City of Segregation

Federica Filippone: Architect, Metropolitan Workshop

Suburb: Brasilia


I loved Brasilia, it is a city that is so unique and exceptional.

The city is a one—off, following unusual suburban and rural development processes, and was populated only by migrants, coming from all Brazilian cities and surrounding rural areas. First they came to physically build the city and then moved there hoping for a quality of life. However, for many people after a few years, Brasilia revealed itself to be a let-down. Instead of becoming a city of hope, it became expensive and unliveable, because of it being the paradigm of modern city. Planned in accordance with Modern Movement concepts, it was a celebration of motorways and cars – which were a necessity for residents, at least those that could afford them. Despite the planned social-egalitarian attempt, the representative Brazilian city was arguably only affordable for politicians and their families, for public officials and well-off Brazilian people. Because of this, after a few years, poorer Brasilienses (habitants of Brasilia) opted to move to initially unplanned satellite cities bordering the Capital. These so-called cidades satellites and assentamentos rurais are the results of outward migration from the Federal District. They initially started as informal then, partially led by institutions, became officially recognised. Suburban cities like Ceilândia, Taguatinga, Planaltina represent residents’ search for more traditional and economically accessible cities. Unfortunately, their informal planning contributes to generate violence, criminality, hunger and poverty.

Brasilia expanded considerably to accommodate its vast green spaces meaning public transport to connect the cidades satelites to the capital became so expensive which in turn produced a clear segregation between those with money and those without. This social segregation is a peculiarity of every Brazilian city, but in this case, it is still more evident as it happens occurs between different cities and not within boroughs, like Rocicha and Barra da Tijuca in Rio de Janeiro. The process of outward migration has been so consistent that Ceilândia is now a city of 400.000 inhabitants, Taguatinga, 220.000 inhabitants, and so on.

Nevertheless, the social marginalisation has been given rise to strong, cohesive communities that share difficulties and uncertainties. The realities of living here have produced a spontaneous desire of togetherness to compensate for the basic insecurity that is the paradigm of the place. The perception of similarity, the interdependence with others and the belonging to a structure, both uncertain and unstable, creates such a strong community that people need to be a part of, which in turn helps improve individual well-being and social life.

The key and the challenge to intervene as architects and planners lies precisely in being able to build on the sense of responsibility within the community. Thus architects can help by listening to those who live there and working with them. There is at stake a community that must know how to structure itself in order to give shape to the city. These realities often underpin new cities that develop organically, where architects and planners don’t have a say. What these this reaffirms is that the life of the city, so complex and compromised, presupposes the design.