Lessons from Barcelona for Recife


“To think outside the box is a challenge. And when these limits are real obstacles, the effort has to be even bigger. In the 19th century, a Catalan engineer called Ildefos Cerdà revolutionized urbanism worldwide by taking down the medieval walls that surrounded Barcelona. He showed to the world, through his modern ideas, lessons about how a city has the capacity to be transformed for the better, be it Barcelona or Recife. From November 5th to January 4th, 2014, the Recife City Museum, at the Cinco Pontas Fort, will receive an exhibit of Cerdà’s and the Barcelona of the future – reality versus project. Classes, round-tables and debates are also scheduled. For the event organizers, the meeting might function as a warm-up for the construction of a long-term urbanistic plan, the kind that shapes a city for the next 25 years, when Recife will turn 500 years old.

Cerdà had a daring plan for the city that no longer had room to breathe within the walls. There were houses right up next to each other and narrow streets. On the outside, there was rural lands and some small towns. Upon proposing the construction of 20 meter wide roads, being 5 meters just for each sidewalk and 10 meters for traffic lanes, the engineer showed that the primary person in a city is the pedestrian. “He even said that the sidewalk should have a string of trees for everyone to enjoy”, highlights Amélia Reynaldo, local curator of the exposition and adviser to the Counsel of Architecture and Urbanism (CAU).

The engineer made it clear, at the time, that to give form to the modern doesn’t mean disrespecting the past. “Even today, the newly erected verticality of Barcelona respects what infrastructure was already put in place and not the opposite, as with other capitals”, analyses Amélia.

Cerdà went even further by thinking the lower floors of buildings should be spaces for businesses, thus these activities would be closer to pedestrians. For him, the squares, the built spaces, also needed to have public areas for religious, health and educative purposes, for example. Not only that, but the offerred infrastructure also had to include that of water, sewage and gas. “They’re all adequate lessons for today”, compares the advisor.

In the midst of the Catalan engineer’s lessons, the curator of the exposition regrets the absence of recent urbanistic plans for the Pernambucan capital. According to her, the last of them is from 1943, which has among its characteristics the attempt to remodel the central area of Recife to make it possible to arrive at the port using wider streets. “In the 40s and 50s we gave out a lot of land plots that I don’t consider to be part of an urbanistic plan. But I believe that Recife is a city with a lot of capacity for transforming itself”, she analyses.” – Source (PT)


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