This paper is a brief discussion of a recent research on how Brazilian cities have been shaped from the late 1980s to the early 2000s through several case studies in different cities. After the disruption of the modernist paradigm, the demythification of Brasilia, and the redemocratization of the country in the 1980s, architecture and urbanism in Brazil were eager for new models with which to face urban development. On one side globalization and market forces dragged society towards an “entrepreneurial” and fragmented city of shopping centers, gated communities, private enclaves, and trendy and irrelevant architectural imagery. On the other side academia, intellectuals, community and social movements, and conscientious political leaders pushed toward another social order and to solutions that are more appropriate to the Brazilian social and cultural heritage. This duality is clearly reflected in urban landscapes throughout the country and reflects a constant tension between opposite realms: global-local, private-public, and the individual-collective. Urban design reflects this duality and the tensions that it generates in Brazilian cities, and it always results from public actions, either directly –through programs and projects by institutional agencies– or indirectly –through legislation, incentives, and other instruments set to control the market. Even illegal settlements and substandard housing result from political, economic, and social options at the governmental sphere, or simply from the lack of satisfactory institutional actions at national, regional, and local levels. Urban design seeks to shape the public realm, ensures its quality, and sets the stage for cultural, social and economic development. Findings of my research show how urban design can be regarded as a fundamental tool towards a pluralist and democratic city in Brazil, where three major trends in its practice were identified: a) late-modernism, b) re-utilization of the built environment, and c) social inclusion. This paper will briefly discuss some of the research findings in the hopes that it will be relevant to a better understanding of the role of urban design from an international perspective.


Urban, Community and Regional Planning

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