As one of the largest and most vibrant cities in the world, Buenos Aires, Argentina is a thriving metropolis that is often considered the center of the universe. With a population of nearly 17 million people, it’s one of those rare cities that can make you feel as if you’re in the middle of everything. However, despite its impressive size and stature, Buenos Aires has struggled to achieve true greatness in recent years. In this article, we’ll explore the history, culture, and current state of Buenos Aires, and explain why it’s one of the best places to live in Latin America.
A City with a Rich History
Buenos Aires is a city that was founded by Spanish explorers in 1580. These pioneers navigated over 1,000 kilometers of South American rivers to establish the first permanent settlement, which they named Buenos Aires for the “fair winds” that greeted mariners in the area. Almost immediately, the city’s founder, Juan de Garay, began planning a grid emanating from the Plaza de Mayo, which remains the spiritual center of Argentina to this day.
For the first 200 years of its existence, Buenos Aires was considered a sleepy Spanish colony, too remote to warrant much attention. The Spanish compounded this remoteness by decreeing that Buenos Aires could only trade with one other port – its colony at Callao on the other side of the continent. This, coupled with the problem of pirates that stole from any vessel without a military escort, drove up both the price of goods and the length of time they took to arrive.
As frustration mounted against the faraway Spanish crown, the British saw an opening to invade during the turn of the 19th century. But the people of Buenos Aires, who call themselves Porteños, used guerrilla tactics to expel the British twice, in 1806 and 1807, with little direct help from Spain. These victories convinced the Porteños to push for independence, and within three years, they had expelled the Spanish viceroy.
Over the next century, all trade into and out of the surrounding provinces was funneled through Buenos Aires, which turbocharged its growth. In the 1850s, crops from far and wide flowed into its factories and warehouses on newly built railroads, creating the need to build South America’s first wholesale market, stock exchange, and railway station. With the advent of refrigerated ships, the international export of Argentina’s high-quality beef took off, and with foreign investment pouring in, word spread that Buenos Aires was becoming a world-class metropolis. Between 1870 and 1895, Buenos Aires’ population exploded from 90,000 to 670,000, as an influx of immigrants arrived from Italy and Spain.
The Birthplace of Tango
This mix of striving people packed into a new, densely-populated place was the perfect recipe for the birth of tango, a passionate dance that embodies the heart and soul of Buenos Aires. The city’s leaders fully embraced the fusion of South American and European styles, and today, its architecture is eclectic but distinctly Parisian. As are its wide boulevards, especially 9th of July Avenue, the widest street in the world, which required the demolition of dozens of blocks and took half a century to complete.
Another impressive build was the metro, known locally as Subte – the oldest underground transit system in the Southern Hemisphere. When Argentina’s provinces were unified in 1860, Buenos Aires led the new country to one of the most spectacular increases in prosperity in world history. Within 60 years, it had become the seventh-wealthiest nation on earth, with a per capita GDP bigger than France and Germany.
The Struggles of Buenos Aires
Despite its early success, Buenos Aires has faced numerous challenges in the last century. World War I forced European investors to move their money back home to help win the conflict at their doorstep. This meant less money was crossing the ocean into Argentina, and the stock market crash of 1929 was the final blow to the export-dependent economy of Buenos Aires. With little public trust left in the government, the military seized control, leading to the first of 10 revolts or coups that have taken place over the last century. These abrupt changes in leadership have resulted in chronic instability.
The constant interruption of government administrations, combined with the crush of people that arrived throughout the 1800s, severely challenged the ability of Porteños to plan and construct adequate housing. During World War II, Buenos Aires again struggled mightily to find buyers for its exports, which forced millions in Argentina’s rural areas into poverty. Many people had no choice but to migrate to the capital in search of work, nearly tripling the city’s population.
Despite its challenges, Buenos Aires is still one of the best places to live in Latin America. The port is still one of the largest and busiest on the continent. And experts think the specter of military intervention that has haunted the capital’s politics for decades is likely a thing of the past thanks to years of spending less than 1 percent of GNP on its armed forces.
Today, with the footprint of the metropolis largely built out, its economic focus has shifted from manufacturing to services like finance and real estate. It’s already fairly easy to traverse using public transport, bike, or on foot, so improvements to the quality of life could focus on increasing the number of parks, as BA’s greenspace per person is well below the UN recommendation. These areas can also help with flood control during heavy rains as the concrete jungle has expanded into low-lying areas and even out into the river estuary.
What Makes Buenos Aires Special?
Despite its challenges, Buenos Aires is still an incredible place to live. Culturally, it remains influential on the world stage. The city is considered the “city of books” with more bookstores per person than anywhere else on the planet, including one that’s been named the most beautiful in the world. It’s also a city of thinkers, with more psychologists per inhabitant than anywhere else. This pro-intellectual and open-minded culture features the largest number of theaters in the world, including one of the best opera houses and a spectacular national cultural center that is the largest in Latin America. Among the many performance spaces in this repurposed grand old post office is the spectacular auditorium known as the blue whale. To dampen noise and vibration from the metro that runs right below, the theater is suspended in the center of the building without touching any floors or walls.
Porteños are also champions of individual freedom. The World Health Organization has praised Argentina for its laws protecting transgender rights. This followed the 1994 change to the national constitution that made Buenos Aires an autonomous city, instead of being ruled by the federal government as it had been for more than a century. This allowed Porteños to elect their own mayor, instead of having the president decide who runs their city.
Finally, Buenos Aires is the birthplace of tango, one of the most passionate and romantic dances in the world. It embodies the heart and soul of the city, and it’s still very much alive and well today. If you’re looking for a vibrant, passionate, and culturally-rich city to call home, Buenos Aires is an excellent choice.
Buenos Aires is a city with a rich and complicated history. Despite its challenges, it’s still one of the best places to live in Latin America. With its incredible cultural and intellectual heritage, thriving port, and robust public transportation system, Buenos Aires is a city that has much to offer. While its economic focus has shifted from manufacturing to services like finance and real estate, it remains an important player on the world stage.
The city’s architecture is a mix of European and South American styles, which gives it a unique and eclectic character. Its wide boulevards and expansive urban grid are some of the largest and most prominent in the world. The metro, locally known as Subte, is the oldest underground transit system in the Southern Hemisphere.
Buenos Aires is also considered the “city of books” with more bookstores per person than anywhere else on the planet. This city has more psychologists per inhabitant than anywhere else in the world. It also has the largest number of theaters in the world, including one of the best opera houses and a spectacular national cultural center that is the largest in Latin America.
While the city has faced its fair share of challenges over the years, including a troubled economy and political instability, it has remained an incredible place to live. Despite the struggles, Porteños have continued to embrace their cultural heritage, and their city remains a vital and influential part of Latin America.
In conclusion, Buenos Aires is a remarkable city that offers an incredible quality of life. With its unique cultural heritage, thriving port, and robust public transportation system, it is an excellent choice for anyone looking for a vibrant and exciting place to call home. Whether you’re looking to immerse yourself in the city’s rich history or explore its cutting-edge arts scene, there is no shortage of things to see and do in Buenos Aires.