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URBAN DESIGN AND CRIME LEVELS IN BRAZIL

During May 2013, I visited Brazil for 3 weeks as part of BUDS (Brazil Urban Design Study); a group of five Planning students from Oxford Brookes University, with the help of our lecturer Dr Laura Novo de Azevedo. We worked with 3 different universities in Brazil; giving presentations on current urban design and planning issues, and leading student workshops to create design codes based on example sites within Brazil. Figure 2: BUDS logo

Figure 3: BUDS group

As well as attempting to adopt cross cultural approaches for the design and development principles in order to deliver sustainable urban extensions, I also conducted a personal study into the relationship between urban design and crime rates, an extension of my dissertation research. The opportunity to go to Brazil meant I could extend my research outside the UK context. My focus questions to ask the Brazilian students were;  Are there any particular recurrent aspects of urban design, or form, in areas with high crime levels?  What would be the best way to work with the urban form to help reducing crime in residential areas?

Figure 1: Graffiti in Pelotas


PRESENTATION Our lectures and workshops began in Florianopolis, and would continue in Pelotas and Porte Alegre. The structure of the workshops involved starting with the BUDS presenting to the Brazilian students about urban design principles and design coding. We then broke into groups, each BUDS student lead a group of approximately 5 Brazilian students. The stages of the workshop included 1) producing a vision of what we wanted for the project site, 2) taking a field trip to visit the site in order to complete a SWOT analysis, 3)creating a list of design objectives that were needed in order to fulfil the vision, 4) producing design codes with the aid of sketches and initial site designs, and identifying ‘what’ ‘how’ and ‘why’, to be presented to the rest of the students.

As a group we gave a presentation to the Brazilian students at each of the three universities on the topic of Design Coding in Urban Design. The presentation covered a wide range of themes; including low carbon communities, mobility and parking, community involvement in planning, sensory urbanism and crime prevention by design. My section was focused on the importance of active edges and natural surveillance. Figure 4: BUDS presentation

It is very important to increase vitality and natural surveillance, in order to improve safety and reduce levels of crime. This can be done in several ways, including;  

By creating or completing perimeter blocks, so that there is no ‘dead’ space or areas without natural surveillance, Including doors or entrances that open onto public spaces so it is more likely that people are constantly moving around the area, Incorporating large windows, balconies and different building heights means that there is surveillance from a variety of different perspectives (Figure 5), limiting the opportunity for criminal activity It is also important to design corners and ground floors differently so it remains active a safer at different times of the day (figure 6). For example the design could include mixed uses such as shops and cafes, or if there are ground floor flats, provide as many as possible with individual entrances

Figure 5: example of work – showing surveillance

Figure 6: example of work – showing corner plots


FLORIANOPOLIS – PONTA DE LEAL Florianopolis is an island located in south-eastern Brazil. There is only one bridge connecting it to the mainland. While driving through Florianopolis, there is no clear planning structure, each plot is sold individually so there was a lack of perimeter blocks and uniformed edges. We worked with the Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina. For the workshop, we visited a favela next to the sea, called Ponta de Leal, which was home to mostly fisherman or brick layers. It is currently a project facing the residents and city council, but both sides have very different ideas. There are suggestions for a new motorway which would run through the current location of Ponta de Leal, removing the residents easy access to the sea. The current residents also felt that there was exclusion based on postcode, so providing an official

Figure 7: Location of Ponte de Leal – Google Maps

postcode would give them more of a chance to get a job. The provision of parking was not such a high demand because the residents preferred cycling, walking or taking the bus as it was much cheaper. Improving sanitation as also a major concern with everyone involved. In our groups we developed ideas to rehome the residents in a site that is currently used as a car park behind the existing favela, so that they would still be next to the sea in order to reduce the impact to their trade. As a group, we created an idea that took into account access to the sea, sun and wind directions, and one corner of the new development was to be higher than the rest to create a visible landmark (figure 11). It also included a water taxi and mixed uses on the ground floor in order to increase the amount of passers-by and natural surveillance, and as a result reduces crime levels in the area; the more activity there is in an area, the

Figure 8 - Ponta de Leal

Crime in the favela is relatively low however there was obvious misuse of electricity; the residents were stealing the electricity from surrounding areas, which was visible from the overloaded pylons at the site entrances, as shown in Figure 9.

Figure 9: Electricity pylons

Figure 10: Ponta de Leal

Figure 11: Florianopolis workshop


PELOTAS – VILLAGE CENTRE . The city of Pelotas was built using a grid formation, and several times, me and my fellow students got lost as we are not used to this layout. A lot of the properties in Pelotas had high gates, blank walls or fences, reducing the amount of natural surveillance to the area (Figures 12 and 14). During our time here, a group of about five students were mugged when walking home from university one night. Unfortunately, the site where this occurred had broken street lights and lots of inactive edges, providing a perfect opportunity for the thieves. Crime in the area was visible at almost every turn, there was graffiti covering a number of the walls en-route to university, and ironically I even saw the word “crime” painted on walls several times (Figure 13).

