Everyday Shaping of the Secure City: the case of Porto Alegre

Activity: Talk or presentationTalk or presentation at a conference


The paper discusses the case of Porto Alegre as a paradigm of a paradoxically divided city due to security issues, where everyday practices, the production and reproduction of specific built patterns by urban elites have a direct impact on the socio-political landscape of the city.
Taking from the results of the EU funded research “Reducing Boundaries” (2014-2017) the paper contributes to the understanding of the role of the emerging ‘culture of fear’ as a fundamental contemporary societal paradigm (Beck 1992, Bauman 2003, Low 2004, Goldstein 2010, Casati 2012) that is leading to mechanisms of segregation and exclusion through architecture and urban planning. Focusing especially on the behaviours, lifestyles, discourses and the spatial organisation of the upper class of Porto Alegre, driven by real or perceived urban insecurity, the research casts light on their impact on the built form, the urban socio-spatial organisation and the pluralism of social life.
Analysing a number of specific typological case studies - from “condominios fechados” to single family houses - we could unfold the material expressions of the “fight against insecurity” incorporated in architecture (armed guards, walls and fences, gates, cameras) as well as the emotional geography of fear and the symbolic dimension that lead to certain behaviours. At the same time, studying the mechanisms that result in the construction of exclusive real estate projects, their living conditions and standards, defensive systems and processes of formal-informal occupation and control of public spaces, help in grasping the tension between neoliberal forces and local resistances.
In fact, the survey of material and immaterial boundaries created within the very social fabric of the city reveals the interconnections between Porto Alegre’s built environment and socio-spatial identities of different groups, highlighting as well rising contestations.
Through spatial analysis and ethnographic fieldwork (2014, 2016) we could reflect on processes of territorial identification and appropriation, on spatial tensions and claims derived from the “landscape of fear” (Low 2004), on the different perceptions of societal changes.
Moreover, discussing the case of Porto Alegre, the paper will contribute to the understanding of the political context of the Brazilian city and its ties with the emerging urban model of the Secure City. Since the end of the dictatorship (1985), besides the positive impact of participative budgeting and planning, the rise of social frictions, wealth and income inequalities, crime rates, together with the lack of a strong public authority lead to mechanisms of segregation, exclusion and social polarisation that emphasise the dual division between upper and lower classes with a direct impact on the built environment. Such tendencies, that go far beyond the Brazilian city, are key to unfold contemporary imaginations of the political by different groups towards progressive responses for the future city.
Period4 Oct 20187 Oct 2018
Event typeConference
Locationcoimbra, Portugal
Degree of RecognitionInternational