Punta del Este: is Uruguay’s uber-rich ‘gated city’ a glimpse of our urban future?

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Punta del Este: is Uruguay's uber-rich 'gated city' a glimpse of our urban future?
The Punta del Este ePrix race / © Formula E

Astronomic rents and zero public housing keep the haves and have-nots apart in the exclusive Uruguayan coastal city. But is this dystopian ‘paradise’ preempting the path on which other global cities are set?

A sun-tanned cocktail waitress drops a sprig of mint into a mojito in the members-only bar at the Punta del Este racetrack. It is the second ePrix of the season (think Formula 1 with battery engines; more high-pitched squeal than guttural ‘vroom’) and this exclusive Uruguayan beach-side city is playing host. Banners for Julius Baer, a Swiss private bank, flap in the wind. Lycra-clad models hand out hors d’oeuvres. And the world is good.

At least, it is for the rich of Punta del Este. Ever since wealthy Argentine and Uruguayan holidaymakers discovered this sun-drenched peninsula in the early 20th century, the city has enjoyed a reputation as a playground for the elite.

Today, multimillion dollar yachts crowd bow to stern in the marina. Skyscraper apartments stretch into the cloudless azure skies. Cruise liners bob on the horizon.

“It’s very important for us to have exactly the right city for the image we’re trying to create,” says Alejandro Agag, chief executive of Formula E, which counts Moscow, Berlin, Beijing and Long Beach, California among its global race destinations. “We’re looking for absolutely landmark cityscapes.”

Punta del Este ticks that box. Located on Uruguay’s southern coast, the city reeks of cash and cool. Celebrities flock here, and in their wake come the bankers and politicos, the impresarios and power-brokers. […]

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