LUCID in Brazil – Engineering, cities and sustainability

LUCID PhD Candidate Ebba Brink and LUMES student Flavia Speiski dos Santos participated in a workshop on Engineering and Sustainable Cities at Federal Fluminense University (UFF), Niteroi, Brazil. The workshop focused on the implications of large urban revitalisation projects in Brazil for poor urban dwellers, who live in informal conditions in revitalisation areas, especially focusing on the Porto Maravilha project in Rio de Janeiro’s port area.

Engineers are largely responsible for shaping Brazilian cities, but while they are experts in constructing buildings, their role in constructing sustainable and inclusive cities is less clear. With this in mind, the workshop titled Engineering, Cities and Sustainability: Environmental, social and cultural implications of Rio de Janeiro’s urbanisation projects, held on October 16, 2014, was part of an action plan that engages engineering students and professionals in an extended and holistic way of thinking of urban sustainability. The case in point was an ongoing project aimed at revitalising the Port Zone of Rio de Janeiro, known as Projeto Porto Maravilha (“Marvelous Port project”).

The event took place on the premises of the School of Engineering and was organised in cooperation between the Postgraduate Programme in Civil Engineering (Pós-Civil), of Federal Fluminense University (UFF), and Lund University Centre for Sustainability Studies (LUCSUS). It marked the beginning of academic cooperation between UFF and Lund University. The participants included bachelor’s and master’s students in Civil Engineering, Environmental Engineering and Social Work, as well as researchers and teaching staff.


The moderator, Dr Lourdes Brazil, opened the workshop by presenting the activities of the research group on Engineering, Cities and Sustainability (Engenharia, Cidades e Sustentabilidade), highlighting efforts to integrate extended (environmental, economic, social and cultural) urban sustainability into engineering education and practice. She gave an overview of the political and economic context of the Porto Maravilha project, highlighting how it exemplifies current Brazilian urbanisation. This is based on one hand, on the adequacy of the city to the demands of the large commercial and real-estate interests, and on the other hand, segregation and exclusion.

Section 1: Watch/listen – The Porto Maravilha project

The first presenter Carlos Frederico dos Santos Silva, administrator at CDURP, the company in charge of the regeneration of the port area through the Porto Maravilha project, described the main interventions and the neighbourhoods in which they are taking place. The Port Zone is located in the downtown area of Rio de Janeiro on the shore of Guanabara Bay and north of Rio’s historic centre. Past urban developments left the Port Zone cut off from the economic and real estate dynamics of the city centre, causing a spiral of neglect and deterioration. The Porto Maravilha project aims to revitalize the area and reincorporate it into the city. As a key rationale for this they mention its central location, historic and cultural importance, and the area’s status as out-of-use and “abandoned” (although about 28 000 people live in the Port Zone, mostly belonging to poorer sections of the population).

The project is being implemented in two phases. The first, initiated in 2009, included the construction of new water networks, sewage and drainage, slum upgrades and restoration of cultural heritage sites. The second phase is under implementation and will see the redevelopment of the entire region by 2016. The project aims at both economic and environmental sustainability. The revitalisation is the result of a public-private partnership that allows the construction work to be done without using any tax money. Environmental initiatives are numerous including densification (with an increase from ca 30 000 to 100 000 inhabitants in 10 years), increasing green space, green and/or reflective roofs, reduction of air and noise pollution, maximising natural ventilation and lighting, reducing water consumption and reusing storm-water and wastewater, use of materials with environmental certification, and bicycle infrastructure.

Social and cultural sustainability were also considered, including the creation of social housing, job generation, vocational training, and new day care facilities and schools to meet the expected population increase. Furthermore, three per cent of the total revenue of the project is set aside to be reinvested in social development programs for residents and workers. In reality, however, not all residents will be able to benefit from these developments. People in informal and low-income settlements in the area, in particular in the community of Morro da Providência, are facing eviction threats, often with disaster risk as the motivation. Despite the project’s “rule of thumb” to resettle people within a radius of 3 km of where they lived before, they are only offered social housing in the underdeveloped suburbs in Rio de Janeiro’s West Zone.

porto maravilha

Graphic: Reurbanisation project Porto Maravilha (left) and Carlos Frederico dos Santos Silva, administrator at CDURP (right).


