La Plata (literally "The Silver" or "The Money") is the capital city of Buenos Aires province, Argentina. Some people erroneously think that Buenos Aires city is in Buenos Aires province, but it isn't. It stands on its own, all alone, provinceless. These two cities are located 56Km away from each other. It has a population of 196,527, according to the 2010 census, but its metro area counts almost 800,000 inhabitants. This is, I think, due to the fact that its land area is smallish (no more than 25 sq. Km) and its limits are fixed.

Why that? Well, a smart guy named Dardo Rocha, who had been the governor of the province of Buenos Aires, thought that it would be awesome to erect a perfectly square city with a park every 4-6 blocks. Then he remembered Pythagoras and threw in some diagonal streets to move faster from one end of a sub-square to the opposite one (hence La Plata's nickname: "La ciudad de las diagonales"). To make it even more mathematical, he said "To hell with street names! We'll number those bastards.", and so it was done.

Though at first glance it looks great, this planning has some disadvantages. Sure, with numbered streets you have the impression you'll never get lost, and I admit it's easier to know where you are than in a city where you don't know the name of the streets, but wait until you come across one of those bitchy diagonals. They totally alter your sense of direction, and they are a damn mess to cross. In addition, people tend to give you directions stating the street number and the number of the two streets at its sides (e.g. Calle 5 between 50 and 51), instead of its address, letting you play the game of finding the house/apartment/venue.

Personally, I dislike numbers because I find them harder to remember and easier to confuse than names, and they don't have a personality. But that's just my opinion, some people like it that way. The traffic is a mess, only made worse by diagonals, and the car drivers' (especially taxi drivers) motto seems to be "The only good pedestrian is a dead one." The same holds for their regard towards other drivers. On the bright side, well, on the shady side in fact, there are lots of trees everywhere, mostly of the platanaceae family.

A big part of the city's population consists of students that come from all over the province and neighbor countries, to study in the UNLP. Many prefer it to Buenos Aires primarily because it has a more relaxed atmosphere than the capital city, and if they need to go there, it's just an hour away by bus. Another important chunk of the population works in the public administration, as the three provincial powers (executive, legislative and judicial) and their branches have their seat there.

To the north of the city there's a horse racetrack and an artificial forest known simply as El Bosque (which means "the forest" in Spanish). There you can find a natural sciences museum, an observatory and Gimnasia y Esgrima de La Plata's and Estudiantes de La Plata's (both soccer teams) stadiums. Oh, yeah, and maybe a couple of flashers. That part of the city is also where most of UNLP's faculties and departments can be found.

All in all, it's a pretty nice place, but it doesn't feel like something important is happening all the time, like in BA. Kind of like most internal cities, but with more beggars, more homeless people, more sushi places and Chinese delis, and taller buildings.

This writeup is part of Up My Street (A Quest for Local Knowledge)

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