Urban Reforms and the Birth of City Planning in Rio De Janeiro and Recife (1904-1945)

By Outtes, Joel | Diálogos Latinoamericanos, January 1, 2005 | Go to article overview

Urban Reforms and the Birth of City Planning in Rio De Janeiro and Recife (1904-1945)


Outtes, Joel, Diálogos Latinoamericanos


Introduction

Capitalism, for its reproduction, must always shape the built environment according to its needs.1 Capital earns time through urban modernization, reducing distances and accelerating the speed of the circulation of commodities, putting up its reproduction to higher levels. This process has been called "the annihilation of space by time".2 Cities, in their historical development, arrive at a stage in which their structures become obstacles for capitalistic expansion. This moment is important in the study of urban historical geography. It permits the observation of how this contradiction is resolved, in which ways, in which economic, social, political and cultural contexts, and under which struggles, consensus and conflicts. Urban reforms are implemented in this moment. There we find a turning point in which the State intervenes, mobilizing capital and labour to undertake public works, demolishing old insalubrious districts, opening avenues and constructing buildings for public services.

Urban reforms also have the characteristic of increasing the demand for the labour force, by the supply of employment through public works. This aspect of public works becomes even more important when there is a political threat. The economical demands of the working class are partly fulfilled by wages received as a result of public works expenditures, reducing unemployment, poverty and political threats. This process is double-faced, because modernization through urban reforms implies a reorganization of functions in the city. If on one hand public works distribute wages in the labour market, on the other hand the reorganization of the urban territory creates a movement of intra-urban migration in which rents rise and the working class is conducted to dwellings in the periphery. The other option to the working class is to reduce their consumption, while remaining in the city centre. The former case brings easier social control and is especially important in cities with a tradition of working class revolts. Urban reforms rely on both decisions and works of a significant size, such as expropriation laws and financial resources. This latter aspect seems to be always present in urban reforms. Municipal budgets are not sufficient for the amount of capital required in investments of this magnitude. In other words, urban reform is preceded by financial reforms. It is necessary to have a "revolution in the credit system to revolutionate space relations".3

If the mid-nineteenth century was the period in which Haussmann's urban reform was undertaken in Paris,4 the three first decades of the twentieth century was the period in which some of the most important urban reforms took place in South American cities. In Brazil, the urban reform of Rio de Janeiro was undertaken during the government of the engineer and mayor Pereira Passos (1902-1906), called a "Tropical Haussmann", by a Minister of Foreign Affairs.5 In this experience, as in others, working class housing and insalubrious streets in the centre were demolished and the population moved out, in part to far neighbourhoods beside the railways and in part to favelas (shacks) placed on the hills around the centre.6 Sao Paulo also had its urban reform in the governments of the mayors Antônio Prado (1899-1911) and Raimundo Duprat (1911-1914), when many infrastructures were improved, as was the case of the transportation system.7 Recife, third largest city in population in Brazil until the middle of the century, had a smaller reform, limited to bairro do Recife, the district beside the port (1909-1913). During this period, a project for a new water supply and sewerage system was also implemented.8 Argentina did not escape from this tendency. At least Buenos Aires passed by an urban reform in the beginning of the century, during the tenure of mayor Alvear.9

Financial Changes

The turn of the century marked a cycle of urban reforms in South America. From the late 1920s until the 1940s a second cycle took place. …

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