Dossier thématique Aspects de l’environnement urbain au Brésil

Aspects of the urban environment in Brazil Special Issue


Lucia Maria S. A. COSTA Laura VESCINA Denise Barcellos Pinheiro MACHADO

RÉSUMÉ Cet article porte sur les discours environnementaux et les pratiques concernant la restauration des eaux urbaines au Brésil en se penchant sur les rapports entre l’environnement et l’occupation urbaine. Une analyse est menée sur les travaux de restauration environnementale des fleuves et cours d’eau entrepris dans le cadre du Projet Iguaçu à la Baixada Fluminense, dans l’état de Rio de Janeiro. Il s’agit dans un premier temps de dresser un portrait de l’expérience de la restauration environnementale et du paysage, puis de cerner les aspects sociaux et environnementaux de la Baixada Fluminense. Une discussion est ensuite menée sur l’action des pouvoirs publics sur cet espace en mettant l’accent sur le développement des parcs riverains. L’article se termine en soulignant que la prise en compte de la spécificité culturelle est essentielle pour améliorer l’efficacité des actions de restauration.

MOTS-CLÉSUrban rivers; environmental restoration; riverside parks; Rio de Janeiro; Baixada Fluminense


ABSTRACT This paper aims to expand our understanding of environmental discourses and practices in Brazil pertaining to urban water restoration, by focusing on the interrelations between environmental structure and urban occupation. For this purpose, it examines river and stream environmental restoration proposals within the Iguaçu Project located in Baixada Fluminense, in the state of Rio de Janeiro. The discussion begins with a brief description of the environmental restoration and landscape experience, followed by an exploration of the Baixada Fluminense social and environmental contexts. A program launched by the government is analyzed, emphasizing the development of riverside parks. The paper concludes by arguing that environmental restoration must be culturally specific in order to improve its efficacy.

KEYWORDS Rivières    urbaines;    restauration    environnementale;    parcs    riverains;    Rio    de    Janeiro;    Baixada Fluminense

Author’s coordinates: Lucia Maria S. A. Costa, ROURB – Programa de Pós-Graduação em Urbanismo, Faculdade de Arquitetura e Urbanismo, Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, e-mail:, Laura Vescina, PROURB – Programa de Pós-Graduação em Urbanismo, Faculdade de Arquitetura e Urbanismo, Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, e-mail:, Denise Barcellos Pinheiro Machado, PROURB – Programa de Pós-Graduação em Urbanismo, Faculdade de Arquitetura e Urbanismo, Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, e-mail: denisepm10@gmail. com

ENVIRONNEMENT URBAIN / URBAN ENVIRONMENT, volume 4, 2010, p. a-13 à a-26

EUEEnvironmental restorationa-14 INTRODUCTION

Experience of the landscape is usually related to its transformation. It has largely been discussed in terms of experience gained through individual or collective values and of new meanings attributed to the landscape reflected through its reinterpretation and change. For many urban dwellers, this kind of experience is strongly associated with water. A large number of cities around the world are built along rivers or streams, which are the very reason of the settlements’    existence.    However ,    despite    the undeniable significance of water in the origins and development of cities, only recently has attention been given to the analysis of the relations between rivers, cities and their populations, be it in the academic literature or in the professional practice of urban design and landscape architecture.

For many years, particularly from the 18th century onwards, the main approaches solving problems related to urban rivers both in Brazil and in other countries were focused on drainage issues. One had to contain floods and drain water meadows in order to ensure that the land was suitable for urban development. This understanding involved hard engineering of urban rivers by channelization and, often, the total displacement of watercourses, to sub surface drainage systems. This project-based culture, described as “concrete overcoat” by Penning-Rowsell and Burgess (1999), has had a great impact on how we experience the urban landscape, thus reflecting the collective values attributed to rivers.

In various cities throughout the world, this approach has gradually changed. Rivers have been reevaluated and recovered in their environmental integrity and their potential as social spaces has been reclaimed. New values and meanings have been attributed to rivers that are reflected in the way urban restoration projects consider riverine landscapes.

On the basis of this change, we can uncover new perspectives on the relations between the cities and their surrounding landscape. Initially, urban and landscape studies highlighted the rivers’ significance in the formation of the landscape structures of the urban fabric. This approach has, more recently, been expanded, and contemporary studies discuss the importance of urban river landscapes from various enriching perspectives, such as those of green corridors, public open spaces, recreation and leisure, environmental services, just to name a few. This has generated a vast number of contemporary project

discourses and practices aimed at urban river restoration (see, for example, Downs and Gregory, 2004).

Urban projects have been privileged instruments of intervention in many countries including Brazil during the last quarter of the 20th century. At first, the scope of the projects was on community participation and local administration initiatives, and it was expanded to a more strategic profile – either in the formulation of the project itself or in the visibility brought to the city and its local authorities (Iplanrio, 1997).    T oda y ,    incorporated    as    a    practice    of    urban intervention in the contemporary city, projects have gained a new dimension. We argue that the pressing challenges facing the 21st century Brazilian city are environmental in nature, latu sensu, namely restoring both the environmental conditions and a sense of urbanity .    As    elsewhere,    new    approaches    are developed to address the metropolitan issue, and it might be asked whether metropolises are simply extensions of cities or rather new entities calling into the question the fundamental attributes of urbanity (Ascher, 2008).

Recent literature about urban projects in Brazil reveal that, within the long-term developing plans for the metropolis, spatial strategies are articulated through large and local scales, the latter being where spaces of urbanity can be rescued. A central theme of the strategies is environmental restoration which gives special relevance to river landscape restoration projects.

The main objective of this paper is to expand our understanding of environmental discourses and practices in Brazil concerning urban water restoration, acknowledging    the    interrelations    between environmental structures and urban occupation. To this purpose, the paper focuses on river and stream environmental restoration proposals within the Iguaçu Project, located in the metropolitan area of Rio de Janeiro. The study draws on the concept of landscape as a cultural construction, and it is based on archival research, analysis of public documents and field work. The paper begins with an examination of the urban environmental restoration and landscape experience and strategy. This is followed by an overview of the Baixada Fluminense social and environmental contexts, with a focus on its rivers and streams. The discussion follows with an analysis of a government program, emphasizing landscape design and the development of river banks for waterfront parks. The paper concludes by suggesting that environmental restoration must be culturally specific in order to improve its efficacy.

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In general, the idea of environmental restoration is related to the idea of process. This understanding has been achieved through groundbreaking work of Ian McHarg (1969), who developed a methodology of landscape analysis and intervention that addressed diverse scales of the environment and was based on the study of the dynamics of natural processes and of their repercussions on the landscape. When the study of landscape experiences is integrated to the study of natural processes, the complexity of the process is heightened, as a vast number of interests, appropriations and contradictions are incorporated to the analysis. As Corner (1999, p. 3) argues, nature is not “culture-free”. In other words, cultural dynamics should be taken into account in environmental restoration processes in order to improve efficacy (see also Gregory, 2006). A number of academic studies conducted in Brazil have already stressed that environmental degradation is at times directly related to cultural issues (Leonel, 1998; Costa, 2006; Martins 2006; Bueno and Martins, 2007).

Following Corner (1999) who suggests that landscape be considered as a verb and not merely as a noun, attention can be drawn to the processual character of landscape and its capacity to enrich local cultures. The landscape can thus serve as an impetus for and play an interactive role in the re-interpretative and transformative processes of space. As such, one can argue that the strategic efficiency of environmental restoration processes is contingent on the recognition of the full range of socio-environmental values associated with urban water as well as of the complicit and interactive relationship dynamics between the landscape and the different cultural groups involved.

