero 2019), making city centers more vibrant and attractive to new residents and businesses through upgraded parks, pedestrianized streets, or new cultural institutions.
A characteristic, then, of the globally circulating policies examined in this book is a rhetoric that advances apparently ideologically neutral goals. Planning idioms such as sustainability may be difficult for those displaced by “green” interventions—such as street vendors in the case of Buenos Aires’ Microcentro—to oppose. These policies demonstrate how world-class urbanism is shaped by a postpolitical or even antipolitical (Clarke 2012) orientation that reduces consensus to a set of difficult to contest normative ideals. Erik Swyngedouw’s postpolitical framework offers one general account of this question. For Swyngedouw (2009, 2011), the elevation of nonmarket values suggests a consensual landscape of urban governance bereft of political contention or forms of domination. Officials argue that bike lanes and park spaces benefit all residents equally, even as these ecological improvements often coincide with reinvestment and the displacement of low-income residents (Gould and Lewis 2012; A. Newman 2015). Policy makers and multilateral agencies cast “creative cities” as open and pluralistic while framing improvements to the built environment meant to foster creative spaces as technocratic choices rather than distributional ones, which in turn shape land and property markets. Finally, cities tout new forms of citizen participation in planning processes, even as quasi-public bodies immune to democratic control—such as park conservancies or business improvement districts—supplant elected officials in their decision making (Low, Taplin, and Scheld 2009; Ward 2006). Beyond the influence of urban best practices per se, postpolitics sheds light on how these policy orientations align with a powerful rhetoric of inclusion sutured to a dominant model of market-led development.
Reinvestment in Buenos Aires and Latin America
Sociologist Sharon Zukin (1995, 28) famously referred to gentrification as “pacification by cappuccino” because the visual language of new consumption (such as cafés) signaled that neighborhoods were safe for investment and a returning middle class. Recently, however, urban scholars (e.g., Ghertner 2014; see also Shin and López Morales 2018) have raised doubts about “consumption-driven arguments” in the global South, which paper over differences in postindustrial cultures, consumer preferences, and the symbolic meaning of the city and its reinvestment. For Ghertner, the specific tastes of middle-class residents for historic architecture, sweat equity investments, and cafés and restaurants “do not represent the conditions in many Southern cities” undergoing redevelopment (2014, 1557).
To be sure, research on gentrification in Latin America demonstrates significant displacement of low-income residents. But Latin American cities have experienced fewer middle-class residents moving into the former housing of the poor (López Morales 2010; Delgadillo 2016; Sigler and Wachsmuth 2016) and have been more likely to displace residents through more intensive urban land use such as new high-rise condominiums, often at a distance from the city center (Inzulza-Contardo 2012; Stillerman 2016; López Morales 2016; Márquez and Pérez 2008). Understanding how these regional characteristics reflect different forms of governance, social relations, and local politics requires analyzing the transformation of Buenos Aires neighborhoods (Herzer, Di Virgilio, and Rodríguez 2015).
Departing from the piecemeal residential process of gentrification characterizing many cities in the North Atlantic, multiple city governments in Buenos Aires have evicted hundreds of precarious residents from large buildings in the historic center to return those buildings to owners aiming to develop hotels or hostels and further the city’s heritage economy (Janoschka and Sequera 2016; Rodríguez and Di Virgilio 2016). As Ghertner (2014) suggests, accumulation by dispossession—perhaps more so than gentrification—captures the nature of these processes, particularly when they rely upon state-backed evictions. These evictions are best understood as a form of dispossession, because they imply relations of force rather than the culturally specific process of middle-class residents procuring housing and driving up rental prices or property taxes in “undercapitalized” neighborhoods.20
At other times, municipal officials selectively regulate and develop spaces through formal mechanisms like zoning laws and policing, but just as often they rely upon informal regulations such as permitting street vending in some areas but not others. In communities with high levels of inequality, including Buenos Aires, lower-income residents may rely on less regulated public spaces to sustain informal and precarious labor markets. A range of informal economies operate in Buenos Aires in proximity to privileged urban spaces: residents sell trinkets or homemade food, play music or entertain tourists in central urban spaces, or partake in informal housing markets within walking distance of the central business district. The structural importance of these informal economies to the governance of the city is partially why local administrations may find themselves less capable of pursuing growth strategies. Real estate developers, businesses, and members of the investor class may be unable to fully develop these sites for commercial or residential profit making when they are occupied for subsistence or contain informal housing for the poor. And urban governments in Latin America have sometimes prioritized the latter (Centner 2012; Parizeau 2015).
