Urban Project Comparison Part I


Everyone has a different traveling style. I have discovered over the years that, depending on where I am and how long I have, my travel habits change. If I have only a few days, then I pretty much play the role of tourist, hitting the major sites and taking as many postcard photos as I possibly can. If I have time though, I disappear from the beaten path.

A significant amount of time is not a privilege that most traveling are granted. Study abroad programs, if designed properly, are an excellent chance to gain insight into a local culture.

You begin to feel the rhythms of the community.

You settle into a weekly pattern of life.

As you slip away from the frenzied pace of a tourist, you sink, slowly and softly into the profound appreciation for what makes each place so uniquely special . . .

. . . it’s people.

At first glance, the commonalities between Santa Fe, Argentina and the Rocky Mountain West would seem superficial. However, there are similar urban projects and challenges that resonate in both areas.


To understand some of the unique challenges that Santa Fe faces, it is important to know the background of the city and why it has grown into the modern city that it is today.

More than once, I was told that there was no good reason for Santa Fe to have been founded. There are no minerals or oil, just an abundance of flat land surrounded by lots and lots of water. With the Portuguese staking claims of territory to the North, it was prudent for the Spanish colonialists to found as many outposts as they could to secure their territorial claims.

Santa Fe was originally founded in 1573 some 85km northeast of its current location but was relocated due to severe flooding. During the Spanish colonial period, the city life was concentrated around the confluence of the Salado River to the East and the Parana River to the West. The main hub of social, economic and religious activity occurred in what is now known as the Plaza 25 de Mayo.

The city began to grow toward the north during the 1800’s after Argentina declared independence from Spain. The new ruling aristocracy made a conscious effort to change the hub of social life away from the old colonial plaza by constructing the Plaza San Martin in honor of the General who liberated Argentina from Spanish rule. The aristocracy also constructed a new boulevard that became the new northern border of the city.

Santa Fe relatively stayed within that footprint until the rise to power of Juan Peron in the 1940’s. Along with his wife, the famous Evita Duarte, their social and economic policies for Argentina forcibly redistributed the wealth away from the aristocracy into the hands of the lower classes.

This pushed the city’s growth patterns to the West and the North where they continue to this day. The following is a map illustrating the basic historical growth boundaries for Santa Fe.

Recent Planning Projects & Rocky Mountain West Comparison Projects

Flood Plains

From 1976-1983, Argentina was ruled by a military dictatorship. During this dark chapter of their history, Santa Fe’s development was pushed across the Setubal Lagoon to the East. The military dictatorship decided to build a new campus for the Universidad Nacional del Litoral and a high-density, low-income housing complex called Barrio el Pozo across the Colgante Bridge for fear of a student or lower class uprising.

In the mid-80’s as the country returned to democracy, a massive new project was begun to encompass the Western side of the city with a continuous dyke topped off with a new freeway. The Salado River to the West has historically been a severe flood threat to Santa Fe. In 2003 as major rains hit the area, disaster struck. As the Salado River rose to record high levels, the new bridge connecting Santa Fe with neighboring Santo Tome did not allow for adequate water to pass underneath it.
As the pressure grew, the water backed up to the North of the city and spilled into the low-lying areas where the dyke construction had not been completed. The water was effectively trapped inside the city and sections of the dyke had to be blown up to allow the water to run off. The flood killed 24 people and displaced over 100,000 residents (which represents over 1/5 of the city’s population. After the flooding subsided, the bridge was redesigned and reconstructed along with the incomplete portions of the dyke/freeway system.

In the Rocky Mountains, the city of Denver, Colorado is no stranger to floods. Denver was founded at the confluence of the Platte River and Cherry Creek in the 1850’s in conjunction with the discovery of Gold and Silver the same decade. The Platte River was notorious for flooding and in 1965 the largest recorded flood in Colorado history occurred killing 9 people and inundating the entire downtown business district along with 600 homes. In response the United States Federal government funded the construction of the Chatfield Reservoir system to control the flow of the Platte.

Valley Highway (I-25) section of flooding

In the decades that followed the Denver flood of 1965, massive redevelopment of the Central Platte Valley has (and is) occurring. In what was once land that was considered unfit for construction, huge new infill projects are occurring thanks to the flood mitigation projects of the 1960’s and 70’s.

As with any historic flood plain, land values rise as the threat of flooding is mitigated. Denver has gone through the re-planning process for the Central Platte Valley as is evidenced by the new infill projects. Santa Fe’s municipal government is starting the process of future plans for its West side of town, although their approach is much less market-driven as they are restricting land prospectors from displacing a large portion of residences that are in the lower-classes of the city.

No comments: