The case of La Boca, Buenos Aires, Argentina

La Boca is a southern neighbourhood in Argentina’s capital Buenos Aires. Historically, this was a port of entry for Italian and other European immigrants and therefore emblematic for the formation of Argentina’s urban working class (Rodríguez and Di Virgilio, 2016). It is also considered the birthplace of tango which put Buenos Aires on the world’s cultural map and contributed to the city’s self-proclaimed image as Latin America’s ‘cultural capital’. The first urban renewal project in La Boca was undertaken by the city government in 1993 around the construction of coastal flood-control measures with a US$120 million loan from the Inter-American Development Bank (Herzer, 2010). This was followed in the 2000s by further investments in neighbourhood beautification and tourism development (Rodríguez et al., 2011).

Until the late 1990s, tourism in La Boca was concentrated on the Caminito enclave as other areas were deemed unsafe for tourists due to the neighbourhood being one of the poorest in the city. Caminito is a walking street most closely associated with the merchandising of Tango culture, featuring colourful houses with art galleries, restaurants and street stalls (Janoschka and Sequera,

  • 2016) . After 2001, the municipal government tried to expand the tourism zone westwards by refurbishing historic façades, improving lighting and providing stronger police presence with the aim to include the many art studios that had previously been avoided by visitors due to security concerns (Wong,
  • 2017) . In 2012, legal provisions were enacted (Law № 4353) to create a new arts district with 20 new cultural spaces by integrating sections of La Boca with its northern neighbour San Telmo, thereby establishing a cultural and touristic corridor that would link 180 sites of cultural consumption for visitors (Gobierno de la Cuidad de Buenos Aires, 2017).

This cultural megaproject — developed as a public-private partnership — triggered massive urban land speculation, forced evictions and homelessness (Sequera and Rodríguez, 2017). In 2016 alone, at least 1,100 residents were displaced, and 96 eviction trials were negotiated in city courts according to the International Tribunal of Evictions (2017). There were also reports about fire incidents in buildings, which were attributed to arson attacks allegedly instigated by urban investors (Rodríguez and Di Virgilio, 2016; Sequera and Rodríguez, 2017). More subtle approaches employed by local policy makers have involved fiscal exemptions for real-estate developers investing in the mystification and promotion of Tango culture, backed by UNESCO (Janoschka and Sequera, 2016).

In sum, heritage tourism development in Buenos Aires’s La Boca and San Telmo districts has been marked by a combination of cultural and physical violence (Janoschka and Sequera, 2016). While tourism still remains in its enclave form and the poorer and underprivileged classes are being pushed from their original neighbourhood, the major winners of this process of ‘forced gentrification’ are Buenos Aires’s middle and upper classes who can enjoy more diverse and much safer cultural spaces where they can socialise and entertain themselves alongside foreign tourists (Wong, 2017).

The case of Cuzco, Peru

Cuzco (or Cusco) is a major Peruvian city in the southern Andes, located at an altitude of 3,400 meters above sea level (Figure 8.7). Its proper name, ‘Qosqo’ in the Quechua language, means ‘the navel of the world’ which reflects its importance as the centre of the Inca Empire in the 15th century. Following the Spanish conquest in the 16th century, the urban structure developed by the Inca was mostly preserved, while baroque-style churches, monasteries and manor houses were built over the existing pre-Colombian buildings, turning Cuzco into a hybrid product of Inca imperial heritage and Hispanic colonial legacy (UNESCO, n.d.).

The ‘City of Cuzco’ obtained World Heritage status in 1983, together with ‘The Historic Sanctuary of Machu Picchu’ which most tourists that visit Cuzco have on their itinerary. The Ministry of Culture and the Provincial Municipality of Cuzco bear primary responsibility for the preservation of the city’s cultural heritage programmes and the management of the World Heritage property and perform regular urban assessments, registration, protection, and control works. The Municipality has made extensive efforts towards

Panoramic view of the City of Cuzco in the Southern Andes region of Peru

Figure 8.1 Panoramic view of the City of Cuzco in the Southern Andes region of Peru

The gentrified centre of the City of Cuzco as a ‘safe tourist space’

Figure 8.8 The gentrified centre of the City of Cuzco as a ‘safe tourist space’

creating a clean and safe environment for tourists (Steel, 2013). Cuzco’s historic centre has been transformed from a residential zone into a huge commercial centre dedicated to international tourists who are able to pay the steep prices of the luxury hotels, restaurants and souvenir shops (Chion, 2009). While UNESCO regards new tourism development as a threat to the preservation and functional capacity of ancient buildings, Cuzco authorities have cleared the city of ‘urban undesirables’, such as beggars, street vendors and the urban poor, in order to provide tourists with a sense of comfort and security (Steel, 2013; Figure 8.8).

The first major ‘social cleansing’ of the city centre was instigated by former city mayor Carlos Valencia who considered informal trade and hillside slums as the most pressing planning issues of the city. A study by Bromley and Mackie (2009) found that more than 6,200 informal street vendors were forcibly displaced from central Cusco between 2001 and 2004, thereby freeing public spaces for middle-class residents and foreign and domestic tourists. A similar process of‘social cleansing’ has been reported by Janoschka and Sequera (2016) who described how thousands of informal street vendors in the historic centre of Mexico City were first declared illegal and then evicted from public spaces in a military-style police raid in 2007.

This state-led gentrification has been accompanied by market-led gentrification, with external investors buying up prime property in the city’s centre. A controversial section of Article 2, Law 29164, allows the allocation of tourism concessions for privately owned, four- to-five-star hotels and restaurant within national heritage sites, which caused intense protests by Cuzco’s residents in

2008 (Knight et al., 2017). As local investors are increasingly unable to buy property in the historic centre and local residents are unable to afford the excessively high rents in central parts of the city, impoverished quarters in the city’s outskirts are rapidly expanding. Displaced urban residents are joined in these neighbourhoods by scores of rural migrants who came to Cuzco in the hope of finding new livelihood opportunities in the tourism sector, only to be confronted with the harsh reality of being offered low-paid, precarious jobs or finding no employment at all (Steel, 2013). In these crowded informal settlements, access to water, electricity, public transport as well as sanitary and health services is extremely limited, which contrasts starkly with the amenities that are provided for globally connected tourists in Cuzco’s historic centre.

The growth of cultural tourism in Cuzco has also important implications for the peri-urban fringes beyond the city’s hillside squatter settlements. For several decades, the local tourism sector has campaigned for building a new international airport in Chinchero, about 30 kilometres north of Cuzco. The Peruvian government approved the project in 2012 and started expropriating Indigenous land for the airport project in 2013 (Garcia, 2020). Opponents of the controversial infrastructure project claim that it would not only have devastating impacts on Indigenous communal land rights but destroy the heartland of Inca civilisation (Collyns, 2019).

 
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