Sunday, September 6, 2009

Housing and Happiness in Buenos Aires

Having grown up in Washington State and spent most of my adult life in California, I have almost always lived in single-family detached houses with large gardens. Only since 2002, when we bought an apartment in Buenos Aires, have I spent any significant time in an apartment building - in this case, a ten-story structure in the barrio of Palermo.

Unlike California, where trees and fences give our two-story house substantial (if less than absolute) privacy, in Buenos Aires we are in far closer quarters. In fact, we could literally climb over our balcony railing onto the neighboring building’s balconies on either side (as the photograph here suggests). That said, we’re fortunate to live in a relatively quiet middle- to upper-middle class area where all night parties and other conflicts with neighbors are few - unlike the sorts of happenings that Buenos Aires Herald columnist Guido Minerbi details, with gentle humor, in a recent Sunday column. Anyone thinking of purchasing property in Buenos Aires would do well to read Minerbi’s column, but not to take it too literally.

For all the potential aggravation of living in a mega-city, porteños (as residents of Buenos Aires are called) are apparently a happy bunch. According to a recent survey published in Forbes, the Argentine capital is the world’s tenth happiest city, although the author’s comment that “it’s a slightly diluted version” of Rio de Janeiro is bizarre, to say the least.

Nevertheless, that’s not the only positive assessment of Argentina in the news recently. According to Dutch sociologist Ruut Veenhoven, it’s the world’s 13th happiest country, tied with Ireland and the Netherlands. The United States, by contrast, is tied for 27th with Guatemala, Malta, Saudi Arabia, and Trinidad & Tobago (five countries that, culturally at least, would appear to have little in common).

Any such survey, of course, is open to criticism of its methodology and conclusions but, at the same time, it’s interesting that two such surveys would appear nearly simultaneously. Especially about a city that’s so renowned for its shrinks that historian Mariano Ben Plotkin detailed the phenomenon in Freud on the Pampas: the Emergence and Development of a Psychoanalytic Culture in Argentina, published by Stanford University Press (2001).

My own Palermo neighborhood is notorious for its concentration of psychoanalysts in its so-called Villa Freud and, in any event, I'll be flying to the world's tenth-happiest city on Wednesday for about two weeks.

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