This is apparent when we look at the environmental conservation status of Brazilian’s urban fluvial landscapes, which are currently protected by environmental legislation at federal, state and municipal levels. For a variety of reasons, this protection, however, has not proven truly effective. One of the most debated issues is the difficulty in which public spheres can be constructed to provide management and environmental protection (Martins, 2006; Britto and Silva, 2006; Costa et al., 2007). Besides, to ensure effective restoration and protection, preserving environmental values is insufficient. Projects should be more responsive to the riperian inhabitants’ cultural values. Due to the lack of public use, stream and river banks in large and medium-sized Brazilian cities are being occupied increasingly by informal housing (favelas). With the

expansion of illegal settlements, the original environmental values on which the case for legal protection is built are forgotten (Costa, 2006; Bueno and Martins, 2007).

Various studies on the occupation of stream and river banks in Brazilian urban areas have highlighted that regardless of whether they are under legal protection, they remain vulnerable as the number of poor seeking to build their home on this land is increasing (Costa, 2006; Bueno and Martins, 2007). As a result, although their value is recognized in theory, the water banks are nothing more than residual landscapes in practice, i.e. forgotten areas in the formal process of weaving the urban fabric lacking adequate urban and landscape integration as well as public visibility and access and exposed, consequently, to diverse forms of blight and degradation. On the other hand, studies also demonstrate that, when local people’s values and their landscape experiences are taken into account, environmental restoration initiatives can be effective. This is the case, for instance, of the Programa Guardiões dos Rios (River Guardians Program), launched by the Municipality of Rio de Janeiro in 2001. The Program was established to ensure local community involvement in the decontamination and preservation of nearby rivers and streams, and has succeeded in avoiding regular flooding and, in the process, generating income for families in need (Costa et al., 2007).

Watershed-based river restoration projects recognize that the watershed framework serves as a strategic spatial approach for improved intervention and territorial ordination. The concept of a watershed as a planning and administration unit was introduced in Brazil not until as late as the 1990s (Cunha and Coelho, 2003). A combined study of the watershed provides for a better conceptual understanding of the range of environmental and cultural dynamics interacting with each other than a study limited to the course of an isolated river. This approach necessarily entails inter-scaling techniques to conduct an analysis of both the effects of the projects on the landscape and municipal, state and federal project management practices.

Based on an analysis of the watershed, the proposal for the revitalization of the sub-basin of the Bananal Stream, located in the outskirts of the municipality of São Paulo, involves landscape intervention projects along its banks (Pellegrino et al., 2006). A restoration plan was implemented for the sub-basin within the larger watershed context of the Cabuçu de Baixo River. It involves professionals from many fields including landscape architecture, hydrology, biology, and ecology.

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Its main objectives were to address the risk of flooding, water resources contamination, and soil degradation. The rapid and haphazard development of favelas along river banks is one of the major problems facing the sub- basin area. In addition to displacing approximately 750 inhabitants and moving them to apartment buildings in risk-free zones, yet within the watershed, the proposal for the Bananal Stream included a network of parks and green areas connected to surface water drainage and ecological treatment systems. Initiated in 2003, it is currently in its implementation phase and relies on the participation of the local population and government bodies. Delays in the process are mainly due to difficulties of communication among agents, in particular decision-makers providing financial resources.

The project for the Paranaíba River, located in the state of Goiás, in central Brazil, presents another problem (Gorski, 2007). This revitalization project, although limited to the river’s banks up to the city limits of Itumbiara, also considered the watershed in its entirety. This basin is affected by many factors including the presence of hydroelectric power plants, water pollution from agricultural activities, domestic and industrial effluents, deforestation and the high rate of soil impermeability. Initiated in 2005 at the request of the municipality of Itumbiara, this restoration project was undertaken with local people and emphasizes their connection to the Paranaíba River. It aims to reinforce and facilitate public uses related to fishing, nautical activities and other types of recreation activities, as well as the traditional religious processions held on its waters. As this river flows through    more    than    one    municipality,    the implementation phase of the project relies on successful negotiations between local government authorities and is thus a slow and difficult process.

These projects and other experiences under way show how diverse the interface areas between rivers and cities are being used throughout urban Brazil. There are a number of ways of defining what constitutes a feasible urban river environmental restoration project varies according to the team of professionals, government and popular interests and the amount of available funds. Some common denominators, however, can be identified: an approach articulating the scales of the drainage basin with the local scales for specific projects; the regeneration of the rivers’ banks from the standpoint of creating access and public use areas, thus pointing to the need for a combination of social and environmental values; the recognition of the difficulty of reconciling interests and conflicts during the implantation phase.

Several of these issues, which are addressed in detail in the following section, are central to the Iguaçu Project. We examine this project within the context in which it is located, the Baixada Fluminense.



Baixada Fluminense (Fluminense Lowland) is a dynamic region undergoing landscape and socio- cultural transformations. It has experienced historical cycles of intensive development, abandonment, expansion and retraction, which have contributed to its emergence as one of the most significant areas of the metropolitan region of Rio de Janeiro. At the same time, however, the Baixada is known for its environmental conflicts, its deficiencies in basic public services and for its high level of social deprivation. During the rapid process of urbanization of the second half of the 20th century, conflicts have occurred between the demands made by developers and the need to protect Baixada’s fragile ecosystem. Given the urgency of the water-related problems, actions such as fighting floods and draining and canalizing rivers were carried-out at great cost. Tremendous efforts have been made over time to “sanitize” the area and gain control over frequent floods (Sedur, 1990).

Only recently have public policies, especially at the discourse level, incorporated a more complex understanding of this watershed system and of the river within the metropolitan landscape. Various initiatives being taken, as will be discussed further, have drawn on the concept of “environmental restoration”, which involves not only solving relatively simple problems related to drainage and floods but also enhancing the ecological health of water resources, restoring the riparian woodlands and, above all, contributing towards a more harmonious relation with the urban surroundings and its inhabitants.

The Baixada Fluminense, an entre-deux, is delimited by the Mountain Range of the Sea to the north and the Carioca Mountain Range to the south. To the east, its boundaries are defined by the Baía da Guanabara and the Municipality of Magé, and to the west, by the Guandú River. The Baixada Fluminense is a built-up area composed of several municipalities located in the northern metropolitan region of Rio de Janeiro. These includes the municipalities of Nova Iguaçu, Japerí, Queimados, Belford Roxo, Mesquita, Nilópolis, São João de Meriti and Duque de Caxias. With a total area of 1262km2, and a population of three million inhabitants, the Baixada is home to nearly 30% of the total population of the metropolitan area and generates some 24.6% of its gross domestic product.

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Source: Costa, Vescina, Pinheiro Machado

Fig. 1 – Municipalities of the Iguaçu Basin, Guanabara Bay, Rio de Janeiro State. Water courses with intervention receiving support from the Project and location of figures

Water dominates the landscape morphology of the Baixada Fluminense. It is basically a flat, lowland area broken up by small hills and crossed by a vast system of rivers. The Baixada lies within two major drainage basins, the Macro-basin of the Baía da Guanabara and the Macro-basin of the Baía de Sepetiba, and it is in the former watershed where urban population concentrations are greater. In the Macro-basin of the Baía da Guanabara, the largest basins are the Iguaçu, Botas and Sarapuí Rivers. These eastern-flowing rivers originate from the mountain ranges surrounding this macro landscape (Iguaçu in Tingua, Botas in Gericino and Sarapuí in the mountain range of Bangu), running through areas of different urban density before finally discharging into the Baía (Sedur, 1990; Mendes, 1950).

The landscape has been shaped over time by water flow from the rivers or the ocean. The region’s soils found in the small plains flanked by mountains were formed, by sand and clay sediments, which were transported from the sea or carried by streams and surface water courses from the mountains and hills. The latter vary in height; the highest being those close to the base of the mountain range and the lowest and roundest being those found in the interior of the range. This type of landform, commonly known as meia-laranja (half-orange), is easily exploited by

extractive industries (quarries). Besides modifying the landscape, the combined action of extracting soil from the hills and mountains for the reclamation of flooded areas – one of the historical characteristics of the development pattern of the city of Rio de Janeiro up to the mid-20th century – heightens flood-related problems (Mendes, 1950).

During the summer months, when rainfall is heavier, torrential flows from the top of the mountain ranges gradually wane as they reach the Baixada, running in between the hillsides and flooding the lower areas, before finally reaching the Baía da Guanabara. When tides are high, the lowlands near the Baía are flooded, and the sea water invades the aquifers, in some areas up to six kilometers inland, thus forming marshes and mangroves.

Rivers continue to play a key role in the Baixada Fluminense productive cycles. As noted by Mendes (1950), the significance and role of these rivers have changed over time as the vast territory underwent several cycles of development. The first settlements were located on the shores of the rivers, which served as a major navigation route for materials and goods to and from the inland regions and the port of Rio de Janeiro. The waterways gradually declined and were r e p l a c e d    b y    r a i l    an d    r o ad    t r a n sp o rt .    T h e    p o rt

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settlements that appeared along the rivers were progressively relocated inland near the train stations. They formed the nodal points through which urban development expanded towards the rural areas and formed the centralities that are still visible today. The 20th century brought on the great roadway infrastructures and a new structural axis, which eventually created a permanent link between the Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo metropolitan areas, passing through the Baixada Fluminense and producing major transformations in the organization and development of the territory.

Sugarcane plantations were the first human activity to modify the landscape. Rural occupation patterns were well adapted to the physiographic conditions of the Baixada Fluminense: settlements were located midway up the hillsides while the plantations were established in the fertile river valleys subject to possible floods. Chapels were erected on hill tops to physically separate them from the dwellings. Nonetheless, by the end of the 19th century, the small and not so productive valleys rapidly subsided, which – alongside the abolition of slavery – led to the abandonment of the land. Following this period, the deterioration of rural activity, together with the discontinued maintenance of the rivers and canals that served the purpose of transportation, gave way to the restoration of the marshlands and to the outbreak of malaria (Sedur, 1990; Mendes, 1950).

In the beginning of the 20th century, another cycle caused further changes to the landscape: the orange cycle. From 1926, with the expansion of the European market, the rapid growth of this crop gave way to a new geometrical landscape of small lots characterized by extensive rows of orange groves and hedges. The sanitary constructions initiated by the federal government from the 1930s onwards, provided an opportunity for the extension of the plantations from the hillsides to the lowlands (Mendes, 1950).

By the late 1940s, the end of the orange “boom” in the Baixada Fluminense had no effect on the government’s plan to transform the city of Rio de Janeiro outskirts into one of the major horticultural and agricultural production areas, which would possibly supply legumes, vegetables and poultry products to the carioca population. As such, the Sanitation Commission of the Baixada (Comissão de Saneamento da Baixada) was created, through which important waterworks projects were undertaken. The construction of dams, the canalization and rectification of its rivers indisputably changed its landscape.

Little incentives for the rural occupation of the “sanitized” areas, combined with the waiving of the orange plantations, opened the way for urban expansion. Starting in the 1950s, the electrification of railways and the construction of a freeway linking Rio de Janeiro to São Paulo contributed to the spatial extension and sprawl of the capital to the Baixada Fluminense. Mendes (1950, p. 30) was one of the first to observe the formation of an urban continuum along the railroad tracks:

the former nodes of rows of houses surrounding the stations and stops in a range of 50 km from the center of the metropolis have practically come together to form as if a single city, stretching itself out as the tentacles or as the open vanes of a fan. The open areas in between the suburban nucleuses, along the railways, are already scarce and will soon all be entirely populated.

The real estate speculation that occurred in the Baixada Fluminense during the second half of the 20th century lead to indiscriminate occupation, irregular development without urban infrastructure and aggravated environmental conflicts. Rivers silted up due to their abandonment by authorities and the direct discharge of untreated sewage from the precarious dwellings in addition to the waste generated by industries. In many cases, settlements were built haphazardly on the rivers’ margins. Furthermore, the total absence of waste collection services, the deforesting of the slopes and the geophagy of the hills made conditions even worse (Sedur, 1990; Mendes, 1950).

Despite the considerable amount of effort that was invested so far, their lack of coordination and efficiency has not helped to reverse the process of degradation. A series of initiatives were launched in the mid 1980s but were restricted mainly to the provision of basic sanitation and flood control (Serla, 1996). Such interventions include the provision of water supply, the construction of sewage treatment systems and stations, clean-up and sediment control in rivers and canals and the pavement of roads and related developments. Additional actions include institutional    support,    waste    collection,    and environmental education.

A series of actions were carried out under the Rio Reconstruction Project (Reconstrução Rio), which was initiated in the aftermath of major floods that struck the region in 1988. Although these efforts were directed at the macro-drainage systems, including the construction of the Gericinó dam, and helped mitigate

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the effects of floods, they failed to solve the totality of conflicts. Owing to their narrow scope and the total lack of maintenance, most of the infrastructure was obsolete or inefficient once the projects were completed.

More recently, in 1994, the Baixada Alive (Baixada Viva) Program – renamed soon afterwards, New Baixada (Nova Baixada) – set out to integrate a diverse set of actions by taking into account the various boroughs that make up the city region. Unlike previous programs, these actions seek to integrate social and urban infrastructure sectors for the “sustainable development of the environment, satisfactory urban development of boroughs and the restoration of citizenship” (Serla, 1996, p18). The so- called integration was hardly achieved, and the low quality of built structures also led to the program’s demise.

The reasons that can explain why the accumulated investments of over a billion dollars have not managed to substantially improve the situation in the Baixada are complex. Porto (2003), in his analysis of the evolution of public policies over the last thirty years in the Baixada Fluminense, discusses how the process of patrimonialization and the influence of clientelism, quite distinctive in the Brazilian political context, have moved the region closer to the brink of disaster. Porto argues that the water and sanitation policies that prevailed in the Baixada played no part in the building of citizenship and in exercising this right.


In 1994, a technical commission was given the mandate of elaborating the “Integrated Master Plan of Floods in the Iguaçu-Sarapuí River Watershed” (Plano Diretor Integrado de Inundações da Bacia do Rio Iguaçu-Sarapuí), which established a framework for the management of regional water resources intended to facilitate local and state governments with coordinating public policy decision making processes. The document – later known as the Iguaçu Project (Projeto Iguaçu) – recommended a series of structural interventions to complement the initiatives put forward as part of the program Rio Reconstruction (Reconstrução Rio). Non-structural interventions for land use regulation were also included in the master plan. Coordinated by the Laboratory of Hydraulic Engineering of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), and with funding from the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Caixa Econômica Federal which is a Brazilian bank, the

master plan drew on the expertise of a wide range of professionals, local and state government representatives and neighborhood associations (Serla, 1996).

The Iguaçu Project aims at “improving housing and urban infrastructural conditions in the flood affected areas of the Baixada Fluminense, as well as recovering the banks of the watercourses and their springs” (Serla, 1996, p.4). It results from the necessity of better controlling recurrent floods which are potentially hazardous for the entire population of the drainage basins. To achieve this goal, the following actions are planned: relocation of approximately 2000 families, living on the rivers’ banks in unsanitary dwellings and in hazardous areas, to nearby residential complexes; dredging and decontaminating the waters; construction of canal right-of-ways and riverside parks. The project includes community participation in all its stages, as well as generating income and jobs particularly during the implementation phase (Serla, 1996).

Actions undertaken so far have been limited due to the insufficiency of available funds. More than ten years following its launch, the Iguaçu Project was implemented with the financial support of a federal program named PAC – Program for the Acceleration of Growth (Programa de Aceleração do Crescimento). This program, which allocates funds to logistics projects in various Brazilian cities to help develop their urban and social infrastructure, invested 195 million Reais – about 97 million US dollars – in the project, which has been re-named Flood Control and Environmental Restoration of the Iguaçu, Botas and Sarapuí Rivers’ Basin (Controle de Inundações e Recuperação Ambiental da Bacia dos Rios Iguaçu, Botas e Sarapuí).

Approximately running across seven municipalities are the focus of the project, which has developed a range of interventions: hydraulic macro-drainage, including the decontamination and dredging of rivers; repair of sluices; removal of barriers to navigation i.e. narrow bridges; urban and environmental remediation initiatives, including the reforestation of river banks the development of linear parkways; removal of illegally built structures on the banks and relocation of the affected families, and the construction of new secondary roads. Social actions include the registration of families and information campaigns, organization of neighborhood follow-up committees, environmental education, the raising of awareness and citizen participation (Ecologus, 2007).

50 km

of    rivers    and    streams

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Source INEA (State Institute for the Environment) archives

Photo 1 – Informal developments along river courses. Aerial view of Sarapuí River, Duque de Caxias

Source: BLAC, 2008

Fig.2 – Opportunities of intervention. Remaining open spaces along the rivers. Sarapuí River

Source: BLAC, 2008

Fig. 3 – Opportunities of intervention. Catch basins, proposed park for Polder of Outeiro River

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Public green space within Baixada Fluminense is insufficient to meet population needs. Developing a string of open spaces along the rivers would remedy this situation and offer a new possibility for restructuring the entire territory. Green corridors along the river edges linking vacant lots and other open spaces could form a greenways network and play a variety of recreation and leisure roles while providing ecological connectivity. Connectivity could contribute to the protection and enhancement of urban biodiversity. Nevertheless, green corridors should be considered as an environmental protection measure targeting a wider range of cultural and social goals.

The proposal to develop riverside parks as part of the Iguaçu Project is part of a multi-level strategy intended to address issues related to environmental restoration, the expansion of rivers’ social values, and the provision of urban infrastructure by considering environmental, cultural and urban resources.

Initiatives take into account existing realities and deal with the diversity and complexity of situations along the rivers. Opportunities for the development of green corridors are based on existing features and others brought about by the interventions: vacant and abandoned lots waiting for a new designation, informal gardens and green spaces already appropriated by the local population, improvised football fields, reclaimed land after relocation of families, and the like.

Other opportunities arise from hydraulic projects carried out in the retention basins. Owing to impermeable soils and settlements located in hazardous flood-prone areas, hydraulic projects must regulate the flow of flood waters and ensure that large areas remain as open space and are not encroached upon. In these areas, climatic conditions change drastically from very wet during the rainy season to dry the rest of the year. The variation in climate was used as an argument to create floodable parks in these areas. These parks are also designed to perform other functions, including bio-filters for decontaminating surface water. In this sense, parks can be used as large filtering structures while as the same time providing educational and recreational opportunities to the local population.

Following Manning (1997), proposals must seek to combine three features of the experiences of river landscapes: to walk along the river, to have physical access to its waters, and to cross it. In this way, potential relations between river and the local

population can be enhanced, by bringing the river back into the landscape, instead of being inaccessible and remaining hidden from view behind industries, housing and other constructions.

The first rivers to have benefited from urban and landscape projects were the Botas and Sarapuí Rivers, given their structural significance for the territory. The stretch of the Botas River, in between its mouth and the Machambomba River, with an extension of approximately 5 km, flows through the municipalities of Duque de Caxias and Belford Roxo. In the first passage, a predominantly rural area, besides dredging and dragging the river bed, the plans aim at restoring the riparian woodlands along the banks degraded by channel widening. Due to a low level of public – and, consequently, political – visibility, this particular project has not yet begun.

In the Belford Roxo stretch, however, an important section is located within areas of medium and medium-low densities. Past dredging has scared the landscape and left it in a deplorable state. Although the situation was rectified, there was no attempt at reforestation or other restoration of the river banks. On the left bank, a dike and an avenue have been built. Irregular land occupation and an informal network of dirt paths characterize the lower right bank, which is more prone to floods.

Once the dredging is completed, the project calls for the construction of a new roadway on the right embankment, sidewalks and a bike path and the reforestation of key sites to restore riparian vegetation. The water channels in this particular area are in a state of decay and as a result, installations such as sports fields or playgrounds along the river are unsuitable.    Wherever    possible,    however ,    benches    and small leisure areas are authorized in order to establish new links between the population and the river.

The Sarapuí River is composed of two sections. The river maintains its original winding course when flowing through the municipalities of Nilópolis, as well as Mesquita and São João de Meriti where it serves as a boundary. This low and medium-low density urban area is characterized by a mixed land-use pattern along the banks with alternating vacant areas and informal developments. High voltage transmission towers are found on the banks along the river. In certain areas, the power lines form a barrier which could constrain interactions between the river and its immediate surroundings.

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Source: BLAC, 2008

Source: INEA archives

Photo 2 – Botas River, Belford Roxo, before intervention. Panoramic view

Photo 3 – Sarapuí River, Mesquita. Panoramic view

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Source: BLAC, 2008

Fig. 4 – Botas River. Illustration of the proposed intervention. Avenida Atlántica, Belford Roxo, before and after

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Further    downstream,    however ,    the    situation    is different. The river runs through the municipalities of Belford Roxo, São João de Meriti and Duque de Caxias at the point where it reaches a width of 60 to 90 meters. Here, the river’s course has been deviated so that the waters no longer flow directly into the Baía de Guanabara but into the Iguaçu River. In addition to the diversion of the river, a dike is partially built along its right bank. This structure is currently occupied by precarious dwellings, thus forming a linear favela on the upper and safe edge of the dike.

The existence of a large open area next to the Sarapuí River serves as a paradigmatic model for the Iguaçu Pr oject.    While    complex    land    dispossession    pr ocesses are under way, current initiatives have focused on a small stretch of this river. In fact, the first of the six proposed riverside parks will be built here. The overall impact of the intervention is negligible but seeks rather to consider how local populations have occupied the area and draw on the existing buildings and other types of informal land uses. The strip of land between the river and a social housing project is a forested area informally used by the residents for leisure and recreation activities. The project integrates existing and new vegetation including both ornamental and fruit-bearing trees. Various uses are proposed: areas of rest and contemplation, sports fields and children playgrounds that form “rooms” within the park. The planning process for the riverside park proposal enabled local residents to share not only their experience of landscape but also their expectations. Public participation was key to enhance the river’s capacity to function as a social space.


Interventions in the hydrological system open up a range of opportunities to explore the issues surrounding relationships between rivers, the urban fabric and local residents. This is particularly significant in metropolitan peripheral areas such as Baixada Fluminense. The potential of rivers and streams can be tapped to break the homogeneity of the surrounding urban landscape. Compared to the high density and tightly-built central urban areas where rivers have been canalized and hidden under the streets, the less populated but rapidly-growing peripheries, deprived of financial means and resources, are still endowed with free flowing rivers.

These projects aimed at improving flood control offer a unique opportunity to transform the urban fabric. The investments are justified on social and

environmental grounds. The interventions will significantly transform and bring much needed improvements in terms of infrastructure to an area which had been overlooked by public authorities for a long time.

As discussed above, urban rivers are understood today as environmental structures able to reclaim areas through which they flow. They offer opportunities to create new urban waterfronts, provide new amenities and services and introduce new land uses. Recent academic literature argues that rivers are valuable and meaningful features of urban space. Urban intervention projects emphasize the importance of rivers and their banks in the context of metropolitan level land-use planning practice.

With regards specifically to the Iguaçu Project, urban planning as a discipline plays a minor role in the process as a whole. This is a real concern particularly when projects straddle several municipalities. Isolated decision-making therefore undermines existing metropolitan administrative, political and spatial structures. The Iguaçu Project, although referred to as an interdisciplinary approach, does not differ from other similar former interventions (see Porto, 2003).

Clearly, the proposed riverside parks for the Sarapuí and Botas Rivers will be unable to grapple with the complexity of environmental and social problems specific to their basins. Once completed, the parks have the potential to improve the area, increase public access and enhance the landscape. However, in trying to deal with the complexity of the political challenges facing the Baixada Fluminense, political, socio-cultural, economic and environmental actions and strategies should also be considered.

