Last month, President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner inaugurated a new cultural centre in Villa 21 in the neighbourhood of Barracas. The centre is a space where members of the historically marginalised community can gather to take classes, put on concerts, and hold art exhibitions, among other activities. Additionally, the centre will function as the headquarters for the National Secretariat of Culture. The cultural centre’s opening came just two months after the announcement that Villa 31, located close to Retiro, would see its own subte station when the H Line is extended in the coming years.
We asked a selection of porteños what they thought about the government’s recent efforts to integrate slums with the rest of the city. Most of the people we spoke with found the developments to be positive, but acknowledged that they were just a small part of the changes that needed to be made.
To me, it seems like a good idea because it brings the opportunity of greater social inclusion to residents of the villas, which has always been missing. I think now they will feel more like a part of the city of Buenos Aires and of greater society. Furthermore, the cultural centre is an example of a tool that can help people get ahead in life, which of course I think is a good thing.
The opening of a cultural centre in Villa 21, as well as the connection of Villa 31 to the subte line, breaks with the typical paradigm of economic exclusion and social marginalisation of those that live in these communities, which is good. However, I don’t think that these moves by the government can integrate the villas with the rest of the city. I don’t want to sound like a sceptic, but extending the subte or opening a cultural centre doesn’t change management hierarchies, nor does it change the lives of residents who continue to be in need of work, healthcare, housing, and education.
I think it’s a good thing, but you also have to think about how these kinds of inaugurations are a way for the government to cover up the real problems, like how the villas lack basic services. It’s like with the Metrobus on 9 de Julio. It is not really anything new, just another bus, but it is a way for Macri to tell people that is he doing something to make the city better. I think it’s all a way to gain votes.
It seems like a good idea because a cultural centre is something that contributes positively to society. Culture brings so many things. I’m not sure what exactly will go on at this particular cultural centre, maybe yoga or music. Regardless, these are things that only add to a community. We have a cultural centre here in Caballito and it has been very positive in my life. In spaces like these you are able to learn new things and meet new people, especially people who think differently than you.
I actually think Villa 31 should be moved to another part of the city. The area it is in isn’t suitable for the type of growth happening in the villa. For example, houses are constructed under highways and in between train tracks. This is not good for the future of the city. During the ’90s there were initiatives to move it, but it never happened and no one will make any effort. As with the cultural centre in Villa 21, I think the government needs to do more to confront the violence and marginalisation the villa’s residents face. I think the government needs to focus not only on the conditions of the villas but on the violent lifestyle there and the rate of organised crime.