The anniversary of Villa la Angostura, my town

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Villa la Angostura. Photo: Diego MeierVilla la Angostura. Photo: Diego Meier

 
By Diego Meier
 
Villa la Angostura, in Patagonia, is my place in the world. I had the luck to be born here and then after moving far away for my studies, I chose to return. This place continues to inspire me to get outside and experience up close its forests, mountains and landscapes. And I enjoy simply greeting the people on its streets and getting to know them.
 
Villa la Angostura, our town that today celebrates its birthday, has been changing over time and my family has been part of all those changes, participating in the inauguration of the post office, which is considered the foundation of our town, on May 15, 1932. And as my father was a historian, I know first-hand its story.
 
From the beginning, there was a developmentalist vision that continues to this day. The town has agricultural roots, particularly livestock grazing, but in 1936, with nearby national parks in mind, Argentina planned for it to be a tourist town. At first, they primarily sought to foment the second homes of patrician families of Buenos Aires. Then, over several decades, numerous subdivisions and property lots were created, both to build housing of local inhabitants, and continue building second homes for the wealthy from Buenos Aires. Places like Villa Correntoso, Bandurrias, Calfuco, Subida al Conde.
 
In the 1990s, but particularly in the years immediately after Argentina’s economic crisis of 2001, the town’s population tripled in size. We witnessed an explosion of investments focused especially on the construction of tourist infrastructure: hotels, cabins, hostels and shopping centers with diverse stores spreading all over the area. This investment led to a real estate and construction boom, and strengthened, although paradoxically to a lesser extent, the tourism sector.
 
 
Photo: Diego MeierPhoto: Diego Meier
 
 
Photo: Diego MeierPhoto: Diego Meier
 
 
Today, we’re experiencing a “post-tourism” stage, say researchers from the University of Comahue. We are in a phase in which the profitability of the tourism industry here is currently below the levels needed to make it a sustainable economic activity. Investments have moved primarily to real estate and construction projects, like apartment complexes, some regrettably sited on the slopes of the mountains.
 
I personally think anniversaries such as this one are a good time to evaluate the past and re-think the future. And I believe that in our town, like too many others in Patagonia, there has prevailed a view that the goose that lays the golden eggs will never end. We have a vision that assumes abundant land and resources, a collective unconscious that believes there is “so much” it is never going to end. Yet, we must understand that it can end at any time if we do not think about achieving an equilibrium. The search for such a balance is now very fashionable, but it is only efficient if it is genuine in its reach for sustainability (a balance between the economy and nature, and over the long-term).
 
It is necessary and urgent we strike such a balance, and through consensus and clear rules. And I hope that we do so before it is too late, before a potential crisis could cause our beautiful "mountain village" to collapse from a man-made environmental disaster, or social conflicts.

An anniversary is a time for reflection.

 

 Diego Meier is an Argentine mountain guide and biologist with a masters degree in ecotourism.