In view of the above, we argue that environmental restoration of Brazilian cities will require an ability to contend with the complexity, diversity and divergence of a variety of stakeholders and of their views on their experience of the landscape. It implies, therefore, culturally specific interventions which address different needs (such as environmental, economic, and socio- cultural) and integrate various territorial scales (ranging from the globalized scale to the local neighborhood) in distinct time frames. By considering both time and space as heterogeneous, a series of long and short term actions must be undertaken simultaneously on the same landscape.

EUEEnvironmental restorationa-25 ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

The authors wish to thank CNPq (Conselho Nacional    de    Desenvolvimento    Científico    e T ecnológico),    F APERJ    (Fundação    de    Amparo    à Pesquisa do Estado do Rio de Janeiro) and CAPES (Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pesssoal de Nível Superior) who provided the financial support which made this research possible. In addition, we acknowledge the critical comments of anonymous referees in shaping the final paper.


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TORRES, Y.Q.A. ; COSTA, L.M.S.A.    49th ISOCARP Congress 2013

Geo-social networks and the understanding of the dynamics of the city

Geo-social networks and the understanding of the dynamics of the city: the case of Rio de Janeiro’s boundaries of formal and informal neighborhoods

Yuri Q.A. TORRES, PROURB-FAU- Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Lucia M.S.A. COSTA, PROURB-FAU- Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

1.    Mapping as strategy

What use is a map? This was the title of an exhibition at the British Museum in London, on the late 1980s. The idea was, through the display of different sort of maps, open up a discussion of the different roles played my maps across centuries. In fact, this question has been answered through different approaches and disciplines along time. Earlier in the 1970s, the French geographer Yves Lacoste argued that geography served, first and foremost, to wage war – stressing here one of the interests of the discipline, which is mapping the world and therefore bringing information that could be used to control people and territories. In other words, mapping is knowing. It is already acknowledged that the act of knowing through mapping means the making of choices: spatial, temporal, physical and even emotional choices – among many others. The graphic recording of this information in a map brings new possibilities of reading and involvement with territories. As argued by Cosgrove (1999, p.1-2): “to map is in one way or another to take the measure of a world, and more than merely take it, to figure the measure so taken in such a way that it may be communicated between people, places or times”. Here lies the main objective of this paper: having digital information and geo-social networking systems as the main tools of mapping, to explore a social cartography of the city of Rio de Janeiro concerning the relations between boundaries of formal and informal neighbourhoods. These digital network systems have a spatiality that is yet to be further explored. This paper is thus an attempt to contribute to academic studies that look at digital information as a strategy to mapping and understanding urban territories.

2.    Geosocial networking systems and the complex contemporary city

The dynamics of a contemporary city are shaped by very diverse and complex factors. Recently ubiquitous experiences towards the city have dramatically changed our concepts and perceptions of its territory. As earlier advocated by Castells (1996) the vertiginous popularization of new ways of communication has collaborated to sharpen urban life though new dynamics and flows. Serra (2010) later addressed the strengthened role of citizens as innovative actors in this environment, affording immediate impact in public spaces. New medias are somehow reinforcing the value of place instead of eliminating it.

In more recent years, new spatial means have been developed on social networks, some of which seem less tied to traditional perception of the surrounding environment. Widespread geo-social networking systems have been playing an important role in shaping a parallel digital space based on the real interactions between citizens and the urban landscape. These networks have opened up new possibilities of exploring the city combining the preciseness of mobile location estimation services with personalized content, full of cognitive and perceptive clues. It has since been producing a new geography characterized by decentralization and horizontality, and people are yearning to some extend to move beyond Cartesian representation.

Connected citizens, touchscreen swiping their latest smartphone while out experiencing the city is a growing tendency on mature and emerging societies. Levels of connectivity and dataflow have starkly increased in the past decade, while both citizens and government are

1TORRES, Y.Q.A. ; COSTA, L.M.S.A.    49th ISOCARP Congress 2013

Geo-social networks and the understanding of the dynamics of the city

bound to consider those platforms as a vessel for and a product of urbanity. Those networks also enrich the concept of social and collaborative creation, important for the local identity and community engagement. Recent mobilization through social networks, for example, transcends traditional hierarchies- as recently seen in Turkey and Brazil- and millions go to street demonstrations projecting social structure onto space.

Moreover, the physical dimension of cities has historically referred to people’s access to resources, infrastructure and especially the interactions between them through the space. The new urban dynamics, driven by the connected citizens, is subsumed by timely encompassing narratives. Consequently, cities have since become increasingly hard to understand and map. This difficulty has been already noted by Cosgrove (1999, p.5): “Culturally, at every scale, connections between phenomena formerly considered distinct and relatively fixed, rooted in space (...) have been shown to be contingent and unstable (...). An implicit claim of mapping has conventionally been to represent spatial stability, at times to act as a tool to achieve it. In a world of radically unstable spaces and structures, it is unsurprising that the idea of mapping should require rethinking.” From this perspective, cities digital counterparts can furnish it at some extension, adding a valuable contemporary case for urban analysis.

It its important to stress that the manner and degree to which is possible the interaction or isolation between citizens also shape the digital world and vice versa. Like digital segregation, spatial segregation is a persisting debate in most contemporary cities. Particularly in emerging economies, where a considerable percentage of urban population lives in precarious informal settlements, spatially segregated and socially excluded from the surrounding formal city, digital inclusion and digital visibility can become an important instrument to tackle inequality and improve quality of life.

Those informal urban spaces, once disconnected and set apart to the emerging digital sphere, do not operate in isolation. On the contrary, they complement and juxtapose with cities' formal circuits, forming a complex web of different morphological and typological patterns, added by cultural singularities, which cannot be disregarded whatsoever.

3.    The case of Rio ́s formal and informal neighborhoods

Roughly 20% of Rio de Janeiro’s population live in slum areas (IBGE, 2010), despite the country ́s considerable economic growth in the past decade and the fact that the city has been put into the spotlight again hosting mega-events such as 2007 Pan American Games, 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics.

Large redbrick favelas – as slums are often referred to in Brazil– sitting atop the city’s steep and verdant hills, contrasting with adjoining best real estate and sharing together a thin strip between the tropical forest and the Atlantic Ocean, is a memorable portray of Rio’s social exclusion ́s reflection in the landscape. Those informal communities that have sprang up unplanned, have been historically regarded as eyesores, unworthy form of urban developments, blighted by poverty, low access to services and widely renowned as lawlessness no-go zones plagued by shoot-outs between rival drug gangs (Neate and Platt, 2006; Leite 2008).

Favelas in the south zone are commonly very compacted settlements wedged between tony beachfront areas like Copacabana and Ipanema, and are historically the cheap workforce for the nearby formal city. The borderline between them has been always clearly defined by the topography. Once ending a road and beginning stairways, there starts a favela. Favelas in the north and west zones are commonly located in sparse hills, fringes of previous industrial sites and wetlands, more fragmented settled.


TORRES, Y.Q.A. ; COSTA, L.M.S.A.    49th ISOCARP Congress 2013

Geo-social networks and the understanding of the dynamics of the city

Figure 1: Geographical-relation between neighbourhoods’ boundaries and topography in Rio ́s southern favelas (left) and borderline between formal and informal city (right).

More recently, Rio de Janeiro seems to be compelled to cope with the matter and considerably steps towards a better territorial integration have been perceived. Joined initiatives from municipal, state and federal spheres have unveiled massive investments to recover the historical absence of the state, tackling infrastructure shortage, halting violence and therefore paving the way for better socio-economic opportunities. New housing developments within the favelas for those living in risky areas, water supply, extensive sewage connections and local transportation are among the basic services under provision, addressing most of spatial deficiency. The efforts to strengthen police presence, to seize control and consolidate peace by large community-based police pacification programme, have also taken back territories where drug lords of heavily armed factions previously laid down (Henriques and Ramos, 2011). As an immediate result, these actions has sparked interest from the private sector and encouraged local entrepreneurs to settle down business. Services previously inexistent in those communities and mostly accessed in the nearby formal city started to pop up in the boundaries and within the favelas since then.

