Buenos Aires, Argentina
A year of redemption
This year marked the first full year in office for Buenos Aires native Pope Francis. Born in the working-class neighborhood of Flores (hence his local nickname, “Pope of Flowers”), the new pope has provided a spiritual boost and raised the global stature of his home city. But despite this uplift, inflation has worsened in 2014 and the value of the black market U.S. dollar—sometimes called the “blue dollar”—has climbed to nearly double that of the official exchange rate. Earlier this year, President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner also proposed moving the capital of Argentina away from Buenos Aires. While most say it was nothing more than a political maneuver, the plan drew on the long-held tension between European-style Buenos Aires and the rest of the country. Nevertheless, residents of Buenos Aires endure, protest, and innovate. An unassuming music teacher named Santiago Pusso has been leading the charge against the government’s plans to build new developments, like a proposed 18-story hotel next to the Santa Catalina church. And, in August, anti-debt protesters took to the city’s streets to challenge U.S.-based “vulture funds” amid Argentina’s economic woes. While the citizens of Buenos Aires are already known for their ability to sit back and enjoy life, 2014 showed that they are certainly not taking their capital’s future for granted.
Hub for progress
The weak peso, combined with a strong black market for dollars, has made Buenos Aires a Bitcoin hub. As of October, there were 108 locations in the city accepting the cryptocurrency. This year, headquarters for Bitcoin Argentina were established in Palermo, inside a multi-story center with event rooms and shared office space where economists can meet, work, and network.
The Minimum Wage Council, the only one in Latin America to include union representatives, agreed to a 31-percent increase in the minimum wage this September, raising it to 4,400 pesos (around $520) a month. Mostly affecting registered workers in the formal economy, the step was in response to union strikes and marches against wages and inflation, which regularly interrupt traffic and end at the Plaza de Mayo, in front of La Casa Rosada.
The Buenos Aires street art scene is one of the most vibrant in the world. The trendy neighborhood of Palermo is where you’ll likely see the highest concentration of work. The nonprofit Graffitimundo joined Google’s Cultural Institute in June 2014, cataloguing pieces by local artists and documenting pieces before they are modified and destroyed. They also conduct tours and sell artists’ work in a way that credits, honors, and profits them.
The Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, who have fought for the recovery of their disappeared children and grandchildren since the military junta dictatorship, represent that tenacious Argentine spirit. This year, Estela Carlotto, a founding member of that group, announced in a packed press conference that she has been reunited with her 36-year-old grandson Ignacio Hurban. His mother was murdered during the Dirty War following her 1977 kidnapping and detainment. The group, known as las Abuelas, has continued to seek their stolen family members. Hurban was the 114th grandchild discovered after his suspicions prompted him to get a DNA test.
Buenos Aires’ public-transportation system took a slight hit this year when riders experienced fare hikes, a running trend in recent years. Nevertheless, the city’s buses and subways are still the cheapest and most efficient way to get around. Each bus line has its own personality, some with hand-painted, filigreed designs, sparking vinyl upholstery, and colored lights. When the subway closes at night, many of the more than 150 bus routes run by distinct private companies, and heavily subsidized by the government, continue to run.
In 2014, the city saw the addition of a giant artificial wave pool and pedal-cart track to the city’s playas, or artificial beaches. Started in 2009 by Macri, the city’s mayor, the two main locations of Parque de los Niños and Parque Indoamericano serve those who stay in the city during the hottest months of the year. They are free and serve as an important space for city residents.
A nation of immigrants, the capital of Argentina feels distinctly European. Though it’s not uncommon to hear negative things about immigrants, things look set to improve. Earlier this year, the city celebrated 25 immigrant-centered events, up from just seven in 2011. An estimated 40,000 people showed up for Buenos Aires Celebrates Peru in July, which featured food, dancing, stage shows, and vendor booths.
Read tourist guides about Buenos Aires and you'll likely think the city is partying all night every night. However, you cannot legally buy packaged liquor after 10 p.m., and the bars close at 2 a.m. Of course, after parties (called "afters") exist, but most people have to get up for work the next day. On weekends, it’s not uncommon to see parents and children sitting at sidewalk cafes well after midnight. Buenos Aires is a city of families, and the country's 19 federally mandated holidays each year add to the two weeks of mandatory vacation, leaving plenty of time to slip out of the city for a getaway to nearby Tigre or a barbecue with friends and relatives at a backyard asado.
Kate Sedgwick spent five years in Buenos Aires where the openness and supportiveness of the arts and expat scenes incited her passion for storytelling and standup comedy. Living in a city where everyone talks with their hands was transformative for her.