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SoHo on the cheap

Marketplace Staff Feb 19, 2007

SoHo on the cheap

Marketplace Staff Feb 19, 2007


MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: Five years ago Argentina was reeling from a cataclysmic economic meltdown. It came after the introduction of many neo-liberalist economic measures. The capital, Buenos Aires, went from being the most expensive city in Latin America — on a par with New York — to the cheapest. Thousands left their country to find better prospects elsewhere. At the same time American expats began moving into Buenos Aires. Rachel Hopkin reports.

[ Woman 1: Will you have some? Or . . .

Woman 2: If you get the fruit plate, I’ll have some fruit. ]

RACHEL HOPKIN: Don’t let those accents fool you. This is a cafe in Argentina, not the U.S., even though the name of this Buenos Aires neighborhood, Palermo Soho, does tip a nod to its counterpart in New York.

In recent years, this South America SoHo has become a hotbed of artists, many of them transplants from the Big Apple itself. Filmmaker Alexandra Salas moved here with her husband last June.

ALEXANDRA SALAS: We were tapped out artistically. It’s really hard to find inspiration when not just rents are really high but more a sense of the people who are surrounding New York. It’s really just catering to an ultra, ultra wealthy society.

According to a growing number of expats who have headed south, Buenos Aires has just about everything New York does, save the chain stores.

SALAS: It’s a walking city. There’s people constantly out and about. There’s tons of restaurants, there’s tons of galleries, there’s tons of films, there’s tons of concerts, music. There’s so much going on and there’s such an enormous nightlife, but obviously less expensive.

Ah yes, prices.

Before Argentina’s economic crash five years ago, the dollar was equal to the peso. Now it’s worth over three times more. So a Caesar salad at this hip cafe would set you back a mere $3.

If you think that’s good, what about the contrast in real estate between here and New York? This is what writer Ellen Bryson found out:

ELLEN BRYSON: Our realtor told us that if we took our apartment that we bought here for, I don’t even want to say the number, it was so low, it would have cost us $5 or $6 million. I mean $5 or $6 million. We laughed. I mean that’s wonderful.

According to official figures, around 15,000 Americans are now residents in Argentina, and thousands more are living here on short-term visas. Most of them are in Buenos Aires and many are artists. After all, it’s so much easier to be creative when you’re not scrambling to meet your Manhattan rent.

Nicolas Hardy is a photographer who left the sky-high stateside prices behind.

NICHOLAS HARDY: You make a killing when you exchange your money that you made abroad and you live here. That is what makes it a very interesting proposition money wise to live in Buenos Aires because money does stretch much, much more than somewhere else obviously. Sometimes I live several months out of maybe two days’ work.

Some worry that Argentines might start resenting all the yanks down here. But Alexandra Salas hasn’t noticed any bad feelings.

SALAS: It’s never so much pointing a finger and saying it’s your fault and your making it worse and you’re driving the prices up and now we can’t afford to buy things, it’s more a sense of them saying to us, well, this is why it’s hard for us or these are the reasons why.’

That’s just as well since there’s no sign that the foreign fascination for this Latin American metropolis and birthplace of tango is cooling off. Buenos Aires is as hot as ever.

In Buenos Aires, this is Rachel Hopkin for Marketplace.

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