Whilst it has collaborated to better integrate once marginalized favelas with the wider city, the complexity of these highly fragmented territories entails much more than any response given. That is, the simplistic and dismissive way in which informal settlements have previously been perceived no longer match the current favela dynamics within the bounds, but still come up against the yet materialized mental borderlines that for decades overlooked inequality. Unlikely other cities where the boundaries of neighborhoods are not clearly defined by their morphological patterns or topoceptive dimension, Rio highlights a more on-the-ground and practical definition of limits and urban identities, a perfect patchwork quilt where formal and informal territories hardly overlapped.

Nevertheless, favela dwellers still commute everyday to the outside city in search of jobs, services, as well as recreation and leisure. Moreover, a certain territorial tolerance has long been a cultural symbol of Rio, meshed by both what is usually considered the formal and the informal parts of urban life. Despite some uncertainty and criticism concerning the rising cost of living among residents, there's a growing sense of belonging and activism issued from the latest developments and somehow the persistent stigma of exclusion and invisibility seems to have lessened. But greater and long-term efforts are needed to push favelas to articulate firstly with its adjoining neighborhood and later with the rest of the city.

Digital platforms and technology democratization are one of the considerable gateways to promote social, economic integration and approach both realities. Where once affordable Internet cafés met an important role in connecting the favelas residents to the world – computer possession and broadband connection were very scarce comparable to the neighboring wealthier districts – now affordable ubiquitous and mobile gears have allowed the rise of freelancer opportunities, access to information, education, and therefore an increase in the digital paths inside the communities. Following the development plans, the government has launched a policy to set up free wireless Internet networks in the most dense populated favelas as part of a broader plan for digital insertion to achieve computer literacy, foster cultural interchange and professionally qualify low incomers (Secretaria de


TORRES, Y.Q.A. ; COSTA, L.M.S.A.    49th ISOCARP Congress 2013

Geo-social networks and the understanding of the dynamics of the city

Ciência e Tecnologia - Rio Estado Digital; Ministério da Cultura- Pontos de Cultura). This may also bring up significant discussions on citizenship awareness and the right to the city through the visibility and legitimacy of these spaces.

4.    Mapping the boundaries

For decades, general cartographies of Rio de Janeiro simply did not portray its nearly 1,000 favelas on the slopes of the rich south and the city’s poor north and west zones (Peteranderl, 2013). Nevertheless they were easily identifiable on maps by either green or blank swaths with no streets, landmarks or other signs of settlements. Along with the previous cited movement towards the increase of visibility of these communities and their insertion in the planning practices, an intriguing question on how to represent their shapes and dynamics has arisen. Contradictorily, in a more polemic attempt to reduce the prominence of the negative connotation of the favelas, an important map server was formally asked by the city's tourism secretary to ditch the word 'favela' from its database, replacing it by the single name of the settlement, an example of the ambiguous official posture concerning the issue. In the meantime, where map data is scarce and official acknowledgment is pending, the engagement of these communities is a crucial step towards the real citizenship and a symbolic takeover of their historical stigma of abandonment.

Few mapping projects, initially tackled by grassroots organizations aiming to promote social progress within their communities and engaging volunteer youth from poor communities, have harnessed geo-social medias to create a collaborative platform relying on geocoded data of nearby points of interest (Viva Favela ; Wikimapa;    ; Lucas, P., 2012). Since the mapping purpose was not simply to cull data and present it objectively, but rather represent the perspective of the cartographers, young correspondents could contribute not only outlining objectively the labyrinthine alleyways, stairs, dead-end roads and other passageway of their communities, but also including vast forms of multimedia such as videos and audio recordings, detailed information on local shops, foodies, bars and other local buzz. Enlarging the discussion, it is feasible that any connect residents could contribute to the making of a comprehensive collective map, even if unintentionally. Virtual performances ranging from messages, social media posts and other possible open generated data – especially geo-tagged ones– culled from the Internet may subsidize the information necessary to feed those maps. Local meaningful spots and identity always

Traditional maps are blank canvas with nothing on them other than streets and sometimes the most remarkable buildings or touristic venues. The understanding of this new cartography with abundant amount of sensitive information is an emerging research field to address problems and solutions to the planning practices, especially in rapid growth contexts like metropolis in the developing world, where formal and informal settlements are a distinguishing feature and live side by side.

This study stands on the fields of social sciences and urbanism, aligned to traditional theories of citizens perceptions over the territory and their interactions (Jacobs 1992; Milgram 1977) and more recent investigations on the effects of mobile technologies over the physical boundaries of the city (Schwartz 2012; Rainie and Wellman 2012). This study aims to analyze the shaping of the digital urban territory through geo-social networking systems, ultimately Foursquare and Twitter, mining their open data and mapping what it may denotes the interconnected flows of public services and commercial activities, additionally with relevant open spaces.

Redes da Maré

left on the

wayside of digital platforms may enable a further step to their recognition as part of the wider



TORRES, Y.Q.A. ; COSTA, L.M.S.A.    49th ISOCARP Congress 2013

Geo-social networks and the understanding of the dynamics of the city

This study foster what appears to be a potential tool and growing methodology of contemporary urban studies, especially in the field of urban planning. Targeting Rio ́s most representative slums that are recently emerging to formalization, it methodologically proposes tracking geo-coded information that suggests access to these activities within the boundaries of formal and informal city, anticipating discussion on the yet some degree of dependence of favelas out of their physical boundaries. In this case specifically, the analysis of geo-social networking activity in the boundaries of those neighborhoods delineates the extension of existing formal-informal overlapping services. Using the open digital data generated by citizens of both sides may exemplify the relation of formality and informality in Rio de Janeiro. Case studies in four different zones, the bounds of Rocinha, Vidigal, Maré and Alemão are conducted as paradoxical examples of how digital paths can be taken into consideration while analyzing and re-conceptualizing the dynamics between neighborhoods within a near distance.

4.1 Outlining services

Geo-tagging a message, picture or tweet is based on the coordinates of the user’s location by the time of the message, which is typically provided via GPS, wireless or cellular triangulation. It is reported that the majority of geo-social networkers are not location-based influencers, and those who are, aggregate, for instance, place names and personal pictures or tagged messages including other users. The amount of data produced a day counts on quintillion of bytes (IBM, 2012), and the expansive glut of news, shopping, games, music, forums and the like have gone hand-in-hand. Despite social medias playing such a prominent role in citizens ́ lives, recent studies estimate, for example, that on a typical day, roughly 2 to 3% of total tweets (as Twitter 140-character messages are called) contain any location name or location positioning added (Kalev et al), which is still irrelevant to conduct extensive studies that cannot count on statistical biases. Despite this, about 15 % of geo- tagged tweets contain URLs links to multimedia content, including here Foursquare, Instagram, and Facebook accounts, a wealth of data being generated that may open up future possibilities of researches on social sciences and behavioral studies.

The popular micro-blog Twitter offers releases a publicly available, spatially embedded network dataset that can be fruitful for any territorial analysis (Butts and Acton, 2010). Accessing the totality its tweets requires access to a special service - Twitter’s Firehose : the unfiltered deluge of 1 billion tweets produced in the lapse of a couple of days - that has limited access to non-cooperators and can be restrictive in terms of cost for academic researches.

Figure 2: An example of geo-tagged tweet referring to some qualitative information about Rocinha.


TORRES, Y.Q.A. ; COSTA, L.M.S.A.    49th ISOCARP Congress 2013

Geo-social networks and the understanding of the dynamics of the city

The location-based social network Foursquare works like a social recommendation engine, giving its users a chance to timely check-in to places, share their location, search and add place recommendations, contact another nearby user. It is also very business-oriented and the tools are developed to improve personalized content to its users. A recently path towards a more public interface was the deployment of interactive map showing the 500 million check-ins made by its users in the past three months, making it possible to visualize human activity in big cities with considerable accuracy, so that it could become a useful tool to analyze citizens’ behaviors and mobility. Foursquare check-in data contains context, has some structure and is short and many Foursquare and Twitter accounts are linked, providing public access to check-ins and posted information even if the account is private.

