Jerom Theunissen Photography


April 4-7

City in Context

Brasilia is the capital city of Brazil and is located in the Federal District. Today, the city is home to about 2.4 million people The capital is a planned city, built from scratch and completed in April 1960 to showcase some of the world's leading architects and their futuristic design vision for cities. In the design competition, the criteria for selecting the winning proposal demanded that design of Brasilia would be completely different from any other Brazilian city with the same population. The winning team of Lucio Costa and Oscar Niemeyer took this to heart and set out to design a city that would represent a new development path for Brazil. In a nod to a 20th century vision of urban modernism codified in the Athens Charter in 1933, Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer and planner Lucio Costa crafted the “Plano Piloto” (Pilot plan). The design laid out the main thoroughfares of the city to resemble, from a bird's-eye-view, the outline of an airplane or bird.

The "Plano Piloto" shows the urban area of Brasília divided in its many zones. The city was planned around two expressways, with main economic activities located along the Eixo Monumental and housing located around the Eixão, between the W2 and L2 avenues and west of the W2 avenue. 

Source: Governo do Distrito Federal 

Brasilia was built according to plan with a few modifications. It is a modernist dream come true, with soaring arches, dramatic towers, and whimsical spirals featured in the city’s buildings and landscape architecture. In terms of transportation infrastructure, the city is structured by two traffic axes that have ‘fast central lanes’ and intersections, clearly devoted to motorized transportation. The separation between motorized and pedestrian traffic is done in a way that elevates the car as the most important way to get around the city. The city's strict single-use zoning lengthens trip distances, imposing great separation between places to live, work, shop and play.The plan also fails to address the city’s future expansion, especially of low-income populations who began to populate the unplanned urban periphery in vast numbers when Costa’s plan to provide adequate housing within the city failed. This led to the development of shantytowns and satellite cities. Today, Brasilia has a rich center city surrounded by middle- and low-income sprawl that aggravates issues of accessibility and mobility across the Federal District. 

Aguas Claras is one of the satellite cities located 20 kilometers west of the Pilot Plan.

This urban form has had severe consequences to sustainable urban mobility and touts the automobile as the most convenient method to get around. The current options available to Brasilia's residents and commuting workforce are limited to standard urban and rural bus lines, microbuses and vans, and a two-line metro system. The mode split in Brasilia is approximately 33.62% of trips are made by public transportation, 36.70% by car, 27.83% walking, and only 1.85% by bicycle or motorcycle. As it stands, 62% of Brasilia's mass-transit users rated the city's transportation system as "poor," and a meager 0.3%categorized it as, "good". An outdated fleet of mass-transit vehicles and limited station accessibility contribute to rider dissatisfaction.. One rider was quoted as saying, "Em Brasilia, onibus nao se pega; seconquista". "In Brasilia the bus doesn't come to you; you chase it down." The challenge in Brasilia is that this high travel share of sustainable modes (walking, cycling, and public transportation) is not the outcome of visionary transport planning and policy; it indicates that the population is highly dependent on public transit and non-motorized modes because they cannot afford to use the more comfortable, safe and flexible mode: the automobile. The population does not have a choice; they are obligated to use the public transportation, as well as to walk and bike. This environmentally friendly pattern is ironically supported by low incomes and poverty, and this is clearly not socially sustainable.

The metro links the western satellite cities with the Plano Piloto.

Rodoviaria Plano Piloto is the biggesst bus terminal in Brazil and was always busy when I passed through it.

A visit to Brasilia was high on my list because I wanted to discover what the city was doing to overcome formidable challenges in the areas of urban transport and quality of life. The work is cut out for today's architects and urban planners, who desire to humanize Brasilia and improve its urban character/urban lifestyle. Can changing the auto-centric transportation paradigm be shifted towards public transport, walking, and cycling?  Will the call for a wider variety of transit options, safer roads, and better access for a larger number of people, be met for all of Brasilia’s residents, and not only those residing in the Plano Piloto?

In the report, "What remains of the utopia of Brasilia," FRANCE 24 does an excellent job highlighting the urban issues faced in the city.

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