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Urban Interventions in Mar del Plata

This post originally appeared on the Gehl Architects Cities for People blog The implementation of the first pilot projects in Mar del Plata is approaching completion, a mile stone in the fruitful and inspiring collaboration between Inter-American Development Bank (IADB), the City of Mar del Plata and Gehl Architects. Oh, how exciting to see in reality, the result of the hard work undertaken by the great team involved in this project! The project team in front of Gehl Architects pop-up office in the old watertower. The project team in front of Gehl Architects pop-up office in the old watertower. Initiated by IADB as part of their Emerging & Sustainable Cities Initiative, Gehl Architects were invited to work with the city of Mar del Plata, a coastal city in the Buenos Aires province of Argentina. Trading Scandinavian darkness, rain and snow for the Argentinian summer, I set off for Mar del Plata in late January of 2013, bringing my family on a three-month adventure to the other side of the globe. Arriving in Mar del Plata I was met with immense hospitality and kindness by city officials and coordinators Santiago Bonifatti and José Luis Ovcak and their team of dedicated, curious and hardworking planners, architects and engineers. Santiago and José Luis had, during an earlier visit to the Gehl office and home town of Copenhagen, agreed on what they themselves called the “Copenhagen Treaty”, setting out to create the first ever cross-departmental team in Mar del Plata dedicated to urban planning and public spaces. The shared dedication from both IADB and the city, ranging from Mayor Gustavo Pulti to the local team of planners and merchants and general public, has been key to the success of this project. Busy but crowded street life on Güemes street Busy but crowded street life on Güemes street. After an initial inspiring workshop led by myself and Gehl Architects partner, Creative Director and vagabond David Sim, the team set to work analyzing the chosen survey areas of Microcentro, 12 de Octubre and Güemes, three important but very different commercial and civic centres of the city. We were studying how people behaved in the streets, parks and squares, counting people flows and registering the state of the physical environment, using the Gehl methodology but with great local input. The analysis was used to develop general recommendations for improving the public realm, as well as specific strategies for short-, medium and long term changes. The team met for weekly workshops, often in my temporary office/ workspace in the old water tower overlooking the whole city, to discuss progress and exchange experiences. Meeting with local merchants in the 12 de Octubre area, discussing local history, problems and possible interventions. Meeting with local merchants in the 12 de Octubre area, discussing local history, problems and possible interventions in the area. The short term strategies for the different survey areas included a series of pilot projects focused on the low-cost, high-impact model used in other cities such as New York to create awareness of the importance of good public space and the power of showing this change in reality instead of plans and renderings. My colleague, Urban Designer Sofie Kvist visited for a week, developing the design of the pilot projects first on-site and later from Copenhagen. After the implementation of the pilot projects we will evaluate the effect, measuring changes to how the spaces are used as well as the economic effect for local merchants to give the data needed for adjusting the pilot projects or for doing more permanent changes. Plans for temporary interventions along Güemes street, including improved pedestrian crossings and widened sidewalks Plans for temporary interventions along Güemes street, including improved pedestrian crossings and widened sidewalks, inviting people to stay and enjoy the atmosphere of the street. Being on-site for the duration of the project has allowed for a very close cooperation with the local team, building capacity and creating strong personal ties between the slightly more reserved Scandinavians and the ever so open and generous Argentinians. The inspiring working sessions, late night asados and mate moments will always stay with me as I think of (and hopefully visit) Mar del Plata in the future! Project manager with his trusted means of transportation The project manager with his trusted means of transportation in Plaza Mitre. The cooperation between IADB and Gehl Architects will continue with projects in other Latin American cities, using the shared experiences from Mar del Plata to further develop our methods. You can read more blogs from Gehl Architects at Cities for People.