This study geographically filters this data, relying on the already released information from both servers. In the following pieces, this information is arranged in nodes connected by narrative threads, based on few themes captured from the geo-tagged information. These pathways create networks of meaning, blanketing the terrain and connecting individual action to a broader and collective context. Predictably, favelas show very sparse Foursquare and Twitter activity to subside an accurate analysis, whilst most of tagged information is observed in business districts and middle-class neighborhoods. Highly dense tagged areas depict locations where most probably have more access to Internet, that being infrastructural or income related, or most popular places within a city. Middle and upper classes neighborhoods are normally known as a hotbed of social networking activity. In Rio this is even more emphasized due to high concentration of shopping, leisure and cultural activities within those formal grid. Foursquare maps zoomed in the cited favelas show a scattering of small local business such as groceries, bars, gyms and foodies, rather than public spaces and recreational spots frequently identified in other neighborhoods. These activities are based located close to the communities’ main accesses and along the few broader traffic routes connecting lower and upper regions (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Foursquare check-ins within 500m distance from the community main access: Vidigal (left) and Rocinha (right).

Nevertheless, services target to the tourism sector are some evidence of the new values and uses added to the informal hilly communities in the south zone after pacification.

and have    The increasing number of youth hostels and guesthouses venturing up the steep roads, for instance, related to its geographic proximity to the main touristic venues and landmarks evidences the tourism-

related vocation of pacified communities (Figure 4).

Vidigal and

Rocinha crawl up the once hilly forest above within a short distance to city’s wealthiest and

touristic beachside districts

postcard views over the city.

Some ocean-view properties perched on

top of Vidigal are also turning into trendy foodies and terrace restaurants, as described by

pictures and comments.


TORRES, Y.Q.A. ; COSTA, L.M.S.A.    49th ISOCARP Congress 2013

Geo-social networks and the understanding of the dynamics of the city

Figure 4: Foursquare check-ins in youth hostels and guesthouses in the neighborhoods of Vidigal/Leblon (left) and Rocinha/S.Conrado (right).

Very far from the tourist-friendly south zone, Complexo da Maré's 16 favelas- which some 130,000 people call home- stretch between two of Rio's main highways (Avenida Brasil and Linha Vermelha- highlighted in red line in Figure 5). Far from being just a dormitory district that serves as cheap labor force to the city, the strip formed by local business and services along Avenida Brasil, Rio ́s longest transportation hub, configures a lively alley also in the digital world, with considerable concentration of check-ins and tweets (Figure 5-left). Throughout its extension, Avenida Brasil was one of the first public spaces to be wireless- connected (Secretaria de Ciência e Tecnologia- Rio Estado Digital), empowering the construction of a digital datascape in the borders of at least 28 neighborhoods, home of over 1 million people.

Local businesses existing within Maré are more homogeneously spread throughout the zone and more commonly found in the core of the communities. Check-ins in immediate services such as eateries, foodies and cafés, for instance, are well distributed. On the other hand, the nearest formal district, Bonsucesso, historically served the communities with public services. Taking the example of educational services, check-ins in nurseries, schools and technical courses are observed in transversal movements outwards, crossing the borderline to the district (Figure 5-right).

Additionally, health services, such as clinics and hospitals are seemly in the same situationLocal businesses existing within Maré are more homogeneously spread throughout the zone and more commonly found in the core of the communities. Check-ins in immediate services such as eateries, foodies and cafés, for instance, are well distributed. On the other hand, the nearest formal district, Bonsucesso, historically served the communities with public services. Taking the example of educational services, check-ins in nurseries, schools and technical courses are observed in transversal movements outwards, crossing the borderline to the district (Figure 5-right). Additionally, health services, such as clinics and hospitals are seemly in the same situation.


TORRES, Y.Q.A. ; COSTA, L.M.S.A.    49th ISOCARP Congress 2013

Geo-social networks and the understanding of the dynamics of the city

Figure 5: Foursquare check-ins (light red circle) around in a radious of 500m of Maré ́s main borderlines (red line) Avenida Brasil and Linha Vermelha (left image). Network of geo-tagged information on local eateries and foodies (light red circle) and schools (red circle) in Maré and nearby Bonsucesso (right image).

4.2 Outlining public spaces

An overall view of geo-coded messages suggests a discrepant concentration of leisure and recreational activities in the formal rather than in the informal neighborhoods. Despite the increasing investments to promote open public spaces within the limits of the favelas, due to its urban plot, very few non-built areas are possible. When existing, such as the case of soccer playing fields, they still do not count on a digital counterpart. In the south zone the beaches have always played the most important role in promoting outdoor sports and leisure, even for the nearby favela dwellers.

Repeated Foursquare check-ins and social circles influence over opting for a place rather than others. This may influence the choice regarding commercial and leisure-related activities. As for the tourism sector it may be useful orienting visitors and relating nearby landmarks. An interesting feature observed while mapping out the districts of Vidigal and nearby Leblon and Ipanema, was the sequence of outdoors activities and observation spots climbing up the hill and drawing a clear line of touristic and leisure continuity (Figure 6).

Figure 6: Foursquare check-ins around Rocinha and Vidigal in places related to outdoor sports (left) and indoor sports/fitness centers (right), suggesting the lack of open public spaces within the favela



TORRES, Y.Q.A. ; COSTA, L.M.S.A.    49th ISOCARP Congress 2013

Geo-social networks and the understanding of the dynamics of the city

The Complexo do Alemão is one of the most deprived and underdeveloped corners of northern Rio de Janeiro and home of around 70,000 people. Made by the haphazard conurbation of 15 different favelas over several decades, urbanization developments have physically integrated the complex with nearby districts: housing programme in strategic vacant lots, new paved routes and Brazil ́s first mass transit aerial lift passenger system, consisting in cable cars stopping at the top of hills allied with educational and social-related buildings around the stations. It has since been noticed a notable tourism growth inside the community, verified by the concentration of check-ins and tweets suggesting the new vocation for scenic view. Sequential check-ins from the same users are observed, denoting a clear displacement from the first point- the train station, within the district of Bonsucesso towards inner points of the favela (Figure 7).

Figure 7: Sequential theme-related Foursquare check-ins in the aerial tram system of Complexo do Alemão (red circles), with comments and pictures shared in Instagram.

The nearby districts of Bonsucesso and Inhaúma have historically provided public and private services for Alemão ́s dwellers. The traditional borderline between the districts and the favelas used to be the railway line in the eastern limits of the complex and the main roads sketching its valleys. The recent digital footprints observed in both Twitter and Foursquare suggest a rearrange of services and other activities towards previous impenetrable and economically neglected regions inside the community, notably small regulated and brisk business. As suggested in Figure 8, new centralities around the cable stations promoted by programmatic combinations, establish continuum spaces that take part of the topography and shrink territorial segregation. Along with the delivery of basic social services, these centralities enabled, most of all, the knowledge of the landscape, improving orientations, adaptations and definition of spaces where the previous immense maze-like configuration reigned. The idea of improvement of public spaces as promotion of social and economic changes is therefore reinforced.


TORRES, Y.Q.A. ; COSTA, L.M.S.A.    49th ISOCARP Congress 2013

Geo-social networks and the understanding of the dynamics of the city

Figure 8: Observed check-ins (light red) within and out of 200m-radius distance from the new cable stations (red circles).

The analyzed maps reinforce the extent to which boundaries of formal and informal are still remarkable in the digital world. The findings suggest that the tendency of more cross-social tolerance in some cases, mostly among more consolidated boundaries, stage of some advances in social and security issues. Beyond the placement of text and photos by individuals in the diverse universe of social networks, it should be further discussed the potentiality of crowdsourcing map as a tool of urban analysis and a future referential platform to integrated discussions on the policies and planning practices.