Figure 12: Barrier

Figure 13: Graffiti

Figure 14: Blank facades

In Pelotas we joined up with Universidade Federal de Pelotas. The work shop used an existing condominium located in the centre of Pelotas to create guidelines for similar future development sites. The condominium had regulated access in and out of the community. In return this created a safe and welcoming atmosphere within the boundary walls, with gates and high walls creating a barrier from crime on the outside. However due to the walls and gates, there is no natural surveillance or active edges and so it is more likely for criminal activity to occur. Condominiums, or gated communities, are becoming more and more popular regardless of the effects. In order for a condominium to be allowed, it:  Must have a wall around the border,  Must have a parking space per flat  Must NOT have individual plot walls As a group, we had to create guidelines that would tackle this issue, among many others, for similar future developments. One of the aims, shown in figure 15, was to deliver a permeable area with mixed uses, providing services to residents as well surrounding areas. This is to boost interaction between different areas and increase safety, as there will be more people around and more natural surveillance. It was also important to provide community areas to encourage socialising and interaction among residents, a friendly neighbourhood is more likely to look out for each other. However street furniture and paths would clearly outline what is public and private property to clarify space and uses. Figure 15: work from Pelotas Workshop


PORTE ALEGRE – VILA CHOCOLATAO While in Porte Alegre, we worked with Pontifícia Universidade Catolica do Rio Grande do Sul. The project in Porte Alegre was focused on Vila Chocolatau, a relocation of illegal settlements from the city centre (Figure 17), into small houses on the outskirts of the city. The project relocated approximately 200 families; they are now located 25 minutes further away from the original location and the city centre. Within the first year, 60-70% of the people who were relocated chose to sell their property. Figure 16: art at Vila Chocolatao

Key Recreational ground School Library Shop Centre for Recycling Figure 17: Vila Chocolatao Site – Google Maps

Figure 17 shows the layout of the new site. The design of the new site has several flaws, including creating a park and basketball court at the far end of the site, surrounded by trees. The parks became neglected, broken and dangerous for children, the lights for the basketball court were broken so it could no longer be used in the evenings, and the area generally fell into disuse. After a short while it became the ideal spot for drug dealers and the like. The houses were all similar in size and design (Figure 19), but the small front garden allowed for some personalisation as shown in Figure 20. As groups we created design codes for future similar developments, in order to improve safety and community feel.

Figure 18: previous location

Figure 19: New street layout

Figure 20: House modifications

Vila Chocolatao was built by the government, and it solved many issues such as, sanitation and providing an official address, several issues still remain, and new ones have arisen as a result of design and location. Vila Chocolatao also had dangerous wiring, and stolen electricity like Ponta de Leal, as seen in Figure 21.

Figure 21: Electricity Pylons


CONCLUSIONS The chance to visit and work in Brazil was incredible, and would not have been able to happen without the help of Santander Scolarships. Whilst in Brazil, we also spent a couple of days of the trip in Rio de Janeiro. Whist here, one of my fellow students debit cards was cloned and account was emptied. We figured out the cloning must have occurred in a shop along the Copacabana beach. When walking around Rio, the grid system was slightly confusing, especially when most of the shops on the corners looked and sold the same. Several properties along the roads had gates, bars, or walls. This was an obvious attempt at protecting their own property however it also means that there is a lack of active edges and natural surveillance. As a result, it didn’t feel very safe for pedestrians walking past these properties as it provides plenty of opportunities for crime to occur. While in Rio, we had a tour around the Santa Marta Favela (Figure 24). I was a bit apprehensive about this, after hearing negative things about these types of areas. However the tour guide was someone who lives in the favela so knew the area and the people very well. This made the whole experience feel safer as everyone was very welcoming.

Figure 22: Police Point within Santa Marta Favela

We learnt that there have recently been police points introduced within the favela (Figure 22), in an attempt to control crime. Beforehand, the area was controlled by drug dealers, but after talking to several people, they believed that the drug dealers Figure 23: Art work in the Favela Figure 24: Santa Marta Favela kept it a safe place due a ‘no tolerance’ attitude to crime, with major consequences for those that did not comply. I felt that the workshop in Florianopolis was the most successful even though it was the first try. It helped that we had an on-going project to use, rather than just a hypothetical one. We could create sketches and specific design codes for the new building. The lead resident of the favela came to talk to us which gave us a better insight into the needs of all the residents and also got us more involved emotionally. The visit to Brazil also meant I have been able to research about crime in residential areas outside of the UK context. Overall the whole experience provided the chance for me to explore methods and views of a different culture, and further investigate my research project. The recurrent blank facades meant that there were prime opportunities for crime to occur, empty or neglected buildings and parks that were provided ideal areas for criminal activity to take place. Note: All photos are by the Author, unless specified otherwise.


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