Text by Edinéa Alcântara, doctor in urban development, researcher at the Peri-urban Studies Lab at UFPE, member of the Direitos Urbanos group and one of the founders of the Troça Empatando tua Vista (the bloco pictured below). The full article in Portuguese can be found at Direitos Urbanos. My translation can be found below.
It’s impressive the repercussion from the Troça Empatando tua Vista, a political act of revelry that’s critical of the excessive verticalization. They’re prisms of material about 3 meters high, simulating sky scrapers with their repetitive nature, seeking to imitate what has been happening in Recife, where the height of the towers is growing and growing and concentrates itself more and more in the most privileged visual spaces: in front the the water. But if the architectural template does not privilege diversity, the urbanistic model ends up segregating the public from the private.
The growing verticalization with the approval of projects without serious environmental impact studies is linked to the alliance between the government and real estate capital, due to political campaign commitments and legitimated by aged and limited legislation, defining urban planning via individual lots. It is the right of private property overriding public interest and social function of land, all with the support of government agencies. Such legislation makes it possible for private ventures, formed by a complex of 12 towers of 40 floors each, to be built in a historic district and on water fronts, seeking to bask in the best views. As if it weren’t enough to have privileged access to such landscapes, what is being sought out are various mechanisms of isolation, segregation and privatization: medieval walls surrounding condominiums that leave pedestrians vulnerable on the streets without any offer of security; public spaces that frighten away those who want to enjoy the views, being that they are not designed for permanence, but for the contemplation of the condominium residents or for those in their cars. Beyond closing themselves off behind their high walls, these undertakings mess up not only the view, but the sun on the beach, the wind, mobility and life itself. All of this has been growing worse and generating a feeling of sadness and uneasiness. The lack of kindness, cordiality and respect for the other is revealing of the stress of those who can afford to live the good life in the city.
It was in this context that city residents and militants of the Direitos Urbanos group joined with the creator, Claudio Tavares, to make an idea that’s been in the works since last year into reality, to express indignation and sadness, with the direction that real estate capital has been taking in the city. One of the ways of expressing this insatisfaction was by way of a joke, and of satire.
In this way, the critical irreverence of the Troça Empatando tua Vista wins appeal on the streets and finds an echo in the hearts of people. The humorous, irreverent form exposes our wounds, our problems, our sick city. The people feel, get emotional, express their feelings of outrage, write, make poetry, take pictures, record videos, dance, sing, dress like towers, contribute with money, with work, with hope … that it all just may change the fate of this city, which was once known as the “Venice of Brazil” and now many call it Hellcife or Recifilis, the Brazilian venereal (disease).
Old photos of Recife are posted online, showing it was possible to experience the street. People want to rescue the memory and soul of a city that destroys itself with each passing day. Hence the sympathy of the people mocking things because joking relieves the pain, the stress, the discomfort they feel in traffic, the increasingly congested streets, with the increasing noise of buildings under construction that briefly congest the streets and further mess up the views and mobility.
The only thing that remains is to joke, to make satire, to show irreverence. And that’s where the adhesion to the mockery gains strength as it catalyzes the people’s dissatisfaction, where humor plays a central role in enhancing the resilience, understood here as the ability to overcome adversity in a continually stressful life.
But humor can also bring about a change in the perception of a situation and change the subject’s behavior with a liberating, comedic or creative movement. It relieves pain and can even give pleasure. It looks to laugh at its own luck. It is this amalgam of pain and joy, indignation and hope that can be the tipping point for a change in the perception of the city and in the potential that each person can be a protagonist. Carnival helps create the bond to establish empathy.
I believe that we’ve found a simple way, effective in messing with perceptions and hidden feelings and in potentiating the discussion about the city. This is what the streets are saying.
To see from inside the towers that people are smiling, showing empathy, saying words of support for our act of mockery and all the energy that comes from the internet, the streets, the people … it’d revitalize anyone.
We have noticed a lot more people wanting a better city for all. And that is very powerful and transformative. It is a collective catharsis!