The increasing API integration with other applications and web services may enhance this theory, allowing users to indirectly cooperate. However, there is an increasing concern on the vulnerabilities and privacy risks that can be exploited to violate users’ location privacy in geo- social networks. Such vulnerabilities and privacy risks are actually caused by both system’s design flaws and users’ incautious activities.


TORRES, Y.Q.A. ; COSTA, L.M.S.A.    49th ISOCARP Congress 2013

Geo-social networks and the understanding of the dynamics of the city

5.    Concluding remarks

Favelas shelter over one billion people in impoverished contexts all over the world. Territorial solutions are far from being resolved, while local strategies of urban intervention or public policies are aiming at improving their living standards. It has been proved the positive effect of recent urbanization and pacification plans in Rio ́s main favelas and it may emerge as a gateway to future achievement of full citizenship.

The purpose of mapping the emerging activities observed after those plans is two-fold. Firstly, information democratization, that is to portray favelas from the perspective of citizens and visitors, free of the stigma that often appears in related stories by mainstream media. Synchronized with upcoming events, it is an accompanied opportunity to shed light on life in the Brazilian favelas for the rest of the world. Secondly, pointed evidences of the creative and economic potentials that exist touching the boundaries of formal and informal city. The legitimacy of these potentials has not been properly recognized yet. Many are skeptical, however, arguing that innovative practices of governance go beyond the expected roles of digital platforms in the fields of planning and managing cities ́ land use regulation. Regardless, to develop a holistic understanding of the ways in which our digital relationships to territory govern everyday life in urban morphology is a burning issue. Despite the access to the Internet and especially portable connectivity has skyrocketed, few local content is produced by slum residents in comparison with their neighboring districts. To encourage connected residents to take part more fully in the construction of digital space and to instill a technologicalinterest of those still not connected are challenges existing grassroots organizations might bear at first.

This study needs a more profound and comprehensive analysis, which right now highlights the most important and relevant findings counting on the available data. Concluding, it is still anticipated to suggest, counting on mapping biased geo-coded information, a radical change in the urban land use emerging from the dynamics of citizen ́s digital lives. Meanwhile, as argued by Corner (1999, p. 213), “the function of mapping is less to mirror reality than to engender the re-shaping of the worlds in which people lives”.


The author wish to thanks CNPq, FAPERJ, PROURB- Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro and Faculdade Redentor for the support of this research.


Castells, M. (1996). The information age: Economy, society and culture: Vol. 1. The rise of the network society. Oxford, England: Blackwell Publishers.

Corner, J. (1999) The agency of mapping: speculation, critique and invention. In Cosgrove, D. (ed) Mappings. Reaktion Books: London, p. 213-252.

Cosgrove, D. (1999) Introduction: Mapping Meanings. In Cosgrove, D. (ed) Mappings. Reaktion Books: London, p. 1-23.

Henriques, R. and Ramos,S. (2011). Rio: A Hora da Virada, pp. 242-254. André Urani and Fabio Giambiagi (eds). Elsevier: Rio de Janeiro

Jacobs, J. (1992). The death and life of great American cities. New York: Random House.

Leetaru, Kalev H.; Wang, Shaowen; Cao, Guofeng; Padmanabham, Anand; Shook, Eric. “Mapping the Global Twitter Heartbeat: The Geography of Twitter.” First Monday, May 2013, Vol. 18, No. 5-6.

Leite, Marcia P. (2008). Para além da metáfora da guerra: violência, cidadania, religião e 11

Kalev H. Leetaru, Shaowen Wang, Guofeng Cao, Anand Padmanabhan, and Eric Shook



Mapping the global Twitter heartbeat: The geography of Twitter.

First Monday,

Volume 18, Number 5 - 6 May 2013.

TORRES, Y.Q.A. ; COSTA, L.M.S.A.    49th ISOCARP Congress 2013

Geo-social networks and the understanding of the dynamics of the city

ação coletiva no Rio de Janeiro. São Paulo: Attar Editorial/CNPq- Pronex Movimentos Religiosos no Mundo Contemporâneo

Lucas, P. (2012). Viva Favela (ebook) Ten Years of Photojournalism, Human Rights and Visual Inclusion in Brazil

Milgram, S. (1977). The Individual in a Social World: Essays and Experiments. London: Longman Education.

Neate, P. and Platt, D. (2006). Culture is Our Weapon: Making Music and Changing Lives in Rio de Janeiro. Penguin Books: London.

Peteranderl ,Sonja: “Live from the favela”, DANDC Online, 16 January 2013, Retrieved in 20 May 2013.

Rainie, L., and Wellman, B. (2012). Networked: The New Social Operating System. The MIT Press.

Schwartz, R. (2012). The networked familiar stranger: An aspect of virtual and local urban anonymity. In Cumiskey, K., and Hjorth, L., eds., Seamlessly Mobile? Mobile Media Practices, Presence & Politics. Routledge.

Organization websites:

IBGE The Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics: english IBM Research: Pontos de Cultura: Redes da Maré:

Rio Estado Digital: Viva Favela: Wikimapa:

Template Options

Index Styles

(custom gallery)

Index Thumb Title Color - sets the color of the thumbnail title for each index item.

Index Thumb Background Color - sets the color behind the thumbnail image for each index item.

Index Thumb Titles - choose the font and size used for the thumbnail title text.

Index Sidebar Width - sets the width of the sidebar displaying the title and description of the item.

Thumbnails Per Row - controls the number of columns used on your Index page.

Thumbnail Ratio - sets the size and shape of the thumbnail images based on a ratio. 

Thumbnail Padding - controls the amount of space in between each index item thumbnail image.

Thumbnail Opacity - sets the initial amount of transparency that should be used on index item thumbnail images.

Thumbnail Hover Opacity - sets the transparency of the thumbnail image on hover.

Project Layout - determines the position of the sidebar displaying the title and description of the item.

Thumbnails on Open Page - show or hide the index thumbnails at the bottom of an index item view.

Hide Thumbnail Titles - toggle the display of the thumbnail title for each index item. 

Blog Styles

Blog Post Title - sets the font of the article title.

Blog Page Width - determine the width for the blog content area different from that of the page content width. 

Blog Post Spacing - controls the amount of space between each blog post on the list view.

Hide Article Author - toggles the display of the article author with the date under the article title. 

Product Styles

Product Background Color - sets the color behind the product image.

Product Overlay Color - sets the color of the overlay when product list titles are set to 'overlay.'

Products Per Row - determines the number of products shown per line on the product list.

Product List Titles - controls the position of the product title on the product list.

Product List Alignment - sets the text alignment of the product title on the product list.

Product Item Size - select an image ratio for the product photo on the product list. 

Product Image Auto Crop - determines whether product images fill the image area or fit within.

Product Gallery Size - select an image ratio for the product gallery on the product item page.

Product Gallery Auto Crop - determines whether product images fill the gallery area or fit within.

Show Product Price - shows the price on the product list page when enabled.

Show Product Item Nav - shows the 'back to shop' link on the product item page.


Event Styles

Event Time Format - toggle between 24 hour or AM/PM for event times.

Event Icons - enable icons on the address and event time display.

Event Thumbnails - show an image thumbnail in list view.

Event Thumbnail Size - controls the size (ratio width:height) of the event thumbnail image.

Event Date Label - enable date overlay on top of event thumbnail.

Event Date Label Time - include the time of the event with the date overlay.

Event Excerpts - show optional excerpt text of events on the list view when present. 

Event List Date - show the full event date (day, month, year) of the event on the list view.

Event List Time - show the time range (start time-end time) of the event on the list view.

Event List Address - show the event location address when present.

Event iCal/gCal Links - show links to add events to Apple or Google calendars.

Event Like and Share Buttons - show Squarespace simple like and share buttons on events.

Event List Compact View - enable a simple stacked view of events in the list view.

Event Calendar Compact View - enable a simpler calendar view optimized for smaller areas. 

In Depth Guide

Our Customer Care team has created a very useful guide on Using the Hudson Template if you'd like a more in-depth look.