Cities and Cities

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How many cities do we get to know throughout our lives? Each one of them tells us some stories and hides other stories from us. Their landscapes evoke a wide variety of sensations. Despite feeling the differences among cities, sometimes we cannot identify what triggers these sensations. What is it that differentiates Brazilian and Canadian cities?

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By Denise Fernandes Geribello

A city formed by a web of winding streets that follows the topography, with an axis that highlights churches, city halls, theatres and many other monumental buildings. A city where the residential and the commercial areas are merged. Where we can find a market around the corner and a bazaar and a pub on the next street. In this environment, the bakery, the first monument, or the Cathedral Square are the landmarks.

While this description matches many Brazilian cities, big or small, most of the Anglo-Canadian cities have an orthogonal layout, just like a big chessboard. The main streets determine big blocks. Their interior sometimes reproduces the orthogonal layout and sometimes has winding streets, nearly creating a maze, just like a traditional English garden.

The segregation of residential and commercial areas is clear. On the main streets commercial structures prevail. When there are residences on these streets, they are usually above street level, in towers or on top of commercial buildings. Inside the big blocks, there are houses, plenty of houses. In this city model, intersections are used as location references.

From Luz, in São Paulo, to Regent Park, in Toronto, downtown areas are being changed by “revitalization” and “requalification” projects. In both Brazilian and Canadian cities, those projects aim to attract and maintain high class business in central areas, causing the displacement of the social groups that used to live in those areas.

Urban sprawl is another phenomenon that affects the two countries. In Canada, the developments are huge residential blocks served by malls and smart centres. In Brazil, the developments are walled residential blocks, served by shopping centres. In both cases, cars are essential to circulate in those developments and the lack of contact with public space is evident.

Cities from the same country, however, do not follow a strictly defined pattern. They just share characteristics, Either by similarities in the development process, or by the climate and topography, or by social aspects. Thus, the above mentioned items present some of the numerous differences between the predominant configurations in the cities of those two countries.

The differences between cities go beyond the constructed environment. Their dynamic flows according to the way the public space is used by its citizens. All of this plus the constructed environment forms the city. Another element, perhaps the most relevant, that we should take into account when we think about the city is the variety of points of view. Each one sees the city in a very peculiar way. Thus, I believe that instead of categorizing cities simply as good or bad, we should try to understand why we feel good in a certain place and not in another one, why we leave some places behind and what makes us go back.

Denise Fernandes Geribello is an architect and Urban Planner, PhD candidate in History and Fundamentals of Architecture at University of São Paulo. Contact: z.geribello@gmail.com.