Monday, November 9, 2009
6 Images of an Urban Escape
In the late nineteenth century, the marshland sitting between the wide, muddy Río de la Plata and downtown Buenos Aires was commandeered and transformed into the city's new port. However, within a few decades cargo capacity had already been exceeded; another port was constructed to the north and the old one abandoned.
Just a decade or so ago, the inland portion of the old port was transformed again, this time into what might be Buenos Aires' swankiest barrio, Puerto Madero. Luxury apartments in renovated brick warehouse buildings line the stone walkways that parallel the old diques, where sailboats and yachts have replaced the freighters. Old cargo cranes have been preserved as monumental steel statues to the past.
But just east of here, where the land is too soft to support 50-story condominium towers, something different has been allowed to grow. The 360-hectare Reserva Ecológica Costanera Sur is an unexpected expanse of green set adjacent to the ultra-modern Puerto Madero. Here and there where the grass isn't as thick, you can still see the ruts and concrete of old cargo offloading platforms, but for the most part nature has reclaimed it all.
More than 200 bird species are said to refuge in the reserve, but what's easier to see is the escape from the urban that it affords porteños. Pockets of land next to the river have been manicured with mowed grass and picnic tables for weekend asados, and couples blanket in the shade of short trees, looking out over the orange tinge of the river to the flocks of sailboats regatta-ing.
Cycling would seem to be the preferred way of getting around, though there are plenty of walkers. Loop trails range from 3.3 to 7.6km, and bikes can be rented outside both of the main entrances.
I've been impressed with the amount of green space in Buenos Aires, but the reserve is something different. Looking over the low sea of reedy marsh and scrawny trees to the line of half-finished skyscrapers and construction cranes, you can imagine inhabiting your own post-apocalyptic zombie horror flick. Only the zombies are all around you, grilling meat, pedaling bikes, and kicking soccer balls.