The Rio de la Plata looking out towards the Atlantic Ocean; Uruguay is on the left, Argentina on the right, with Buenos Aires in the bottom right corner; the Rio de la Plata is a sediment laden estuarine river at the confluence of the Parana and Uruguay Rivers

Located on the banks of the Rio de la Plata, the population of the metropolis is 13 million.  The city is the national capital, a port city, financial center, and commercial hub for the agricultural riches of the great pampas.  As a center of finance, government, manufacturing, population, and commerce, it is similar in importance to Washington, D.C., New York City, and Chicago combined.  Its importance in the Southern Cone region of South America is difficult to overstate.

Buenos Aires in 1892; the Riachuelo can be seen on the southern edge of the city; by this time the port has already expanded to the north and the Riachuelo has been canalized; urbanization has jumped the river and dense settlement is occurring on the south side of the river; image courtesy of David Rumsey maps

the riachuelo canal today, looking west; the container port bordering the Riachuelo and the perpendicular Canal Sarandi can be seen to the left, the Autopista al Sur Highway is in the foreground, and the neighborhood of La Boca in the federal city of Buenos Aires is to the right

the population growth of Buenos Aires took off with industrialization in the 1880's like most American metropolises, increased during the halcyon days of the post-war period when the country was a target for European immigration and boasted on of the strongest economies in the world, continued through the second half of the century during the Argentine military dictatorship as neo-liberal economic policy pushed peasants toward the city, and only recently leveled off with the economic crash of 2001.

Buenos Aires was founded twice, the second time in 1580, and in 1776 it became the independent capital of the Viceroyalty of La Plata.  The first port of the city was the Riachuelo river.  Buenos Aires spread north from the Riachuelo towards the delta of the Rio de la Plata.  As industry expanded throughout the 1800- 1900s, the city reoriented itself around the river, with nearly 5 million people living in the basin now.  As port operations outgrew the canal and moved, its primary official function was as an open sewer for industrial and municipal waste.  Poor, opportunistic settlements organized themselves along the unregulated banks.  This 200-year environmental-industrial legacy have left the river basin with serious issues of toxicity, vacancy, sedimentation, and regulation.  The river is now considered by the Blacksmith Instituteto be one of the most polluted in the world, and these issues are most exaggerated along the urban canalized portion.  Industries, ecologies, and communities continue to function along its edges.

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