Buenos Aires’ historic neighborhood of San Telmo (discussed in chapters 3 and 6) exemplifies these complexities. The district does contain a number of bohemian and artistic residents who have arrived over the course of the last decades, but international students, tourists, and expatriates represent the bulk of newcomers, not middle-class residents from other parts of the city. The residential conversion that exists is generally oriented toward hotels or hostels rather than the local middle class. This process has led to the displacement of hundreds of the district’s poorest residents, as single-room-occupancy hotels have been turned into hostels or hotels. But this form of dispossession need not rely upon the cultural preferences of a local middle class and their desire for new cafés or historic architecture.
These multiple modalities of reinvestment in Buenos Aires depart in key respects from the expectations of gentrification scholarship in the global North (Herzer, Di Virgilio, and Rodríguez 2015) and its focus on the cultural markers of residential investment. Through a careful analysis of these paths of redevelopment in chapters 3 and 6, I situate these processes within an ever-growing comparative literature on gentrification while also considering how such processes may differ in key ways with the assumptions of North Atlantic scholarship.
Methods and Approach
Preliminary fieldwork for this project began over the summer of 2012. My research, however, was aided by some prior knowledge of the city. In 2005 and 2006, I lived in Buenos Aires, teaching English and getting to know—or at least asking some questions about—the social and economic processes shaping the city. During that preliminary summer of fieldwork in 2012, a fortuitous turn of events allowed me to gain a broader perspective on issues of urban governance. A friend introduced me to a contact who worked for the party running the city government. Contacts with top city leaders, including the heads of city ministries, became possible. Over the course of the summer and the following year, I interviewed officials in the city’s Ministry of Urban Development, Ministry of Economic Development, Ministry of Culture, and Ministry of Public Space.
The center-right city government of Mauricio Macri (2007–15) framed its urban development program around values such as cultural expression, sustainability, and inclusion, building upon a policy emphasis on culture and tourism delineated by the prior progressive city administration. At the same time, social movements and critics suggested that the Macri government had privatized public spaces and promoted state retrenchment in housing and other social services. It seemed clear that the city’s appeal to these policy idioms coincided with the displacement of informal workers and low-income residents from central areas of the city. Demonstrating some of the contradictions embedded in the local state’s embrace of globally influential best practices and planning discourses, these approaches mobilized a postpolitical rhetoric that advanced a new conception of social inclusion. Inclusion, according to the local state, could be realized through goals such as building a “creative city.”
The administration extended the vocabulary of creativity, sustainability, and livability to areas of the city that local governments had neglected in the past. It established “creative districts” in disinvested southern neighborhoods while seeking to turn the soot-choked Microcentro into Latin America’s “first green city center.” It did so while appealing to international best practice and engaging well-known global sustainability NGOs to help with street redesigns. It presented its sustainability and creative city policies at international conferences for policy makers where prominent NGOs awarded the city prizes for its progressive vision.
Blocks away from the Microcentro, the historic district of San Telmo likewise expressed forms of transnational exchange, but in very different ways. On the one hand, the area had boomed since the 2001–2 economic crisis through a culture-led process of reinvestment tied to the city’s growing tourist trade. On the other, city plans to regulate informal vending had largely failed, and growing numbers of everyday residents and artisans had joined an international tourist fair to survive in the aftermath of economic crisis. Some artisans with knowledge of particular cultural forms were able to parlay these skills into locally made goods valued by tourists, but these material benefits were unequally distributed, with vendors of lower social class backgrounds benefiting less from the touristic makeover of the city’s oldest district. In short, these geographically proximate but socially disparate forms of reinvestment, while remaking the built environment, the public sphere, and local forms of stratification, demonstrated different priorities of urban governance.
