The first permanent European settlement on the site of modern-day Buenos Aires was founded in 1580 by Spanish conquistador Juan de Garay. Major periods of expansion took place from 1750 to 1830 and 1860 to 1950. The 3.8-square-mile historic center is, today, the hub of public, religious, cultural, and political activities. Notable places in Buenos Aires include the Palace of Congress, the Plaza de Mayo, approximately 100 National Historic Monuments, and an additional 800 listed properties. In 2007, the Secretary of Culture identified another 1,200 buildings as having heritage value, but not yet legally protected from significant alternation or demolition. The average rate of construction in Buenos Aires in the past 20 years was 10.8 million square feet per year; by 2008 that rate had increased to 65 million square feet per year, a great part of which occurred in the historic center. Insufficient regulatory protections for built heritage in the city has created anxiety over the future of some structures considered to be iconic features of the cityscape, such as the Teatro Colón and the Iglesia San Ignacio de Loyola, the oldest church in Buenos Aires.
2010 World Monuments Watch
In an effort to spark dialogue regarding the protection of historic urban centers while allowing for progress, the Buenos Aires Historic Center was included in the 2010 World Monuments Watch. The nominator of the site, Basta de Demoler, and the endorser, Fundación Ciudad, collaborated in developing a series of events advocating for the preservation of the historic center. With the support of WMF and the French and Brazilian Embassies, the organizations hosted a symposium, Salvemos Buenos Aires—1er Encuentro de gestión de patrimonio arquitectónico y urbano, in September 2010 to raise awareness of the precarious state of the city’s built heritage, hoping to inspire improved regulations to protect the essence of the city, as planners grapple with the challenges of meeting new needs for residents and visitors. A series of workshops for government officials were held to encourage a change in public policies on urban development, since a new “Urbanistic Code” would be discussed later that year, representing a unique possibility to introduce heritage protection into the legislation. The exchange of ideas, success stories, and proposals from local and international speakers from Peru, Brazil, France, and Chile at the symposium were recorded and published with support from WMF and Fundación YPF. The publication was presented by Basta de Demoler and Fundación Ciudad to the Legislature of the Autonomous City of Buenos Aires on October 5, 2011. The following day the legislature approved the expansion of the Historic District in the city center, protecting over 40 blocks, including 200 historic buildings, against the development pressures and out-of-scale constructions that have been threatening the urban center in recent years.
The historic center of Buenos Aires is facing issues common to urban centers in Latin America and across the globe. The call to attention and action spearheaded by Basta de Demoler and Fundación Ciudad serves as inspiration to other municipalities to initiate dialog to understand how to achieve the balance between built heritage preservation and new development and changing priorities within historic urban centers.