The luxurious, vacation-style city
For the Herald
A trip to Vicente López and San Isidro in the north is like entering another world for most porteños
Some people feel estranged when they arrive here. Life is so different that they usually get rather shocked when they face the diversity of habits, accents and fragrances of the “Zona Norte,” the northern area of the Buenos Aires suburbs. As if they felt slightly uncomfortable. It is not difficult to understand: locals in this area don’t look like regular porteños.
The northern strip of Avenida Libertador starting in Vicente López and ending at San Isidro’s northern limit with the district of Tigre delivers to the visitor a kind of taste of being close to a vacation site. But of course, for locals, its business as usual. All along the avenue there are plenty of shops featuring diverse luxury car brands: Audis, BMWs or Mercedes, Volvos and Land Rovers, among others. But things here not only become expensive, they become unique. It is not like you can just find luxury cars or motorbikes, but you can also get things that are not available elsewhere. In a simple ride along Libertador, the visitor can notice some of the most unusual stores in the whole country. Only in the district of Vicente López (which includes the neighborhoods of Vicente López, Olivos and La Lucila) it is possible to find Porsches, Norton Bikes, Royal Enfield, KTM and CanAm bikes and trikes, Solaris Quads and Chris Craft boats one-and-exclusive dealers. Smart, Harley Davidson and Ducati have stores in Acassuso and San Isidro (San Isidro district).
As well, one might find car-armouring shops, the local headquarters of global corporations (Nestlé, McDonald’s, Nike, Bayer, Procter & Gamble, Novartis), technology stores (Nikon, Apple) and fashion brands along Dardo Rocha boulevard, in the vicinity of San Isidro’s racecourse. Locals have their own classic restaurants: burger joints like The Embers, Pepino or Burger 54 for the youngsters; Friday’s and Kansas for those married with children. There is still plenty of sushi, Tex-Mex, French or Italian options (the famous Novecento, for example) and even the only local PF Chang’s, the Asian-American “gourmet” restaurant.
Big houses, big gardens, pools, servants, maids, gardeners, private security —everything is shiny, well-kept, tidy, green and fresh. The northern district (just five minutes from the Capital’s northern end) is the closest “foreign” territory in distance to the eyes of a regular porteño, but also the closest spot that makes for a remarkable contrast between lifestyles among people sharing the same city. In the Paseo de la Costa — a coastal promenade that runs along the river through almost three kilometres — running teams train all year long, but at the beginning of each spring, they seem to blossom all along the trail, as well as biker groups, people practising their Tai Chi and yoga positions or just elderly people walking their dogs.
For a handful of kilometres, this part of the city suburbs might look like San Diego, California. A wealthy, fit, and happy community. The parents make big money in managerial positions, law, medical practice, or family businesses; the kids study at the local elite schools. But, of course, it is not California, because this strip is just a fraction of the districts of Vicente López and San Isidro which cannot avoid their fate of belonging to a country that happens to be part of Latin America.
The richest districts
Vicente López is run by Jorge Macri, President Macri’s cousin, who seems to have thought that carrying that family name would take him to office, and he was right. With that backup and a tired constituency after 24 years of former mayor Enrique García, he managed to now be in charge of one of Buenos Aires’s richest districts. He received the lowest rate of BNC (Basic Needs not Covered) of Buenos Aires’s surrounding districts (2.4 percent, the average for Buenos Aires’s suburbs being 9.2 percent, with the district of Florencio Varela topping the charts at 17 percent) and he is now campaigning to be Senator for the mid-term elections to be held next year. Less than a month ago, Macri re-inaugurated the train station of Vicente López as a great accomplishment of his administration. The station had already been finished more than a year ago as part of former Transport minister Florencio Randazzo’s railroad grid renewal plan. Whatever works for campaigning.
To get to the Senate he might as well work along with the other departments of the district, like Carapachay, Munro and Villa Martelli, who remain stuck in time and are nothing but glamorous. But Jorge Macri’s still lucky: only 1.4 percent of homes in those districts are in bad living conditions and it bears no homes with earthen floors, against 7,200 homes with the same kind of flooring in La Matanza.
San Isidro is much bigger and even trickier to manage, although it has a similar number of inhabitants. Mayor Gustavo Posse is also an ally of Macri, but he has to deal with some real impoverished areas, like the western part of Boulogne, one of his district’s departments, where many slums have burgeoned in the last 15 years. Despite his claim to be a change, he is the son of Melchor Posse, a former mayor with five terms (16 years) in office and who claimed that place for his son Gustavo in 1999, a position he has kept since then, which means that the Posse family has been running one of the richest districts in the country for over 33 years. Posse still has to respond to the wealthy neighbours’ claims over security and crime issues, and those of the poor regarding hospitals and drains: out of 100,000 homes there are still 18,000 which have no sewage.
Beyond certain limits
Beyond the horse-track and the trendy Dardo Rocha boulevard, things get less attractive for visitors as well as for locals. No weekender would choose going beyond certain limits, because the Villa La Cava — an enormous slum which started in the 1970s with over 10,000 dwellers — is way too close, like an island of poverty floating in a sea of mansions. Contrasts within contrasts.
But the more distant point between a normal living standard and something completely out of the box, to the view of a regular city man, could be the last coastal portion of this northern privileged area, the district of the yachting and marina clubs just at the end of Lower San Isidro, almost facing Tigre. There are no regular houses, no shops, only private yachting clubs, each one filled with mansions, and each of them with its own marina and of course, its own boat. It looks like Marbella, but surrounded by the murky waters of the river instead of the Mediterranean blue. A few hundred metres away from this area, another symbol of otherness for the regular guy: the campus of the Universidad de San Andrés.
The Universidad de San Andrés was established in the early 1990s following the standards of US universities. Generous green areas, rich families and corporation-sponsored halls and classrooms, state-of-the-art equipment, US college-graduate professors and wealthy students from wealthy families ready to pay hundreds of dollars a month for the best education money can buy.
It can be quite shocking for a student of a public university to visit San Andrés. It would be unfair to conclude that this is a better environment to study and that better professionals exit their classrooms, but there is nothing as different as these two views about educational standards, let alone a country model. Although this university offers many curricula in the field of humanities, San Andrés is well-known for teaching economics, finance, marketing and law to the future leaders of Argentine branches of top global corporations — and to staff from the current government.