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Buenos Aires Design District, the Mecca of Design

Buenos Aires Design District, the Mecca of Design

Posted by Clarisa Herrera on August 13, 2015

There is a reason for Buenos Aires to be considered the cradle of Latin American design. Its fame has even transcended regional frontiers: the city has been recently distinguished as ''City of Design'' by the UNESCO, an honour Buenos Aires shares with a few selected cities worldwide.

There are also several factors for Buenos Aires to be a Mecca of design. For many years now, Buenos Aires' cultural, academic and creative environment goes hand in hand with trends and entrepreneurship, and are ideal in a city where private and public initiatives make their best to add value and global acknowledgement in design terms.

Among those many projects, there is one that stands out: the Design District, of the Government of Buenos Aires city, a productive pole devoted to the activity and located in the South Zone of the city, in Barracas neighbourhood, more precisely.

The project is at the same level as other city projects globally, where the private and public sector, in hand with the community, strive to consolidate a particular economic activity and to bring back to life those places that have been left behind in the city.

''We took our inspiration from similar projects, such as the Garmen District in New York, the Miami Design District, London's famous Brick Lane, and the Design District in Helsinki, among others. For instance, from the Meatpacking District we took big urban ideas, huge manufacturing structures can be brought to life by the creative class. We also took resources from the Fashion District in New York, which started as a protected zone. We observe how these models are structured in the long term because we have to work on attraction first. Then we check how the offer is made and how it is visualized. We observed that all districts are based on the network idea, on getting to a commitment between the State and the private sector'' states Laura Salles, General Director of the Design District.

The South Zone of the city has a historical appeal, of the picturesque kind, but at the same time forgotten in terms of urban and economic reappraisal. From the Government, many art related initiatives have been boosted, in order to give the zone the prestige it once had, and to reactivate productive systems that show the best of the city to the world.

''The strategy to do this is the one used by creative districts, you can combine an objective of the Government with a tool or product model - the districts themselves- that are supposed to generate specialization economies in a territory and to be able to concentrate on the same territory a quantity of agents willing to cooperate and compete with each other in that specialization'', explains Salles.

What Buenos Aires did was to identify those added value activities wherever there was a competitive advantage, that have escalating potentiality, that can give a productive matrix of exportation to the city. ''Sectors such as technology, design, art and audiovisuals were identified. From this, we designed a policy that allowed to locate zones in the city of Buenos Aires that had a low development degree or a minor economic activity'', she points out.

The first prototype was in Parque Patricios, the Technological District. The formula of the districts is to take economic activities to places without municipal taxes and then generating tools such as financing and investment from the Government when it comes to infrastructure. ''We want the State to invest but by ensuring investments from the private sectors. The second district was Audiovisual. The third, Arts, in La Boca and this is th fourth, Design, in Barracas. If you take a look at a map of the city, these places come after the other, first there's Parque Patricios, then Barracas and then, La Boca'', Salles says.

What is the objective of the districts in each one of its territories? To create new economic opportunities to the South Zone and to manage an ecosystem where the first thing that is required is to be integrated to the neighbourhood itself. ''In Barracas there are many senior citizens, the most active population has left and the idea is to generate opportunities once again. The project of the Design District is just one step, since the original idea involves the creation of the Metropolitan Centre of Design (CMD, in Spanish) These two ideas complement each other'', underlines Salles.

Design as an economic engine.

The Metropolitan Centre of Design depends on the Ministry of Economic Development and supports initiatives in four main axes: entrepreneurship, business design, internationalization and investigation and broadcast. All the objectives tend to consolidate a net of community of design in different levels and the internationalization of the sector, so the companies can grow overseas. ''The whole point of the CMD is to work in order to make of Buenos Aires a Latin American reference in terms of design''.

The District favours the establishment of services in design and of those who make a product (intensive design): ''From graphic designers, to clothing and shoes, and home equipment, illumination and light manufacture. Not all of them compete for design, there are two competitive strategies, a company might prioritise costs or differentiation'' she explains.

The economic thesis behind the District idea is that Argentina has prestigious designers, which reflects a competitive advantage. ''We developed a segment of manufacture that competes in design and for differentiation, which is set in the framework of the Plan 2020 of Competitiveness that aims at sectors that have the potentiality of developing a regional market competing through added value, not through costs. If you compete through costs, two things may happen: you have an economy of scale - which is not Argentina's case, since the inner market is much smaller - and then you compete with economies specialized in costs(such as Bangladesh). When it comes to home equipment, the added value is in the creation itself, the brand, the design and the production; so the model of Buenos Aires focuses on developing and promoting manufacture so that it can compete in design'' states Salles.

Buenos Aires as a city of design offers resources and a level of organization that go hand in hand with distinction: ''From specialized careers related to graphic design or audiovisual arts, the level we have is very high compared to other careers. Then, there's the number of institutions, CDM is supporting design but there are multiple fairs, such as PuroDiseño, which have a sheer amount of resources to support. This is the reflect of a competitive advantage, hundreds of Latin American students come to the city every year attracted by the design environment. Many Argentinian designers work in the region. Latin American brands come here to see what's being designed, there's a very fertile ecosystem when it comes to creativity, we try hard to boost it and articulation in serial production'' Salles concludes.

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