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BRAZIL 2013 A SENSE OF COMMUNITY?

SEAN V KELLY BRAZIL URBAN DESIGN STUDY 2013 OXFORD BROOKES UNIVERSITY


What’s inside? Page one ~ who are BUDS? Page two ~ introduction Page three ~ communities—Florionopolis Page four ~ communities—Pelotas Page five ~ communities—Porto Alegre Page six ~ community interactions Page seven ~ continued Page eight ~ engagement methods Page nine ~ feature methods Page ten ~ challenges Page eleven ~ summing up


Who are BUDS? BUDS (Brazil Urban Design Study) are a group of planning and urban design students from Oxford Brookes University. We formed in 2012 with the help of our lecturer Dr Laura Novo De Azevedo to help continue with her previous research into design coding in Brazil (2011). We aimed to share our experiences with three partner universities in Brazil in order to develop design coding in both the UK and in Brazil. In addition to the design coding element of our trip we also decided to research our own individual topics. These topics were related to our dissertations subjects and were also related to the stages of design coding. These topics were; crime prevention through design; parking and mobility; sensory urbanism; carbon neutral living and my topic— community engagement—the basis for this report.

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The three partner universities were based in southern cities and they included Florianopolis, Pelotas and Porto Alegre. At each university we worked with under and post graduate urbanism students, lecturers and members of nearby communities to develop suitable design codes for social housing projects.

With an improving economy and two major world events (World Cup 2014 and Olympics 2016), Brazil is currently experiencing high development pressures. There is ongoing huge investment on new infrastructure such as roads, leisure activities, public transport and new housing.

This was done in the format of workshops that lasted between three and four days. Each of us (Brookes students) led our own group into creating design codes by using sketches, designs, discussions and site visits to gather material and information to help produce suitable codes. We then presented our work and discussed the process involved at the end. The workshops were guided by Laura and other faculty staff.

Brazilian governments also appear to be keen to promote the country to the world and to prove that Brazil has the crucial ability to raise living standards. Reducing the obvious inequalities between Brazilian citizens and eradicating the opportunity for corruption are also high on the agenda for Brazilians. But how much of this investment is benefiting Brazilian people? And how much are they involved the influencing how the money is spent?

The groups in the workshops also allowed us an opportunity to explore our own individual projects by discussing them with the Brazilian students—who were knowledgeable on our topics from a Brazilian perspective. They were able to answer our questions or provide further information.

This report will also look at the frequent physical, social and cultural juxtapositions experienced by the group in Brazil. It will also look at the importance of social interaction in Brazilian culture. This sense of community in Brazil can be overwhelming but what affect does this have on development?

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Communities Florianopolis In one of Brazil’s wealthiest states (Santa Catarina), the scenery here was dramatic and it felt almost Jurassic. The city is spread across a sparsely populated island and the more densely populated mainland—connected by one bridge that leads into the city centre. Part of the coastline is dominated by expensive high rise apartments, lending an almost similar visual character to Miami or even Sydney.

The favela community we worked with here were situated on the coastline of the city and provided a stark contrast to most of the wealth of the rest of the city. The community consisted of 96 families who were about to be re housed into purpose built social housing to make way for a new road. The new housing had potential to have a negative cultural impact; this became apparent after visiting other similar social housing projects in the area which felt isolated and unsafe and were compared to being like prisons.

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Pelotas Pelotas is a city in the far south of Brazil. It has an historic centre with Portuguese influences and a grid layout. The buildings are mostly low rise which sometimes means the streets lack legibility and it can be easy to get lost. The city suburbs (mostly gated communities) spread to the coastline of Dos Patos Lagoon which has an amazing beach and boardwalk—an important location for locals to meet, walk and watch the sunsets/moonrise. Pelotas appeared to be a traditional, welcoming and friendly city.

At this university we worked on a more general basis and didn’t have a specific community to work with. Here the emphasis was on the gated residential communities and the physical and social effect this style of development had surrounding areas. The workshops aimed to develop codes that limited the need for gated communities and that could help achieve more social inclusion.

