It’s well-known by Recife aficionados that the city is also called the “Veneza brasileira” (Brazilian Venice) due to the canals and bridges that can be found throughout the city. At first glance, it seems to be an allusion to Venice, Italy, but I’m going to disagree and say the connection is indirect and only used for its romantic connotation. The direct link to “Venice” is in the “Venice of the North”, aka Amsterdam (though several other northern European cities also have this moniker).
The capitals of The Netherlands and Pernambuco are both port cities and on deltas. Additionally (as you may have learned already), Recife used to be the capital of Dutch Brazil (known as Mauritsstad), due to the Dutch occupation in the 17th century. It was also during this time that Amsterdam began creating its crescent shape and canal system, something I believe Nassau, the governor of Dutch Brazil, started to duplicate when he planned Recife’s central neighborhoods and ordered its first bridges to be built. Coming back to the present, in the last few years, the two cities’ connection has become, once again, relevant.
While both cities have their similarities and historical ties, Amsterdam is considered a water city while Recife is more like a city that happens to have water. In other words, Recife doesn’t fully make use of its canals, etc. According to an advisor to Amsterdam’s public water authority, “there seems to be little integration of challenges in urban planning in Recife. Dealing with water challenges is from our European perspective essential for cities of the future.”
For more information on how experts and universities from both sides of the Atlantic started a dialogue on the issues facing their respective cities, I highly recommend the RxA Project blog, or a related Wiki.
For an idea on how using the waterways of Recife can have positive outcomes, check out the short video (PT, feel free to skip the cartoon part) below, “Eu quero nadar no Capibaribe, e você?” about the Capibaribe project (PT).