“Them” and “Us”, a Metaphor for Urban Inequality
For the inhabitants of “Bajo Autopista” (Under the Freeway), a slum built under an expressway in the Argentine capital, “they” are the people who live in areas with everything that is denied to “us” – a simple definition of social inclusion and a metaphor for urban inequality.
Karina Ríos’ roof is the Illia freeway, one of the main accesses to Buenos Aires. The shantytown is at the edge of Villas 31 and 31 Bis, where some 60,000 people live just a few metres away from El Retiro, one of the poshest neighbourhoods in the capital.
Rios gets light and ventilation through the space between the two halves of the elevated expressway, which is the roof for her two dark, damp rooms with bare brick walls where she lives with one of her daughters.
“[I]n the past 20 years, the general tendency seen in Latin America was the growth of urban inequality.” -- Elkin Velásquez
“Ambulances won’t come in here unless the police accompany them. That’s because here, as the police say, a ‘negrito’ (poor, dark-skinned person) who dies is just another negrito. For them, we negritos are nobody,”
That’s how her son Saúl, 19, died last year, when he was stabbed in a fight, defending a friend. The knife perforated his liver and spleen, and he bled to death, she said, because he wasn’t “one of them.”
“If the ambulance hadn’t taken so long to get here, my son would be alive today,” lamented Ríos.
As an activist with the community organisation “Powerful Throat”, Ríos represents her neighbourhood now, demanding better living conditions. The main demand is “urbanisation”.
“We slum-dwellers are stigmatised. And it’s because we’re not urbanised, we don’t have decent streets,” she said.
“When we look for work, we don’t say where we live because if you give an address from here, they won’t hire you. ‘Villeros’ (people who live in ‘villas miseria’, the name for slums in Argentina) are all seen as thieves.”
For Ríos, urbanisation means streets have names and are paved. The streets here, most of which are dirt, are muddy and impassable when it rains.
It also means there are clinics. “There is a health post but the doctors only see five patients (a day) because they aren’t getting paid, and they attend the kids outside. They weigh the babies naked outside in this terrible cold,” she said.
Nor are there basic public services. The list of demands is long: “We need sewers, electric power. Fires happen here because everyone is illegally connected, and short-circuits happen and the houses start to burn,” said Ríos. (IPS)