Villa La Lonja is a historic popular neighborhood in the city of Córdoba. It is located in the southern part of the city, at the intersection between Río Negro and Cruz Roja streets, very close to the university city, the central areas of the city and important points such as the Private Hospital. He has lived there for more than 60 years and in conditions of exclusion and marginality: it is a neighborhood that does not have basic services such as water, sewers, electricity, gas, waste collection, public lighting or asphalt; and that, in addition, historically faces a precarious housing situation and extreme poverty (overcrowding, child malnutrition, high rates of institutional and gender violence, among others). It is one of the 5,687 popular neighborhoods recognized in the National Registry of Popular Neighborhoods (ReNaBaP, 2017) and one of the 163 popular neighborhoods that exist today in the city of Córdoba, Argentina.
By Carmela del Val and Pali Grosso for La tinta
“We want La Lonja to be urbanized, but not without dialogue, not without us, not without listening to the neighbors.”
“They cannot say that they are going to make us part, open a WhatsApp group for dissemination and, in the middle, relocate families without warning at that so-called dialogue table.”
“Why not? Because we are organized.
“I don’t know, I think it may be the last hope for things to change here, I have great-grandchildren, did you see? They are going to grow here too, it is because of them”.
a known story
Due to its strategic location, this neighborhood sits on land that is increasingly valued by the unbridled growth of the rentier real estate market: that is, that of big capital. The latter means that it is not just any real estate market; We are not talking about those who build homes based on people’s housing needs/demands, but rather those who build homes for their mere sale value and for real estate speculation. This has implicated La Lonja on repeated occasions in disputes with the Edisur Group, a real estate development company that, for years, has been trying to occupy and build in the front space of La Lonja, where the neighborhood’s historic soccer field is located. Paradoxically, today it is this same private company (Edisur), with the agreement of the city’s municipal management, who has in its hands the task of urbanizing Villa La Lonja after 60 years of neighborhood complaints.
A Chronicle of a Death Foretold
On November 11, 2021, the Municipality of the city of Córdoba resolved to sign an agreement with the Edisur group where it grants the private company the power to execute the urbanization of Villa La Lonja and provide basic services to those who live there. This urbanization project is the first works project for popular neighborhoods delegated in its entirety to a private company. The place of the Municipality, at that time and as agreed, would be that of mediator between the company and the neighbors, assuming that this role entrusts it with the task of ensuring the rights of citizens and guaranteeing basic services for the full development of their lives. They agreed then to establish urbanization tables and visits to the neighborhood so that the works are not alien to the community that inhabits La Lonja. That November 11, both actors (Municipality and business group) promised to start the works on February 2, 2022.
One year after signing the agreement and the commitment to start works that would forever change the lives of many people, the image is diffuse and the concern of the neighbors is growing. The works have not started and the neighbors do not know what is happening with the project. They indicate that they have not been summoned to participate in the design of the work project; and that the urbanization tables established in the agreement between all the actors are diffuse, very sporadic, not communicated in advance and do not offer accurate information.
Until then, The residents of La Lonja have never seen the finished work project, the only thing they accessed is a drawing of the urbanization project that was not yet authorized by the Municipality. They denounce that there was no information on the project approval deadlines, the effective start of the works, what will happen to the families that need to be relocated, what community spaces will be built in the spaces released for this purpose, among other issues of interest.
In addition, in this preliminary project, the Edisur company awarded itself the historic disputed space of the courtlocated in front of the neighborhood. In all this framework, the neighbors already identify deficits and problems in this draft that could be solved by guaranteeing their participation. They claim to be the ones who know best what the needs of the neighborhood are and have concrete proposals on how to solve them. We are talking about neighbors and social organizations that have been supporting community spaces for more than 10 years, cooperatives for the recovery and maintenance of public and common spaces (carrerxs), canteens, school support, productive projects such as vegetable gardens, textile workshops, bakery cooperatives, which They educate with school support workshops and promote access to health and accompany the countless cases of gender and institutional violence in their neighborhood. Basically, A whole parallel institutionality, built on the basis of community and organizational work, which demands that it be valued.
Finally, among the most recent events, Grupo Edisur indicated in its last visit that, from the urbanization and by an agreement with the Municipality, another space for common use in the neighborhood would be in the hands of the company in addition to “the court”. It is a green space located on Manuel Astrada and Río Negro streets, which they consider to have direct negative consequences for the population. According to residents, this direct exit from the neighborhood to Río Negro street provides security, visibility, and close access to avenues. On the contrary, for the company to make use of that space would imply an enclosure of the neighbors that would make it difficult for them to connect and access the city.
A historic opportunity
This problem is framed in a neoliberal context where the State itself and its public policies are not exempt from the prevailing dynamics that commercialize and privatize the goods and resources necessary for life, territory and the exercise of rights. How is it possible that a private company, with a track record in eviction and private speculative real estate construction, is today the main person in charge of such a transcendental public policy in people’s lives, such as the urbanization of a territory? What are the implications for the horizons of social justice that these policies are delegated to this business community? And even worse, that, in these agreements, the neighbors do not have access to reliable information about what will happen to their homes and that they lose historically disputed and defended community spaces.
If the role of the State, at some point, involved mediating between citizens and the market, guaranteeing dignified and equal living conditions for the former, today, this neoliberal state proves -once again- to be indifferent to the fragility of the housing and living conditions of its population. And it is one that, through his decisions, actions and omissions, It favors one of the sectors with the greatest concentration of wealth and that today most threatens the democratization of the land and the care of our ecosystem, such as real estate.
Through this type of agreement, not only is the collusion of the municipal State in its management with companies of this type exposed, but also, its decisions and strategic advances always tend to benefit the latter, causing complicity and secrecy that confuse the community and end up impoverishing it even more.
Faced with this panorama, the central demand of the neighborhood is compelling: The State, after decades of absence in that neighborhood, has its historic opportunity to propose a comprehensive, participatory urbanization that takes into account the voices and claims of those who live there, and that gives rise to a real socio-urban integration project. The moment is now. 60 years without answers: urbanization of La Lonja now!
*By Carmela del Val and Pali Grosso for La tinta / Cover image: A/D.