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This

city was the largest city of the three we worked in, A densely populated urban environment that is built around the same lagoon that flows from here to Pelotas—280km long and is the largest in Brazil. The capital city of the Rio Grande do Sul has many tall buildings and like other cities we visited the difference between rich and poor was obvious. Porto Alegre’s character felt very much like other big metropolises—busy and interesting.

Porto Alegre

Students

here were just as keen to learn about design coding, share experiences with us and improve how we can work together to develop quality and suitable design codes. The community we worked with here had already been re housed from their original favela location to further away from the city centre. Their original settlement was prime real estate and is now the civic area of the city with many official government buildings. The new location had many physical barriers such as being on a hill. In some ways the site did not encourage inclusion with surrounding communities and there seemed to be a lack of consideration for some community facilities.

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Community Interactions My time in Brazil made me realise that engaging with one another and having a strong sense of community is important to Brazilians. In each city we witnessed different levels of this but it was a prominent feature of Brazilian culture wherever we went. Social interaction is something that the country thrives on and the diversity of different aspects of their culture allows this to flourish. These Important cultural features varied throughout different regions and stand out ways of interaction include Samba, community celebration buildings and Mate (pronounced mat-eh).

Mate This southern Brazilian hot caffeinated drink is an old tradition in this part of Brazil. Inside the cup is a green herbal tea which is filled with hot water and is drunk through the silver straw. It is important for interaction and engagement because the concept is to share the drink. For example, in a classroom there may be two or three cups and everyone will pass them around (including the lecturer!) during class.

Samba As samba is a close body contact dance it is easy to see why this is a form of interaction. My time in Brazil highlighted to me just how important Samba is in Brazilian culture. Samba classes and shows would often be at the centre of a community such as in the Santa Marta Faveka that we visited in Rio. The residents would gather for Samba in a large purpose built building located in an accessible location. Anybody could be involved and the community organised shows where non residents could attend— creating a link from the favela to other parts of society.

Community Celebration Buildings Pictured above is the inside of a very common building in Brazil—even in the low standard social developments. These are located at the centre of developments for birthday parties etc... The size and quality depends on the economic class of the residents. This example includes a kitchen and is for medium economic class.

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more community interactions Football is another obviously popular activity in Brazil. What’s more important to note though is the positive impact this sport can have on different communities. The image shown here was taken in the Santa Marta Favela in Rio. Football, like Samba, offered a vital link to neighbouring communities with different organised tournaments. This is especially important as it was suggested that residents of Favela’s can often feel isolated and rejected from the rest of society. This is partly due to the majority of them not being on any official government system meaning they may not be ‘registered citizens’. In almost every public space we visited there was some form of public board game formalised as street furniture. Unlike some parts of the UK, these were being used on almost every occasion. More importantly, these were also located and being well used in Favela communities as pictured left.

Barbecues and perhaps food in general is another important activity that brings communities together. As pictured previously, the designated celebration buildings found in many residential developments include areas for large buffets and food preparation areas. Informal barbeques can be common and often there is an open invitation to friends and neighbours!

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Community engagement methods The previous examples highlight how community and interaction is an important part of Brazilian culture. So perhaps the question should be - could we exploit this cultural element to encourage more formal methods of engagement with Brazilians and help ensure they have an active and meaningful input into their surroundings and community? One obvious point was peoples longing attitude for change.

The Brazilian government appears to be moving to a more inclusive way of redeveloping and in some instances involves the local community in making decisions about development in their area. An example of this is some of the residents in the Santa Marta Favela were giving the opportunity to have their homes repainted from a palette of bright colours (pictured bottom left). To the right is how it was before. However, after chatting with one of these residents it would appear that this is not as helpful as it first may seem; these homes have many serious issues such as being of poor build quality and lack of proper sanitation. Some residents have accused the government of spending money on quick fixes in order to make the Favela’s visually more attractive to people in other parts of the city.

From the communities we visited, two other forms of engagement were being used. These were using a community leader/champion to lobby important issues with governmental bodies and the other was university outreach programmes. There were varying levels of success in terms of participation or finding solutions to local issues and more information follows.

