23 July 2007

Three cities

One of the often-heard bits of political criticism leveled at the local government, here in Rosario, is that the city is actually two cities. One that is prosperous, bustling, already past the initial phases of economic recovery; a Rosario that has been noted abroad for its quality-of-life initiatives and which is also, now, increasingly being noticed as a place of great beauty, of comfort, a big city with the pleasant environment of a smaller town. The other city is the one left behind, the one with villas miseria scattered in humble neighbourhoods where sewage is still conveyed through open-air ditches, where blackouts are commonplace, where insecurity is rampant; a city that the downtown residents despise and which isn't featured in those brand-new tourist brochures or, of course, in the minds of the mayor or the local legislators.

The invariable strategy of the Peronist opposition, since the beginning of the economic recovery, had been to point this out and place themselves on the side of the poor, disregarding the fact that they've been running the province for decades and, save for a short span that we'd better forget, the country since 1989, and thus they've had the money and resources available to help ease this situation all this time. The equally invariable strategy of the Socialist government
has been a knee-jerk reaction, pointing out a long string of initiatives intended to re-join the two cities, which are all fine but unfortunately don't change the big picture, while they continue to dump millions into beautifying places that could wait and don't concentrate on the improvement of issues that can't wait anymore, such as the eradication of the aforementioned sewage ditches.

The gap between the rich and the poor is so wide (and this can't be denied by neither opposition nor government) that anything done on a less-than-grand scale will always look insufficient. The Socialist-ruled municipality has the advantage of being comparatively short on money; you can't really fight misery if you can't raise taxes and the provincial capital gets back from the provincial state, proportionally, three times what you get for things like public healthcare. With the Socialist, former Rosario mayor Hermes Binner being the favourite to get the governor's seat in the upcoming main election, that "advantage" may (should) vanish.

But Binner, before the true heat of the campaign, said something very sensible (in fact, one of the very few statements both relevant and sensible we've heard from all the candidates during the whole campaign): there are indeed two Rosarios, as there are two Argentinas. The city may prosper, but it can't ignore the situation of the rest of the country. Even more so if we consider how many people from poorer places have come to Rosario, looking for work, and have stayed because they can at least scrounge for food and hope to be assisted by the best public healthcare system in the country.

The current economic model has been good to the middle-class urban consumers and to those who had cattle and crops in the countryside. The lower/middle class continues to struggle, but at least many young people can get McJobs while they finish their studies in our still excellent public universities; and those in the lower class who've had the fortune to be trained in manual skills are working in the construction boom that's causing concrete and glass towers to pop up everywhere. The truly poor, however, the ones who have no money and no means to earn it because neither they nor their parents have ever had a stable job, are still there. Their situation hasn't changed substantially, except the opportunities to live off other people's leftovers are greater... but this also means their resentment is greater too. If they could vote as they wish (thinking they can is ridiculous), the results of October's elections would be very different from those expected today. (If you can get your hands on José Saramago's Ensayo sobre la lucidez, a.k.a. Seeing, do yourself a favour and read it so you understand what I'm saying.) Hearing a so-called "popular" president endlessly congratulate himself on macroeconomic numbers must be infuriating for those who don't get their fair share of GDP.

So why this post? As I read the papers today I thought — wow, look at these three news pieces, look how they reflect three (possible) cities.

Rosario, version 1: For nearly a week, several hundreds of poor people following leaders of the CCC (Corriente Clasista y Combativa) have occupied Plaza San Martín, opposite the seat of the delegation of the provincial government of Santa Fe, demanding food, basic supplies, housing, and money. Men, women and children, along with the horses they use to pull their carts, have stayed there burning tires, sometimes attacking or trying to rob passers-by, the horses eating what they can and, both animals and people, urinating and defecating whenever they can, while tonight the temperature went below freezing point. The municipal government doesn't know what to do. The provincial government doesn't know what to do. The police do nothing.

Rosario, version 2: The first stage of an ambitious project to turn Rosario into a "digital city" was started today, by making free wi-fi high-speed Internet service available along several blocks of Peatonal Córdoba, the pedestrian segment of Rosario's main street. The authorities acknowledged that, while there's an overarching municipal project to close the digital gap, this is not really intended for that, as it'll be only people with notebooks and laptops, and especially tourists, who'll benefit from this service.

Rosario, version 3: The city council is about to discuss a well-thought, and apparently feasible, proposal to build elevated trains in Rosario, of the same kind of those found in Sydney and Chicago. The return of urban trains is part of the government's plans for the near future, but nobody knows exactly how those trains could fit in the city's already overcrowded narrow streets... if not like this.

You can certainly point out that version 1 is a very current present time, while version 2 is a only a very small step in the direction of an unlikely future, and version 3 is entirely hypothetical. Yet I could find this just by glancing at three different newspapers today. So?

My point is this: ruling a city is complicated. Don't let yourself be fooled by politicians who promise simple answers. If they were simple, they'd be done by now. If solutions only required time and money, they'd be in place already. Most often that not, we can only advance in small, disappointing steps. I say we support each one of them — and don't ease the pressure on any of the rest.


  1. Rosario, version 3: I believe The Simpsons’ already covered that option in "Marge vs. the Monorail" (9F10) – North Haverbrook, Rosario, what’s the difference?

  2. The whole point of monorail is that it helps in a situation when the streets are choked - I rode in one myself and it is very efficient.
    On the other note, Pablo, I'd say in some situations one of the reasons why stuff is not being done (even if it could be simple/easy to do) is because politicians could be busy fulfilling their promises to their "business partners" and may need to use money in the best interests of those "partners" - if you know what I mean.


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