Sunday, November 28, 2010

La Salada Sagrada

Last weekend while lazing about resting on our laurels, we received a cryptic cable from DRDLM saying only: 

Que vengas ya!  Me vuelvo histerico, that’s why it smells the way it does.  – DRDLM (fiorito).  

Knowing that he was on assignment in Buenos Aires investigating the new developments in landscape design and trying to track down Max Zolkwer of Supersudaca, we grabbed our passports, a fistful of pesos, donned our lucha libre masks and headed to JFK International Airport.

“Fiorito” was the name of the villa where the great Diego Maradona grew up on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, so we began our weeklong search for DRDLM there.  When we finally got to him he was babbling and frenzied, riding a child’s tricycle around and around with a dunce cap on like a hairless Russian bear.  Once he finally calmed down (it took copious amounts of argentine steak, wine, and Pall Mall cigarettes), he recounted some of what he had seen which we have translated and summarized for you here.  This post is the first in a two-part series on new developments in landscape in Argentina.
[DRDLM on assignment in Argentina; image courtesy of Monkeyworks]


The Feria La Salada market is the largest, most dynamic commercial economic zone in the city of Buenos Aires and the biggest informal market on the continent.  It employs over 6,000 people and draws over 20,000 visitors each day it is open, many of whom come in the 200 buses bringing people from all over the country just to shop at the market.  Over U$ 500 million annually is moved by the market.  Located on a formerly abandoned strip of land along the Matanza Riachuelo River on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, the market is informal, illegal and absolutely critical to the well-being of thousands of families.  It also provides consumers who come from all over the country with the consumer goods that are too expensive in western-style shopping malls that have proliferated throughout the city in recent years.  And it is a point source of pollution and degradation for the beleaguered Matanza Riachuelo River.
[Feria La Salada at night, a bustling and fraught economic zone]

Begun 20 years ago by Bolivian immigrants, Feria La Salada grew exponentially when the economic crisis of 2001 forced huge portions of the population to the economic margins.  It is still growing.  The layout of the market is based on small rentable units that face onto streets running parallel to the river.  This almost-modular layout is essentially an extendable, flexible land use system that allows for every kind of vendor from shirt salesmen, cobblers, and fry cooks to set up easily, customize their space with a sign showing prices, and present their goods to the multitudes streaming by on the hard-packed dirt streets.  Its success is directly attributable to low prices- futbol jerseys here can be 1/10 the cost of a similar product from a store in the city center. 

The success of the market and complete lack of municipal regulation has subsequently given rise to a particularly economic strategy for growth- take the garbage generated by the market, dump it in the river along the banks, build on top of it when it’s high enough.  Of course, this short term solution creates more pollution in the river and a precarious building situation for vendors occupying these stalls, both of which work to undermine the long-term success of the market. 
[the bridge on the right is one of the main access routes into the Feria La Salada, bringing people from the field where the buses park, across the Matanza Riachuelo River on the old railroad bridge along an ad hoc pedestrian walk cantilevered off of the far side]

Current expansion strategies for the market include the beginning of regularization of activities, including the creation of a bus depot, a cinema and other entertainment facilities, and creating more credit mechanisms so that vendors can capitalize their operations and the market can begin to open for more days each week.  Simultaneously a new watershed-wide effort is underway to clean the Matanza Riachuelo, an effort that will certainly influence the future of the market and the way it grows and manages its activities.

One glaring question arises as a starting point:  why is the market located on the river?  Did it offer some advantage?  Was it due to some peculiar socio-economic or physical aspect of the environment?  And in the future, how might the effort to clean up the river work in concert with the need to address the accessibility and physical stability of the market?  (Why, through the landscape, of course!)  What are the lessons that can be taken from the ecological processes of the river basin?  And is there any way to make it so the smell of the Matanza Riachuelo at this area doesn’t induce vomiting?  Because vomiting is bad for business.

Key physical issues and possibilities exist here at the confluence of the most polluted waterway and the most dynamic and precarious economy in the whole region.  If entertainment programming, new areas for expansion, increased biodiversity, decreased pollution, and improved access are what is desired the Matanza Riachuelo must become a protagonist in that effort.
[the river provides the market with little more than landfill space, the market does little more than dump whatever can't be sold here]

So sayeth Don Roman De La Mancha.


  1. Re: your question (perhaps rhetorical?) Why is the market located on the river?

    I would assume that it is based on a couple factors. My guesses...
    First that the river quality being what it is, the land adjacent to the river was probably undesirable or a sort of no mans land and thus was just available? Unless the market has a long history in which case perhaps in an earlier period access to water was valuable for ease of transport?

    Additionally, as cities historically turned away from their rivers/waterfront perhaps the land was industrial or non used and thus available..

    All the above has to do with cheapness (of rent) and availability.

  2. You are correct, sir! One of those newspaper articles I linked to pointed out that during the time of Peron (the 40's-50's) the area was a "balneario" (place for sunbathing).

    that means that the area wasn't highly developed or too polluted at that point, a fact that changed likely around the 50's when the urban population began exploding.

    when the market started, just 20 years ago, it was just a vacant slice of land. Supposedly the river isn't used for transport.

    But I'm wondering why here, specifically? Surely there are many spots along the Riachuelo that meet that criteria, no? Evidently the market was started by a Bolivian community living nearby, and I think the lax municipal regulation of the territory contributes (they don't have to pay any tax, for instance).

    I don't know, there's got to be a story there...

  3. Are you paying over $5 per pack of cigs? I buy my cigarettes from Duty Free Depot and I'm saving over 60% from cigarettes.