• Igor Tempels Moreno Pessôa TU Delft, Architecture and the Built Environment


Brazilian planning authorities have faced many criticisms over the last half century. Even Brasília, the new modernist capital, established in 1960, has been heavily criticised in recent decades (Ferreira Nunes & Bandeira, 2004; Fragomeni, Fonseca, & Brandao, 2016; Gehl & Rogers, 2013; Holston, 1993). It is common to associate Brazilian metropolises with violence, chaos and inequality. These negative images are not only imbedded in the popular mind, but are also reflected in well-known research. São Paulo has been framed as the ‘City of Walls’ (Caldeira, 2000) and Rio de Janeiro has been referred to as part of the ‘Planet of Slums’ (Davis, 2006). While both cities face challenges that go beyond urban planning, it is fair to assume that planning has been unable to cope with the changes both cities faced in the last half century. The southeast region of Brazil, for example, where the two biggest cities are located, grew from an urbanisation rate of 57% in 1960 to 92.95% in the last census in 2010 (IBGE, 2018). This urban growth did not occur in an orderly fashion. Cities developed without strategic coordination, mainly driven by the economic opportunism of the moment, which resulted in an uneven and disconnected urban patchwork. The result of this opportunity-led development is the well-known fragmentation and inequality represented by the walls and slums described by Caldeira and Davis. In this thesis, fragmentation refers not only to the difference in the spatial characteristics of distinct areas of a city, but also to the lack of connection between those areas: the lack of interdependence. Fragmentation, therefore, involves more than mere diversity within an urban system. The diverse urban patchwork of Brazilian cities is not only based on the spatial disconnection between autonomous areas, but also on the systematic inequality of Brazilian metropolises.

Despite the notorious challenges being faced, there are also interesting positive phenomena occurring in Brazilian urban environments that are worthwhile investigating. The incapacity of public authorities to cope with the rapid changes has also forced citizens to work together to overcome some of these challenges. Civil society in Brazilian metropolises has demonstrated its resilience. While public space in Brazilian cities has often only been created in the left-over space between, for example, infrastructure, informal settlements and gated communities, citizens have mobilised 22 Planning with self‑organised initiatives: from fragmentation to resilience themselves to improve these spaces. Brazilian metropolises have become a fertile ground for active citizens to start improving their streets, squares and neighbourhoods without waiting for public authorities to step in. Many initiatives emerged in contexts where citizens have had to adapt to unfavourable circumstances. These are known as the bottom-up, grassroots or ‘do-it-yourself’ practices of urbanism (Kee & Miazzo, 2014; Newman et al., 2008), referring to initiatives in which citizens organise themselves and take the lead to improve the public utility of these left-over unused spaces. These initiatives are not part of traditional urban planning tools; however, they are influencing the way urban planning is being practised in Brazilian fragmented metropolises. Nevertheless, while these self-organised initiatives are actively shaping public space, there is still a lot that needs to be understood about how they work.

In the literature on resilience, ranging, for example, from physics (Haken, 1983; Heylighen, 2008) to urban planning (Eraydın & Taşan-Kok, 2013), self-organisation is mentioned as an important element for a resilient system. Accordingly, the selforganised initiatives in Brazilian metropolises can be seen as a resilient aspect of the city, particularly the capacity of citizens to act when government fails. Resilience is usually related to a specific impact or threat, and claiming that self-organised initiatives increase resilience capacity in general is imprecise without considering the specific context to which the initiatives are responding. Therefore, the research in this field considered whether some of the self-organised initiatives were acting as possible resilient responses to the spatial fragmentation of Brazilian metropolises. Based on the Resilience Thinking in Urban Planning framework (Eraydın & Taşan-Kok, 2013), the analysis focused on developing an understanding of the relationship between self-organised initiatives and fragmentation. There is much to be understood about how such self-organised initiatives operate, influence and are influenced by these fragmented and unequal urban environments. While inequality is a concept that is often examined in socioeconomic terms, unequal urban environments reflect this inequality in spatial terms. Unequal urban environments refer to urban areas where socioeconomic inequality is high. In the case of fragmented Brazilian metropolises, this inequality is verified by the stark contrast between well-off and marginalised communities, which is often symbolised by the coexistence of gated communities (condomínios) and informal settlements (favelas).

The fragmentation component is important because conventional planning strategies have struggled to develop social connections in such areas of fragmentation and inequality. The walls that exist in Brazilian cities are not only physical but also social. It is especially difficult to create public spaces that serve and promote interaction between groups with diverse socioeconomic status. Public space is referred to here as open spaces that can be freely accessed by anyone, mainly consisting of public squares and streets. Closed public spaces such as community or commercial centres were not considered in this thesis as they follow other dynamics of interaction. The successful creation or renewal of public space not only depends on a good physical design or adequate infrastructure, but also on the capacity of the project to tear down these social ‘walls’ and connect the diverse population physically and socially. It is in this specific aspect that self-organised initiatives emerge as an instrument to enable these social connections. Public spaces in Brazilian metropolises are the physical grounds on which self-organised initiatives carry out their activities. Nevertheless, it is still not clear how they manage to operate in unequal and fragmented environments. Several questions can be posed in this regard: How do self-organised initiatives foster social connections and carry out their work? To what extent do self-organised initiatives develop social connections between extremely diverse groups that are spatially fragmented? To what extent do self-organised initiatives reduce spatial fragmentation and increase resilience by connecting diverse groups? Furthermore, how do planning professionals and institutions interact with them? Does urban planning play a role in self-organised initiatives? How can planning education also involve self-organised initiatives and have a stronger societal impact? These are the initial questions driving this research and which the thesis will address in the following chapters.


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How to Cite
MORENO PESSÔA, Igor Tempels. Introduction. A+BE | Architecture and the Built Environment, [S.l.], n. 4, p. 21-34, may 2019. ISSN 2214-7233. Available at: <>. Date accessed: 10 july 2020.