A look behind the statistics
When looking at Buenos Aires City on a map of Argentina, the 200 square kilometres where almost three million people live, looks the same. But the statistics show a different story. The inequality between the different neighbourhoods in various life quality indexes vary drastically, demonstrating the extremes and highlighting problems. Whether looking at healthcare, education, housing , construction or income, depending on what side of the city you live, your experience is most likely very different from the other side.
There is an estimated 2.89 million residents cohabiting in the city, where the population grows at an average of 4.5 percent per year.
The neighbourhoods with the densest population are those in the centre of Buenos Aires — Caballito, Almagro, Boedo, Balvanera and San Cristobol — with an average between 19,000 and 30,000 residents per square kilometre.
Of the northern neighbourhoods only Recoleta comes close, with 23.8 residents per square kilometre.
Those in the south of the city — the neighbourhoods of Villa Lugano, Villa Soldati, Villa Riachuelo, Mataderos, Barracas and La Boca — have the lowest population density, with only 10,000 residents per square kilometre.
There is a historic reason behind this, according to writer Gabriela Massuh, who authored the 2014 book El Robo de Buenos Aires (“The robbery of Buenos Aires”), a book that investigates how private investment has affected the city’s housing situation.
“From the very beginning of the country’s founding people started to gravitate to the north, with more focus and investment being given to that part of the city,” Massuh explained to the Herald.
It’s a divide that continues to this day. Between 2014 and 2015, the bulk of new real estate construction projects were focused in the northern communes of the city, in the downtown centre of Puerto Madero, Retiro and San Telmo, and in Commune 13 in Belgrano, Colegiales and Nuñez neighbourhoods. More than 100,000 square metres were being built on in these neighbourhoods last year, while the poorest parts of the city in the southern part had less than 50,000 square metres developed. The poorest neighbourhoods had the least construction activity. Villa Lugano, Villa Riachuelo and Villa Soldati in the southern tip having less than 10,000 square metres in total construction between 2014 and 2015, according to Buenos Aires City government statistics released last month.
However, the need for housing is far more severe in the southern part of the city. In the same commune that experience the least construction activity, up to 26 percent of the populations in these neighbourhoods suffer from overcrowding in spite of having the lowest population density in the City.
This is the location of some of the largest “irregular housing settlements,” which are known as Villa Miserias, or shantytowns. Some of the best-known are Villa 21-24, Villa 20, and Villa 31.
At the same time, there are also occupied buildings. More than 49 irregular housing settlements exist in Buenos Aires City, with more than 75 percent located in the southern part of Buenos Aires City. And over 30 percent of the southern part of City region — Communes 8, 9, and 10 where more than one third of the City’s population lives — cannot afford the basic goods for their family. This sector of the population has become dependent on government subsidies to help them survive.
These economic problems inevitably end up affecting the health of the children born in these neighbourhoods. While the infant mortality rate is less than six per 1,000 children born in the neighbourhoods of Palermo, Nuñez and Belgrano, it increases by two percent in the southern regions of the City. The infant mortaility rate in Communes 8 and 11 is as high as 10 per 1,000 where the neighborhoods of Boca, Barracas and Villa Lugano and Villa Soldati are based.
According to Massuh, it’s not that the public healthcare system is necessarily any different in the north and southern parts of the City, it’s because residents in the northern part of the city — since they on average have higher incomes — are more likely to have access to private insurance and private healthcare providers that give better care and attention to a family’s newborn.
This income gap also effects average life expectancy, with the neighbourhoods with highest infant mortality rates unsurprisingly having the lowest life expectancy. In Commune 8, if you are a male, your life expectancy is 68 years, while in Recoleta you are expected to live until you’re 78 — a difference of a decade.