To situate these forms of redevelopment and the global networks in which they were integrated, I spent February through August 2013 conducting additional interviews, formally interviewing forty-nine individuals during both periods of fieldwork. These semi-structured, open-ended interviews ranged from twenty minutes to two hours and included city officials, legislators, social movement organizers, NGO officials, street vendors, artisans, cultural producers, and community leaders. Some interviews were audio-recorded (when informants gave me permission). In general, I have used pseudonyms for all informants, except when government officials were speaking with me in a formal capacity, in their places of work, and I had made it clear that their statements might be published. With regard to local officials, I often attempted to avoid direct questions about global influences, as this interview strategy tended to elicit disavowals of outside models. Instead, I found that asking broader, open-ended questions about how city projects came about and what city models could be thought of as a gold standard provided richer findings. I also had dozens of informal conversations while conducting ethnographic observations at various neighborhood fairs, local political protests, community board meetings, and organizing strategy sessions among informal workers. In order to more fully observe, I typically did not take notes during these periods of participant observation, instead writing up notes after they took place. Alongside these methods, I systematically analyzed thousands of textual sources: city plans, officials’ statements, media accounts, and archival documents from the Museo de la Ciudad and the archive of the Sociedad Central de Arquitectos stretching from the early 1900s to the contemporary period.
But my interviews and fieldwork in Buenos Aires were not always the only relevant, or at times even the most important, set of methods. This kind of research called into question the idea of a field site itself. Far from a bounded neighborhood or community study, my research often took me to the air-conditioned halls of conferences (in person or through archival video) (Wood 2016; Cochrane and Ward 2012; McCann and Ward 2012, 42) where city officials and urban experts presented their latest plans or offered awards to one another. If one day I might interact with vendors displaced by the city’s pedestrianization of the downtown business district (Microcentro), the next I might interview a director of a New York City–based sustainability nonprofit whose organization had inspired and consulted on these plans. In between these sites, policies with clear global referents were “disassembled and reassembled” (McCann and Ward 2012, 43), refracted through local political struggles, contentious politics, and the meaning making of officials, activists, and everyday city users and residents. When city officials mentioned Bogotá as a referent for their plans but consultants from international NGOs told me that New York City’s sustainability plans were centrally influential to these designs, this meant tracking the relational dimension of urban models (Jacobs 2012; Ong 2011; McCann and Ward 2012). It meant thinking about how local policy priorities and their political meanings might compel city officials to appeal to regional models even if such paradigms were the composite of many extraregional ideas, policies, and ideologies.
One methodological argument that Chasing World-Class Urbanism advances is that policy in any concrete sense is not exactly what is being traced in the case of Buenos Aires. If agglomerating cultural industries into thematic districts or creating a sustainable city center invoked particular best practices, they operated in far more metaphoric ways than the term policy would imply (McCann and Ward 2012, 48). They were rather an assemblage of expert imaginaries and their local implementations, refracted through different forms of influence and relational processes. Such processes of assemblage call out for empirical scrutiny even if they are unlikely to constitute a singular object understood as policy.
Another question this book raises relates to how we conceive of policy influence and its multiple scales. While geopolitical forces may inflect local officials’ views of what constitutes a successful city, local contingency remains a potent lens for understanding processes that are not only economic and political but also historically rooted. As James Ferguson (2010), Aihwa Ong (2011), and others have pointed out, neoliberalization—the notion that market mechanisms are the best way to organize most realms of social life (Harvey 2005)—is but one aspect of historicizing complex lineages of economic doctrine and social thought. Market-driven agendas mingle—at times uneasily, at times harmoniously—with historically rooted projects of local development (Robinson and Roy 2016; Brenner and Theodore 2002; Robinson 2011a). In addition to producing knowledge about how to organize the economy or redevelop the city, such projects inflect the very nature of local aspirations. Argentina’s unique conception of urban modernity, its globally entangled history of economic growth, and the relationship between visions of development and local political projects shape residents’ and officials’ perceptions of “what works.”
