On Sustainability Study Tour in Rosario, Argentina

Submitted by Adrianne Ackerman
Student Ambassador, First Stop Portland

Greetings from Rosario, Argentina!

Reminders to imagine, learn and care for your health hang from blossoming trees on Rosario's "waterfront park" on the banks of Río Paraná during Art Week 2015.
It’s been two and a half months since I first arrived in this burgeoning municipality where I began to learn so much about city planning, civic engagement and sustainability, South American-style. Studying the political history and culture of Argentina with Portland State University Political Science Professor Melody Valdini has allowed me to capitalize upon the university-to-city connection that First Stop Portland is founded upon and values so deeply. My experience as a student ambassador for FSP prepared me well to meet with city and national officials, helped me access information about municipal programs, and deepened  my research of ways cities (including Portland) use planning policy to strengthen democracy. Coupled with witnessing one of the nation’s most exciting presidential elections to date and you may begin to understand the exponential value of my experience thus far.

Whether on the sides of government trucks, at the site of a street repair or on the vest of a volunteer coordinator, "Rosario in Action" can be seen everywhere, as city programs gain momentum.

I recently attended an all-day tour of city-sponsored sustainability initiatives called“Turista en mi Ciudad” (Tourist in my City), which was sponsored by Hogares Verde, the environmental branch of Rosario’s city government. It offered civil engineers, students, every-day Rosarians the opportunity to see first-hand how the city’s programs are working to keep Rosario sustainable and thriving amidst increased growth. The program began in 2012 and is impressive in both its level of organization and accessibility. Hogares Verde promotes social and environmental values ​​for responsible citizenship through the framework of sustainable development. The tours it provides are offered completely free of charge to the public on a monthly basis. They include transportation on a private bus, lunch and mementos provided by the different projects and spaces visited.

Rosario's composting facility, where inorganic and organic materials are separated and processed.
It was especially interesting to participate in this city-sponsored tour given my experience assisting study tours with First Stop Portland. How does our twin city to the south structure its own study tours? Their program covered municipal waste and composting practices, green spaces, and  programs addressing food deserts and low-income entrepreneurs. It’s affirming to witness another forward-thinking city with the same values for smart growth as we hold back home.

Crash course in Bolivian handicrafts, led by local activist.
Our tour began with a celebration of traditional Bolivian handcrafts in honor of Día del Respeto a la Diversidad Cultural (the Day of Respect for Cultural Diversity). The installation was housed   at a public library, Biblioteca Estrada, and was part of Semana del Arte 2015, an annual city-wide celebration of art during which hundreds of free installations, performances and lectures can be found throughout the city every day. Think of Portland’s own annual Time Based Art, but with about ten-times the daily events! Local artist and agriculturist, Roberta Valencia, guided us through the significance of her work and the process through which it was made. It was a lovely context in which to begin our tour and provided the historical reference for the cultures and people who shaped South America before its widespread colonization.

After boarding the bus we headed about 30 minutes outside of the city-center to Barrio Bella Vista and the city’s composting center, Planta de Compostaje. There, at the outskirts of town, our guide, Daiana Pellegatti, demonstrated the process by which refuse and recyclable materials are gathered and separated as part of the city’s nascent composting plan. Like many South American metropolis’ (and definitely some within our own country), Rosario faces the challenges of striving towards sustainability within a culture that places little importance on waste reduction.

In an effort to combat cultural norms and pave the way for citizen involvement, the City of Rosario created the facility to generate compost to be used in city parks and government-sponsored organic gardens and farms. At the same time the program seeks to provide in-home composting units made of recycled materials for Rosarian households, and educational opportunities to “spread” the composting idea, as it were.
Office water jugs are re-purposed as colorful household composting receptacles distributed by Rosario's composting education program.
Tour participants learn about Rosario's plan to bring composting to households across the city.
Organic material undergoes an aerobic process as it turns into compost over time.
The process of dividing organic from inorganic material, staging and cultivation currently produces over 120 tons of compost per month and is seeking to expand in coming years. I felt spoiled coming from Portland, where the cultural tendencies and physical existence of areas to plant food at almost every home definitely bolster the city’s efforts towards wide-scale composting. It will be exciting to see how Rosario creates institutional incentives for citizens to participate in this program in the future

Arriving at the expansive city park and protected wildlife area.
Next we traveled to Bosque de los Constituyentes, a park established in 1981 as a wildlife sanctuary, to protect native species of flora, and to provide large expanses of green space within a rapidly growing urban environment. Our tour guide was an employee of the city’s Parks Division, and has been working with this particular park since the great movement for “urban reforestation” began in 1992. With the 20 hectares of public land, the city aims to offer visitors a place of relaxation and rest and to combat the effects of environmental degradation.

Site director René Marconi explains the park's history and purpose in a verdant setting.
It has become an indispensable tool for urban development within the city’s sustainable vision and, much like the best practices that we explore in Portland through our FSP Study Tours, the planning has relied largely on public-private cooperation to protect areas surrounding the park for future expansion and to create private interest in the benefits of public-space investment.

An artificial lake provides a protected habitat for native birds and turtles.
Our last stop was a small-scale farm run by a group of low-income women and their families with assistance provided by a joint effort from Rosario’s Urban Agriculture program and  the city’s Secretary of Social Promotion. Rosario is home to a thriving network of urban organic huerteritos (little farms), both in public parks and in reclaimed urban spaces.
A guide from Rosario's Urgan Agriculture program explains the origins and purpose of El Huerterito de Newbery while one of its founding members prepares our brick-oven pizza.
El huerterito de Newbery is, for example, on the side of a small freeway connecting neighborhoods in the greater Rosarian area to the city center. As part of its Economía Solidaria (Economic Solidarity) program, the city partners with low-income individuals, families and farmers to help them train in small-scale agribusiness production, to stimulate economic security and awareness of health and sustainability practices.

Key-hole gardens and recycled bottles to be used for container gardening are just a few of the permaculture elements employed by entrepreneur graduates of Rosario's economic solidarity program.

Food made from the farm's produce is distributed from the operations headquarters of the farm.
Having been recognized by the United Nations’ Organization for Food and Agriculture for its work to promote urban agriculture, Portland can look to Rosario for clues of how to create community buy-in, bolster the economy and address issues of food scarcity as our own city expands.

All in all Rosario’s “Tourist in my City” excursion was one of the most diverse and illuminating experiences I’ve had during my time here. Throughout the day I was struck by how much I was learning - and how all of it was free! I thought about how our own city might be able to increase accessibility to all of its pioneering projects and examples of smart-growth design by following the examples of Rosario and First Stop Portland: engaging potential innovators through education.

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