This is the second in a two part post on the Matanza Riachuelo Project in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The project first caught our attention back in September. You can also read DRDLM’s first post here which discusses the La Salada informal market located on the banks of the river on the outskirts of Buenos Aires.
Down along the southern edge of Buenos Aires runs the disgusting Matanza-Riachuelo River. To deal with the 200 year long legacy of unregulated dumping and polluting, a new agency has been created with the mandate to clean up the river and manage urban development (industry, housing, environmental ecology) at the scale of the watershed with the ability to cross municipal and provincial boundaries and cut through the myopic self-interest that often handicaps such efforts. This is significant.
We’ve previously mentioned the work that pioneer-adventurer John Wesley Powell did in the 19th century when he explored the American West and came back recommending that the territory be settled and managed according to watersheds. This sage geopolitical advice was soundly defeated by corporate railroad interests and he was relegated to founding the USGS (for more on this story check Jason King’s recent post over on Landscape+Urbanism and this post over on the excellent Strange Maps).
[Powell’s map of the watershed of the arid American West]
But now Powell is having his revenge and scientists/planners/engineers/designers are all colluding, making the case for managing regions based on the watershed (Richard Forman and Kristina Hill’s work immediately comes to mind) and this is resulting in exciting work including Cap-Net and some aspects of water resource policy in Brazil (laid out here clearly in English by Monica Porto).
And so we come to the Matanza-Riachuelo project. Here, not only has a new authority been created to advise on policy efforts, but the agency has capital- the ability to design and implement projects. They have the money to build dams and dikes, to install new sewer systems and monitoring stations, and to work with communities on relocation or rebuilding strategies in addition to advising on policy or enforcing regulations and other initiatives that are necessary in urbanized flood-prone areas. This is extremely rare (unless it’s not, we would love to learn of more examples)- most organizations that have the ability to implement capital projects such as the Army Corp of Engineers, the New Orleans Sewage and Water Board, or the NYC Department of Transportation, are not at all based on the watershed but rather various strategic economic and geo-political territories.
[the Buenos Aires conurbation on the banks of the Rio de la Plata; the hastily drawn red line approximates the course of the Matanza Riachuelo; though it’s at the southern edge of the city proper of Buenos Aires, it is surrounding by urbanization on all sides in the lower part of the basin]
[information on specific projects is published using google earth, increasing the accessibility of the information]
But that is not what truly fascinates us about the Matanza Riachuelo project. For us, the most significant aspect of the effort is that it can be characterized as urban development as an education project. The project goes beyond the technocratic intervention and management of a complex system with a focus on scientific monitoring and publication of results paired with community engagement, exploration, and production. This entails many interesting initiatives that are experimental and educational, themes with a special place in our heart here at FASLANYC. However, the initiative that most captures our attention are two related efforts: Aguas + Trabajo (Water + Work) and Aguas + Cloaca (Water + Sewers).
These projects are a joint initiative of AySA (Argentina Water and Sewer), ACUMAR (the river basin authority), and some of the cooperativas of the municipalities and neighborhoods in the basin. The project is an effort to bring water and sewer to 100% of the households of the Matanza-Riachuelo basin, a major effort: within the basin 35% of the population does not have access to drinking water and 65% is not connected to the sewer system. However, instead of AySA (a massive technocratic bureaucracy) designing, implementing, and maintaining a solution, they instead work with ACUMAR (who has the power to span municipal boundaries regarding water issues in the basin) and local cooperativas to implement a solution- AySA provides the funds and technical training, ACUMAR provides the coordination between municipalities and oversees the environmental development, and the cooperativas get job training, employment, and are agents in the production of space in their barrio.
[here a rather rudimentary temporary station is set up on the grounds of a local school in the Matanza Riachuelo basin; a volunteer from the school is helping to record air quality data with the oversight of a technician from ACUMAR]
This type of lo-fi, educational approach is worth considering for landscape and infrastructural projects in the future. Our current technophilic ideal and its concomitant complexity rhetoric is interesting but limiting. It seems we adamantly refuse to recognize the truth in Paul Virilio’s theory of the Integral Accident in the military-scientific complex and to consider the conscientizaçao of the landscape– landscape intervention as educational project. In the case of A+T this means employment and skills training for underemployed populations while they work on building their own barrio. But one can imagine scenarios where future landscape projects include extensions of CLUI’s excellent adventures, widespread DIY aerial mapping of your own little slice of the world, proliferating urban agriculture, or creating your own flupsy for oyster farming in the New York Harbor.
[DIY aerial photography of the Louisiana coast line, post oil spill; courtesy of grassroots mapping]
The educational project as opposed to the production and consumption of the commoditized environment- the Conscientizaçao of the Landscape.