Plan of the Book
In chapter 1, I provide background on the city and its politics, focusing on the transformation of Buenos Aires from what the financial press dubbed an economic basket case in 2001–2 to a pillar of the millennial travel genre a few short years later. With its currency devalued, international travel sections buzzed with tales of bargain prices and the city’s “shabby chic” atmosphere, presenting the city with a new economic lifeline based on tourism.
Chapter 2 analyzes the institutional history of postindustrial urban policy in Buenos Aires. It asserts that three areas of city policy—heritage, the cultural/creative industries, and tourism—became new objects of government innovation. In doing so, this chapter draws attention to different forms and periods of globalization in terms of city planning. While the 1990s in many cases represented the origins of these policies, during this period they were largely oriented around cosmopolitan visions of the city. By referring to these as “cosmopolitan” I mean that city planners and officials appealed to global expert discourses, such as that of the UN, advocating the importance of historical preservation and culture as tools of social democracy. This chapter explores how these policies and discourses shifted in the 2000s to satisfy the more entrepreneurial, or neoliberal, exigencies of the local state.
In chapter 3, I describe the local features of reinvestment in the historic neighborhood of San Telmo. This chapter is devoted to understanding the history and contemporary dynamics of neighborhood change using interviews, published accounts, and historical and archival data. The analysis leads to a questioning of the term gentrification and demonstrates how processes of reinvestment and redevelopment—however we refer to them—serve to create a far more exclusionary historic center. It offers some guidance on how scholars might conceptualize reinvestment in historic centers in Latin America, emphasizing the importance of tourism, commercial versus residential change, and the redevelopment of informal housing for hotels and hostels.
Chapter 4 explores the sustainable redevelopment of the Microcentro and the adoption of BRT. It traces the transnational practices and agents that have influenced these priorities of urban design and governance. This chapter critically documents how seemingly unconnected urban policy discourses—such as sustainability, inclusion, and culture—came together to produce similar outcomes, including the removal of informal vending, the upgrading of the Microcentro for tourism and higher-end retail, and an increase in land values. It also develops the idea of a transnational discourse community, a set of networks, awards, and international exchange that has produced a dominant vision of the sustainable, livable, and creative city.
Chapter 5 examines the international travel of creative clusters, evident in Buenos Aires’ creation of arts and technology districts in the impoverished south of the city. These districts created spaces for new middle-class residential lifestyles while largely leaving unfulfilled the increased creative-sector employment to which the districts purportedly aspired. While creative districts were meant as a policy of industrial promotion, they hardly produced meaningful results in this area. Understood, however, as a strategy to increase ground rents in disinvested neighborhoods and reorient them toward new residents and visitors, the creative districts have had measurable success.
In the final empirical chapter, I connect redevelopment to new forms of stratification among the urban poor and formerly middle-class individuals in the historic center. Through an analysis of the San Telmo Sunday fair, I ask how individuals make use of everyday culture to survive in a city of culture. In other words, as the city government reshaped various districts for cultural and touristic development, how did people mobilize culture in ways that undermined the top-down plans of officials? This chapter details the multiple strategies through which the urban poor, formerly middle-class, and middle-class individuals deployed various repertoires of knowledge to produce artisan products or experiences oriented toward tourists. It explores the new forms of stratification that arise from unequal access to particular kinds of cultural repertoires prized by the visitor economy.
By way of conclusion, I delineate the range of political and economic programs that new urban planning models have enabled or foreclosed upon in Buenos Aires. For the local state, the postpolitical language of world-class urbanism has allowed city officials to resolve a tension between pursuing urban equity on the one hand and building a globally competitive city on the other. Everyday residents, however, have strategically mobilized alternative versions of the creative or sustainable city to demand more just urban futures and more democratic access to public resources.