Renovating Villa 31

Villa 31 is a villa miseria, or informal settlement, and home to 40,000 people in downtown Buenos Aires. It has long been an eyesore for a city that considers itself more akin to a stately European capital than a favela-ridden South American mega-city. Two years ago, the government unveiled a $320-million redevelopment plan financed by the World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank driven by a progressive 21st century vision of inclusive urban upgrading. That is to say, improving Villa 31 without forcibly displacing its occupants.

The centerpiece of the plan is in exchange for improvements to their homes and investments in basic infrastructure like water, sewer, and roads, the residents must take formal title: deeds to the land where they have squatted for decades. This is not a new strategy for a Latin American city, but in such centrally located land, the grand question is can Buenos Aires prevent wholesale gentrification through innovative housing instruments like community land trusts that would provide property deeds without leading to an immediate real estate frenzy? Adding to the potential economic pressure, the Inter-American Development Bank has unveiled plans for its largest office outside of Washington to be located on Villa 31's doorstep as a gesture toward working more on the ground in poor communities—though a development that could likewise further valorize the land where Villa 31 sits. In short, will well-intentioned efforts by urban planners destroy the village in their attempt to save it?