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Community Leader

University outreach

This person would organise our site visits and would be very knowledgeable on that particular area as they had likely lived there all of their life. It wasn’t always clear if that person had been democratically elected from within the community but it had been suspected that in most circumstances this person would have been a respected member of the community with an advanced ability to read and write. For example, in Florianopolis, the community leader had a very active political involvement and was a member of the local communist party. He represented his community and engaged with government officials to negotiate on higher standards of living. This was the local councils main form of engagement with all 300 people living here. Perhaps one reason why the process for relocation was taken so long. Other community leaders had been more enterprising, encouraging engagement with local services to help boost local income. Tourism and recycling are examples of this.

In Brazil universities have three main responsibilities. They are: teach, research and outreach. The latter has developed as a form of community engagement and this was apparent in both Florianopolis and Porto Alegre. It meant that the universities had an obligation to provide resources to the surrounding communities in which they were located. The universities often arranged public meetings with communities, faculty staff and government officials to help resolve issues whilst maintaining a crucial link between all involved. The university in Porto Alegre had used a poor community as a case study in a project and the urbanism students had worked to improve design, layout and facilities. This highlighted issues to the authorities and may have raised chances of real improvements taken place. The major difference between rich and poor meant that it was crucial for services such as universities (often for the affluent) to provide expertise and links in specialist fields.

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The challenges Improving community engagement

Our learning experience

Brazil, like lots of other countries, faces many challenges when improving levels of engagement. Thought is needed into how they can use engagement techniques as a tool to help create better environments for everyone. Further research is required to determine when and where it should take place and in what style. The division in social class means that there are limitations and boundaries with traditional engagement methods as not everyone has convenient access to resources such as the internet or other media sources. The current system of deliberate economic and social segregation in new residential developments does not help or improve engagement between communities. Lower economic classes are often relocated to isolated parts of the city and like other classes are walled in. As mentioned earlier, social interactions are important in Brazilian culture but other barriers must be broken before this

The BUDS trip 2013 was the best learning experience I have had. The trip raised so many relevant issues and taught me to think differently about planning, urban design and other cultures. However, we faced many challenges a long the way. Taking the time to raise funds for our trip and helping with the organisation was difficult to manage as we were final year students with demanding workloads and timetables. The workshops were intense and mentally exhausting and we often worked with students for 14 hour days as time at each university was limited. Although some students spoke English, the majority were not fluent. This made organising, explaining and sharing concepts more difficult and many ideas may have been lost in translation. Also, most of the students were not familiar with design coding bringing further pressure. These challenges were difficult but as a group we overcame them to enjoy an interesting, fulfilling and worthwhile project.

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Summing up... This relatively short piece has briefly looked at some of the issues experienced by the BUDS team in relation to community engagement. Visiting favela communities and social housing projects and then developing design codes to improve them highlighted many issues facing these communities but also taught us many important positive factors about social interaction and vibrancy. To go back to the original questions posed earlier; Is government investment benefiting Brazilian people and are they involved in spending choices? From our findings, some Brazilian people are benefiting from investment in some ways. However, as this report suggests more is needed on important infrastructure such as waste or public transport (i.e. riots June 2013). Little legislation requires the need for real and worthy engagement methods to help determine what local facilities may need.

What effect does the overwhelming sense of community have on new development? The findings in this report highlight the importance of social and community interaction in Brazil. This is apparent in all aspects of new design with designated community areas, public play areas, outside seating etc... Some new developments have aspects that try to encourage this such as the community celebration buildings. Others are badly designed and located in the wrong place. Dwellings may not have direct access to outside space or layouts may be flawed in their design resulting in dangerous disused places. Overall, I feel positive for Brazil. Many of the people we engaged with including favela residents, students, council officials and lecturers had positive attitudes and a keen eagerness to improve aspects of engagement. Details within this report have led me asking further questions for research such as; Will quality engagement lead to having registered citizens and better services for favela communities? How long will might that take?

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Sean kelly