Buenos Aires and Mendoza: exploring environmental sustainability in Argentina
September 10, 2020
By Alec Masella
This October, students in Virginia Tech’s Online Master of Natural Resources in Global Sustainability (OMNR) course Global Issues in Environmental Sustainability would have embarked on a 10-day Global Study trip to Argentina, where they would have immersed themselves in new landscapes and studied sustainability issues firsthand. At the very beginning of March, pre-COVID, a small group of Center for Leadership in Global Sustainability (CLiGS) faculty and staff visited Argentina on a scouting trip to make sure that everything would be ready for the students in the fall. Unfortunately, these plans will have to wait for now.
Even though all overseas trips have been postponed in compliance with the university’s travel policies, we look forward to going back to Argentina as soon as it is safe to travel again. Here is a brief overview of what students can look forward to in Argentina. Long-time faculty member, Dr. Dan Marcucci, will be leading these trips.
Argentina is a large country—the eighth largest in the world—with diverse regions, rich culture, and a long history. Its capital is a global city. Its countryside runs from subtropical Iguazu Falls in the north to subarctic Tierra del Fuego in southern Patagonia. It goes from warm beaches on the Atlantic to Aconcagua in the Andes, the highest point in South America. You could spend a year exploring Argentina and not retrace your steps. We will be focusing our attention on the cosmopolitan capital, Buenos Aires, and the oasis wine region, Mendoza.
Buenos Aires, the cosmopolitan capital
Beginning in the coastal capital, Buenos Aires, students will study the fourth largest metropolis in the Americas. Dan explains, “Buenos Aires is a cosmopolitan, multi-cultural city, with strong traditions and robust neighborhoods. Urban form will be a core topic.” The trip will explore how the city of fair winds developed. More importantly, we will look at how a metropolis of 15 million functions. Starting by riding the subway, we will examine how the city infrastructure works and what lessons there are for urban design and sustainability.
Buenos Aires is bounded by the mighty Paraná to the west (a river larger than the Mississippi) and the tiny Matanza to the east. Both of these rivers figure centrally into the story of the city. “Taking the train to the Paraná delta, you see massive development going on in an ecologically sensitive landscape,” Dan elaborates. “And it’s competing with livestock farming and forestry, as well as legacy communities. This creates competition for the land-based resources.” Matanza-Riachuelo has a fascinating story of industrial use, contamination, informal settlements, legal battles, and cleanup and restoration. The chapters on environmental justice and social justice are still being written. We will engage with local stakeholders and professionals working to create a clean, sustainable river corridor.
Mendoza, the Malbec oasis
The diversity among the region’s cultures and geography will help students understand the importance of sustainability for locals and travelers alike. Students will also take a look at Argentina’s role in global environmental systems and how it impacts the countries surrounding it, as well as the many industries that rely on Argentina’s resources to thrive. Two of the most prominent industries include wine and tourism.
“After Buenos Aires, we will move on to the oasis city of Mendoza,” Dan says. “That’s where Malbecs come from.” The Global Study will look at the oasis city and region through a systems and sustainability lens. We will analyze the wine industry by studying its production and global reach, as well as its impact on the region’s economy and landscapes. It’s a globally important industry located in an arid, desert landscape at the foothills of the Andes. Here, water becomes a very important resource because there isn’t a whole lot of rainfall. The conflicts aren’t the same as in the capital. Mendoza is an agricultural city, and its main challenge is making Argentina a global competitor and keeping it a global competitor for the wine industry for a long time.” But the use of water in Mendoza is not without conflicts. Political and judicial activity have resolved some conflicts, while others still bubble at the surface.
A global mindset
The Global Study will be a broad experience, covering not only global sustainability issues, but also regional culture and daily life. Students will therefore hone their Argentinian cultural awareness alongside building skills in leadership and cross-discipline collaboration. “In order to fully prepare students to understand how to approach issues in this region, we will focus on cultural preparation and collaborative thinking before we head out. Then, students will use these skills to make the most of their trip. Themes of urban form, water resources, ecotourism, agriculture, landscape systems, and development will all be looked at in depth—I am really looking forward to the trip. It will be a very enriching experience for all.”
You can learn more about our scouting Argentina trip in this short video.
Dan Marcucci advocates for sustaining a livable, rich biosphere—because the alternative is scary. He teaches Sustainability Systems, Coastal and Marine Systems, and Urban Water Systems courses, and leads Global Study trips. Dr. Marcucci has two decades' experience in higher education as an environmental educator, the last several years focusing on creating supportive online learning communities. He has published in numerous environmental planning journals. He also has extensive experience as a regional and environmental planner. His current research explores individual landscapes and landscape as an integrative and holistic concept. Dr. Marcucci has a Bachelor’s degree in engineering from Harvard University, and a Ph.D. in City and Regional Planning and a Master of Landscape Architecture from the University of Pennsylvania. He is a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners. In his free time, he blogs about landscapes and co-hosts a podcast about online higher education.