Section 2: Reflect/question – The (un)sustainability of Brazilian urbanisation

The second presenter was Dr Dell Delambre, FABAT, who discussed the exclusionary and segregating nature of the project and contradiction between the discourse and practice of sustainability.

He argued that, in the case of the Port Zone, the biggest beneficiaries will be the large commercial and real-estate interests. There is moreover little reference to social, cultural and ethnic sustainability or to the ca. 1450 families that will be “removed” and who will not have access to the new space or the benefits created. As such, the project is not following the principle of fair distribution of benefits from urbanisation, which is stipulated in the Brazilian constitution.

To illustrate this, Dr Delambre cited examples of families whose lives changed when they were resettled to distant areas with reduced services and infrastructure. Such changes include poorer access to health care, education, leisure and security, loss of the social networks that are the basis of many survival strategies in the neighbourhood, loss of employment opportunities, or reduced quality of life due to increased time spent commuting to the workplace.

He further emphasised the need to increase public participation in sustainability debates, by using peoples’ everyday language. Whereas people might not be able to relate to concepts like sustainability, climate change or traffic congestion, they will surely be able to tell you about changes in the colour of a river, declining catches of fish, the availability of fresh water or the amount of leisure and family time at the end of the workday.

Dr Delambre concluded the presentation by emphasising the need for Brazilian universities to develop transdisciplinary research and education programmes in the search for solutions to social and environmental problems.


Dr Dell Delambre talks about his work in slum communities and the importance of talking about (un)sustainability issues in words that relate to people’s everyday lives. Photo courtesy of Dell Delambre.


Section 3: Learn from other experiences – Revitalisation projects in the City of Malmö, Sweden

The third presenter was LUCID PhD Candidate Ebba Brink. She presented examples of urban revitalisation projects from the City of Malmö and discussed their successful and less successful implications. The projects included the Western Harbour, Eco-City Augustenborg, the transportation infrastructure projects to increase connectivity between Rosengård and central Malmö, and the Commission for a Socially Sustainable Malmö.  Furthermore, Ebba described how the concept of ecosystem services is currently used in urban planning in the region, giving examples from the municipalities of Malmö and Lomma.

As a final reflection, Ebba emphasised that since large urbanisation projects easily become drivers of gentrification and “renoviction”, it is important to recognise the potential of small-scale improvements, which are based on the needs articulated by, and situated in the culture of, the specific community at risk.

In this context, LUMES student Flavia Speiski dos Santos presented her thesis idea regarding the resilience and adaptive capacity for people living in Rio’s favelas. Flavia is interested in whether people’s small-scale efforts at improvement in housing and economy in the face of risks from floods, landslides and heat stress can be related to their level of awareness of climate change, on one hand, and their perception of changes in the climate, on the other.

Ebba Brazil

LUCID PhD student Ebba Brink shows how the ecosystem services framework can be used to promote sustainability in urban planning. Photo courtesy of Dell Delambre.


LUMES student Flavia Speiski dos Santos presenting her thesis idea. Photo courtesy of Lourdes Brazil.

Action 4: Questions, discussion and the way forward

After the presentations, the audience was invited to take part in the discussion. The discussion largely centred around who would benefit from the revitalisation project, the resettlement of the 1450 families and the public-private partnership as means of financing. For instance, Carlos Frederico described the economic infeasibility of constructing social housing in the central city under the current framework of the federal social housing programme Minha Casa, Minha Vida, due to the architectural and geographic features of available sites.

Another discussion point was what contribution the Swedish experiences could make to the Brazilian context considering the different scale in the cities’ populations, sizes and social structure.

Finally, the moderator, Dr Brazil, addressed the potential for better integration of the topic of urban sustainability in the engineering education at UFF, for instance through elective courses or, in the long term, a programme specialisation. She called for a change in the current mindset at the university in which working with local governments and communities is considered less prestigious than purely academic endeavours and encouraged students to do just that.

panel brazil

Panel discussion featuring (from the left) Carlos Frederico dos Santos Silva (CDURP), LUMES student Flavia Speiski dos Santos, Dr Dell Delambre (FABAT), LUCID PhD student Ebba Brink and Dr Lourdes Brazil (UFF). Photo courtesy of Dell Delambre.

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