Towns reinventing themselves with cooperative tourism
17 April 2017
152km away from the city of Buenos Aires is a town with a population of less than 1000, called Pipinas. It was founded in 1913 when a cement works was set up, which was hugely important for Argentinian national industry which closed down. After it closed the town was forgotten until a group of inhabitants managed to reconstruct the city through the ‘Pipinas Viva’ (Pipinas is alive) worker cooperative and they restored the community-based hotel.
In 1938 the Corporación Cementera Argentina (Argentinian Cement Producer Corporation, in English), interested in taking advantage of the region’s vast reserves of oyster shell, arrived with a thousand workers who built the factory and the hotel. They finished the monumental task a year and a half later in 1939. The factory had its own power station and the largest cement kiln in South America. It employed around 350 people, all from the city of Pipinas.
The city was built around the factory, but in 1991 another cement company arrived, bought the factory, and sacked the employees en-masse. The workers who had been there the longest received a pension of 80% of their salary and the others were transferred or compensated. A decade later, the factory was only producing lime and just 28 employees were left: it blamed a lack of demand and announced its total closure on 17 May 2001. Even though people had seen it coming, it still had an emotional impact on the community.
In 2003 Pipinas had more than 60 abandoned houses and the population had gone down to just 900. Of these, 30% lived mainly off their pensions, 15% compensation, and 30% were receiving benefits. The rate of unemployment stood at around 65%, and hope that political measures would help them, zero. In the town that had felt its importance wane, nobody thought anyone who wasn’t from there would be interested in its fortunes.
So a group of young people from the town wanted to recover something that had long been forgotten, and the cooperative took over in 2004, starting work on the renovation. They joined their knowledge, resources, forces, and above all dedication, and managed to open the campsite in the depths of the estate the following year, and in 2006 the hotel opened its doors to the public. And thanks to the advertising that the cooperative knew how to do themselves, and announcements that appeared in the newspapers in Buenos Aires and La Plata, the public came.
The hotel, which has 16 rooms and 35 places is cheerful, almost quaint, and away from the motorway, ideal for relaxing. The restaurant serves homemade food, you can hire bicycles, and guided tours are given to people visiting.
The rebirth of Pipinas hasn’t only been limited to the cooperative. At the same time, other micro-businesses have been developing, and although none of them is quite as significant as the hotel, they have more economic weight as a whole, and they are more associated with Pipinas’ popular culture. They are geared towards valuing, publicising, and preserving their culture, and diversifying the economy in a way that encourages the protection of the resources they have as a community: rituals, festivals, forests, and walks, all working towards equitable social development.
More information about the cooperative here