One of my biggest problems with the hype surrounding Buenos Aires is that most of the press coverage glosses over or completely ignores the fact that a significant portion of the local population remains mired in poverty.
Maybe the Washington Post feels bad about last year's puff piece about foreigners moving to Buenos Aires, because last Sunday they published a new article focusing on the city's growing shanty towns. According to the article, these shanty towns are experiencing the fastest population growth in the capital. I'm guessing that's not the growth the government has in mind as they continue to steer the country away from the depths of the 2001-02 economic crisis.
Living in Buenos Aires, it is no surprise that these shantytowns, locally known as villas, fly under the radar. Although everyone sees the cartoneros sifting through trash at night and children begging for money in the subte, the lower classes are rarely a focal point. Despite estimates that 300,000 - 500,000 people live in the villas, the shantytowns are often collectively ignored and dismissed as dangerous places best avoided at all times. Most are located on the outskirts of the city or inside semi-abandoned industrial areas (like Villa 31 near the Retiro train station), so this collective ignorance is fairly easy for everyone not living in poverty. It's especially easy for foreigners and tourists to experience Buenos Aires while avoiding the villas entirely, as they do not encroach on the Belgrano - Palermo - Recoleta - Micrcentro - San Telmo circuit where most extranjeros tend to operate. I've also been told more than once that even the police don't go in the villas. (That's actually not too surprising since most Buenos Aires officers seem to do little more than hang out in groups and chat amongst themselves. Police here really take laziness to a new level, but that's a whole different issue.)
The villas do get some attention whenever a horrific event takes place, like the February fire that wiped out the villa of El Cartón. (The Washington Post article also details the ramifications of the fire and includes an excellent photo gallery depicting the aftermath.)
Not surprisingly, there's also an abundance of coverage focusing on the crime that crept out of the villas and into Buenos Aires neighborhoods. A recent post on the often excellent GoodAirs blog mentioned (with some help from an article in the Guardian UK ) the ironic trend of villas popping up next door to gated communities (locally known as "countries") in the suburbs of Buenos Aires. Check the picture.
Whoops. Maybe all that open space wasn't such a good idea after all.