Barrio 31: Social Integration Through Urban Design

Project information
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Secretary of Social and Urban Integration of the Government of the City of Buenos Aires (SECISyU)

We were welcomed into Buenos Aires to help redesign the city's most iconic informal settlement, recognizing and elevating the values and inherent strengths of the community.

Mayra Madriz
Director at Gehl
The Challenge

Breaking barriers

Located adjacent to Buenos Aires’ main transit hub, Barrio 31 is home to around 40,000 people across 8,000 households. It’s a close-knit informal settlement that, despite its location surrounded by ‘formal’ urban neighborhoods and transit infrastructure, is an isolated community. Without formal connections to the wider city, the Barrio’s residents are physically disadvantaged in accessing urban services and provisions. A self-fulfilling and detrimental loop that embeds stigmatization on both sides of the divide.

Barrio 31 had long been perceived as outside the urban limits of Buenos Aires–both geographically and in the minds of the people. Gehl worked to bring together the city’s numerous projects under one cohesive, unified vision that reflects the needs and desires of the residents and the larger community. 

Perette, one of the busiest streets in Barrio 31 in terms of foot and bike traffic, before project work in Villa 31.

A vision for Perette, focusing on improving bike infrastructure through protected bike lanes, creating access to public transit with comfortable bus shelters.

Gehl and The City of Buenos Aires Secretary of Social and Urban Integration working collaboratively to develop a vision for the neighborhood.

El Playón was one of the main public spaces in the neighborhood but was used mainly for parking.

The Impact

People in movement

Leading a visionary project to integrate Villa 31, the Government of Buenos Aires collaborated with Gehl to put people at the center of the planning and design. 

Through a didactic process, Gehl built capacity within the city government to analyze and evaluate the inherent public life of the neighborhood, collaborated to develop a large-scale urban vision and provided recommendations to promote public life and sustainable mobility. 

With a focus on building local capacity, Gehl conducted a Public Space/ Public Life survey throughout 7 neighborhoods in Buenos Aires, providing a comparison of Barrio 31 with the rest of the city. The analysis from this survey led Gehl to develop a series of strategies and proposals for the SECISyU to foster safe and inclusive public spaces. The team outlined strategies that recognize the importance of different scales, functions, and activities in creating spaces for people. Lastly, with help from the city, Gehl developed the design of 4 ‘hinge’ public spaces and set the parameters for an international competition to transform the highway into a linear park.

The vision called for extending the city’s infrastructure, providing the opportunity for citizenship and a vibrant community to form within the collective identity of Buenos Aires. Gehl encouraged the city to embrace the industrial port at the edge of Barrio 31 and reclaim the waterfront as a place for people, recognizing the history of Buenos Aires as a port city deeply connected to its coastal edge. 

For decades, residents have demanded change. Today, many welcome the improvements that the government is making in the neighborhood. It can’t be said enough that it’s essential not to romanticize conditions that emerged out of scarcity and need. However, it is also necessary to elevate the values and strengths of the community so as to retain them in the redeveloped neighborhood and apply their lessons to other development projects.


Photo: LA Network

A new vision for El Playón. Gehl designed this public space to accommodate businesses, pedestrians, and tenants living above the ground floor. Including murals to support local art in the area, and narrow rough pavements to avoid high speed vehicle traffic.

Source: Courtesy of the Secretary for Social and Urban Integration SECISyU, City Government of Buenos Aires

Feria offers the most public space within the neighborhood. Feria is a space for commerce, with room for residents of the neighborhood and other areas of the city. It is a flexible space with the shape of an amphitheater that allows it to accommodate larger-scale public events.

Cancha María is the last of the 4 'hinge' public spaces designed by Gehl. This experience contains greenery and courts available for extracurricular activities along with platforms for families to relax.

Source: Courtesy of the Secretary for Social and Urban Integration SECISyU, City Government of Buenos Aires

Source: Courtesy of the Secretary for Social and Urban Integration SECISyU, City Government of Buenos Aires

Source: Courtesy of the Secretary for Social and Urban Integration SECISyU, City Government of Buenos Aires

Get in touch

Want to know more about this project?

Mayra Madriz
Partner & Managing Director Gulf Region, Chief Innovation Officer
Jeff Risom
Our services

Delivering impact through a multidisciplinary approach

Urban Strategy

Urban Strategy is the foundation upon which form, function and behaviour are created. Our holistic approach always starts with asking what life should exist in place, what spaces invite for that life, and what buildings and facilities support this. People and life first, always.

Public Life Data

Public Life Data, the collection and analysis of qualitative and quantitative information about how people use and engage with public spaces, uncovers the true picture of how design impacts behavior. Our teams use this collected analysis to develop strategies and plans that foster more equitable, healthy and climate-positive lifestyles.