Sunday, November 7, 2010

Real Cities: A Symposium on Brazilian Urbanism

Real Cities: A Symposium on Brazilian Urbanism

On October 28-30th, 2010 Chicago Partners of the Americas Illinois-Sao Paulo chapter presented “Real Cities: A Symposium on Brazilian Urbanism.” We welcomed some of the best architects and urban planners from Brazil including Jaime Lerner, Jorge Wilheim, Rosa Kliass, Fernanda Barbara and Marcelo Aflalo.

Marcelo Aflalo was the Curator for the exhibit “Building Connection” which is open and free to the public at the Instituto Cervantes until December 2nd, 2010. Among many projects, the exhibit includes urban design proposals for a Sao Paulo Pinheiros river edge, a solution for a Brasilia neighborhood and alternative transportation proposals for the Rio Olympics. These last ones were by Jaime Lerner and Jorge Wilheim. Rosa Kliass’s work included a spectacular landscaping proposal for a former prison site in Sao Paulo.

Mrs. Kliass and Mr. Wilheim also presented a stunning pedestrian mall on “Vale do Anhangabau”, downtown Sao Paulo. I remember this area as the most congested of Sao Paulo. When I was a child, my mother used to take me to the Municipal Ballet School in the Anhangabau valley every day. Crossing from one side to the other of Anhangabau at that time took a half hour, due to the many lanes of traffic with poor pedestrian safety. With Mr. Wilheim and Rosa Kliass’s project it is now possible to enjoy pleasant landscaping and a safe pedestrian environment. People can now admire the beautiful architecture of “Viaduto do Cha”, Teatro Municipal and other landmarks of this historic valley, where a river once passed through.

Fernanda Barbara and Fabio Valentim also presented and exhibited interesting transportation projects along prominent corridors vital to Sao Paulo, which unfortunately has insufficient public transit. Nevertheless, Sao Paulo is a prosperous developing megalopolis with nearly 20,000,000 inhabitants. In the Symposium it was revealed that Sao Paulo receives more than 800 new cars everyday. How can a city that is already congested accommodate all these new cars? (This means 24,000 more every month!)

In a lunch conversation with Jaime Lerner, Barry Weisberg of WBEZ’s “Global Cities” program posed an interesting question: Is traffic a consequence of the city or is the city a consequence of traffic? Jaime Lerner assured us that “the city is not a problem, it is a solution.”


The first day of the Symposium was opened by Brazilian Ambassador Joao Almino (the Consulate of Brazil was the major sponsor of the Symposium). Patricia Saldana, Illinois Partners President and I opened Jaime Lerner’s conference, moderated that first evening by well-known Chicagoan Lee Bey. Many questions were raised, including advice for Chicago’s future mayor. Mr. Lerner responded praising the beauty of Chicago, which he said as a visitor looks good, especially during the fall when temperatures are still moderate. Mr. Lerner’s most recent innovation presented at the conference was the “smart car” which is large enough to fit him but occupies 1/6 of a regular car. The prototype will be tested in France.

In addition to the main "Building Connections" exhibit the first day also displayed at the Instituto Cervantes the exhibits: "Sustainability in the Big City: What Chicago can learn from Curitiba" by Carmen Vidal-Hallett and Mark Hallett and Illinois-Sao Paulo Partners of the Americas "Paranapiacaba Workshop". Paranapiacaba's Secretary Eduardo Selio Mendes Junior e Paranapiacaba Director Milton Fabiano de Marchi honored us with their presence and participation in the symposium.


On the second day, at the Graham Foundation, Fernanda Barbara and Rosa Kliass presented their projects and Jorge Wilheim concluded the conferences with a philosophical presentation about “Urban Connections” in Global Cities. This initiated a conversation moderated by Linda Searl, Chair of the Chicago Planning Commission that included Jaime Lerner, Jorge Wilheim, Rosa Kliass, Fernanda Barbara and Fabio Valentim. Jorge Wilheim sent me his post-Symposium thoughts, which I would like to share with you:

“Urban connections are not only those linked to mobility. I started describing the new geography of global urbanization and the growth of cities and megacities, mainly in the so called “south”; after stressing that large cities are growing mainly because slums are growing (Mike Davis), I described the connections between cities globally as an archipelago of modern consumers: they are highly connected, consume the same products and have a common language, but frequently ignore the “sea” of non-consumers that surround these islands. Global connectivity is ensured and enhanced by technology and produce acceleration, speed and rapid transformations of all sectors of life. Looking inwards I described both material and non-material fluxes; and when considering the issue of urban mobility, underlined that we should always consider people’s way of life and the physical structures that support them and that can be appropriate or scarce. After speaking of vehicles and fuels for this century, I finished listing the main challenges and underlined expectations and hope.

During the debate with Jaime Lerner, Fernanda Barbara and Rosa Kliass, we concluded that in designing and planning we deal with an inexistent material: the future and its space. We agreed that there must be respect for diversity and remember that “the public interest is not the same as the interest of all” (Rousseau) and that one can start working and changing the city even if we don´t have yet all the answers”.


On the third day, the Symposium took place at the South Side Community Arts Center on south Michigan Avenue, focusing on public housing in the U.S. and Brazil. The setting was closer to the reality of a U.S. low-income neighborhood and it gave a completely different perspective to our Brazilian guests. I must say the exhibit preparation of the third day was a total challenge for the entire team and the success of the day was mainly a result of the incredible volunteer effort of Marcelo and Marta Aflalo and Drea Howenstein of the School of the Art Institute.

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