Conservation of wetlands in the context of disputes over access to urban land. The case of the Matanza-Riachuelo basin (Province of Buenos Aires, Argentina)

Pablo Daniel Pereira,
Universidad de Buenos Aires, Argentina

This project aims to address the conservation of urban wetlands in metropolitan basins with serious socio-environmental problems. Wetlands have become more important as indispensable elements of human settlement. However, their degradation due to productive activities and urban expansion (both closed urbanizations and informal settlements) has produced new environmental conflicts and led to a new focus of environmental policy. In particular, the creation and management of natural protected areas in cities and peri-urban regions reveals complex historical controversies between demands for conservation and demands for urban expansion. We have chosen to study these tensions in the middle stretch of Matanza-Riachuelo Basin (province of Buenos Aires), one of the most polluted in the world and the most polluted in Argentina. There, the territorial tensions arose in the wetlands regarding the urban expansion linked to the housing crisis. We want to reflect the contradictions and conflicts around environmental conservation in metropolitan spaces, by offering a comprehensive insight which considers both the socioeconomic, as well as the urban and environmental dimension. On one hand, the project seeks to describe the efforts of neighbourhood organizations to extend their strictly local action towards a more integrated view of the area as a whole, establishing connections between the challenges of environmental conservation and the management of other relevant issues, like flooding and pollution control. We approach our work from a community-based conservation perspective, with contributions from urban political ecology. At the same time, we focus in the institutional dimension of the conflict through an approach to the environmental policies of the provincial and municipal authorities. In 2015, the Matanza-Riachuelo Basin Authority (ACUMAR) began to promote the conservation of its wetland areas, developing ‘environmentally protected areas’ within the Matanza-Riachuelo territory. However, this intervention did not take place as part of any regional plan for controlling land use. From a perspective that argues for the social productiveness of the conflict referred to, it will be argued that the project’s case study offers support for a policy of environmental development of the basin.