By Rodrigo Salinas
Buenos Aires is a city with a great sense of humour, especially when it comes to ironies. We are not making reference just to the people, but the city itself is covered with places, streets and monuments that are ironies themselves. One of the most obvious ones is the fact that the city started as a port, with the Rio de La Plata (Silvery River, also known as River Plate or La Plata River) being a crucial part of its development, yet one rarely sees the river and, in fact, it was pushed 1,5 kmts (one mile) to the east to make room for an administrative sector of the city that turned out to be a failed project, and currently is the neighborhood of Puerto Madero. Within this neighborhood you can find one of the best examples of what we are talking about: the ecological reserve.
The area that is today called Reserva Ecológica Costanera Sur (Ecological Reserve Southern Riverfront) went through many changes since its beginning until it reached its current form. The history takes us back to 1918, when the government decided to open a municipal beach on the shore of the Rio de La Plata. The first decade of the resort was a success; thousands of people would visit every weekend and enjoy the shade of the trees and would even take a swim in the river (can you imagine?). Many restaurants, bars and little shops opened around the area and the walkway along the beach became an almost mandatory nocturnal walk during the Buenos Aires summer.
But things changed from the late 20’s onwards. Puerto Madero started slowly being left behind due to another ironic joke: the city failed in the planning and construction of the port, and the new boats, of bigger size, simply did not fit. The government then built another port to replace it, and in an attack of undeniable creativity named the new port just so: Puerto Nuevo (literally, New Port). Once the new docks were finished they started moving operations out of Puerto Madero and into the new home of the port, the neighborhood of Retiro.
As a consequence, people stopped going to the beach in the Costanera Sur and chose a new area for their summer walks in the north part of the river that was logically named Costanera Norte (Northern Riverfront). So the former beach resort became a no-man’s land that city dwellers would avoid due to the high risk of being robbed (and we are not talking about the price of the beer), therefore in the early 60’s the government came out with another brilliant and sensible plan: to turn the area into the administrative center of the city. In order to accomplish such a thing they decided that the best way of doing it was to reclaim land from the water by dumping building waste and rubble in the river. For some random reason the project was abandoned and Puerto Madero became a wasteland. That is why you can see pieces of city blocks by the river inside the reserve.
However, fortunately for us, this lack of planning would have an upside. Throughout the years the two rivers that feed the Rio de La Plata (the Paraná and Uruguay rivers) kept on bringing sediments that accumulated on the shore, and the wind and birds would spread seeds around the area which in turn grew uncontrolled on top of the waste.
So this is how we come to the happy ending. In 1985 the government, seeing how nature was once again claiming land that had been taken from the river, made the only wise decision in this whole history: declaring the land a site for ecological preservation. In 1989 it was protected by law and is now home to more than 250 species of birds, 9 of amphibians, 23 of reptiles, 10 of mammals and 50 of butterflies. Also, we can say that this area would be the closest you get to seeing how Buenos Aires used to look before the Spanish conquest. Just one of the many ironies of life and of this city: an ecologial disaster, turned into an ecological reserve.