Give the park back to the city – Vazio S/A

Architect Roberto Andrés is a collaborator of Hoje em Dia newspaper. Published in March 2009, the text below comments the absurd history of Parque Municipal, the main park of Belo Horizonte, whose area was reduced to less than a third of its original 15,21 hectares.

Devolver o Parque à cidade
Roberto R. Andrés

The Parque Municipal used to be the main green element in the original plan of Belo Horizonte. Situated in a central area, in the confluence of three important avenues, it used to have an area of 153,21 a that corresponded to 1/14 of the total area of the city. It was a green large landed state in a small capital, one of the biggest urban parks in the country, inserted in a city that had been launched with mere 25.000 inhabitants.
In an opposite direction to the growing of the city, the park had a history of successive subtractions of its area, which was transformed in streets and buildings. Carlos Teixeira* narrates in his book ‘História do Vazio em Belo Horizonte’, this slow process of mutilation of the Parque Municipal: from 1906, when the first share was taken to build the Diretoria de Agricultura, until 1975, when new interferences were forbidden by the state, the park was reduced to less than a third of its original area, to the size of 44,48 acres.
Remember that the park would serve a city that was expected to have 100 thousand inhabitants in 100 years; nowadays it has more than 2.5 million already. Even taking into account that the city has expanded to beyond the original limits, and that other green areas have been created, the fact is that the central region has around 10 times more inhabitants than in the beginning, while the park has shrank 3 times. This is the heritage left by a century of “progressive” governments, the substitution of public areas by buildings, the green by the grey, the fresh by the hot, the qualified and generous leisure by the saturation of pedestrians and vehicles.

The return

It is a role of the public power to imagine and perform actions that effectively expand the green area in the centre, actions that offer opportunities for recreation, while also reducing the temperature and improving air quality. To contribute to this venture, I will present a proposal for a green spray in Belo Horizonte.

There are many areas occupied by parking lots in the centre of the city. Recent researches done by the architect Luiz Felipe Farias**, show that they occupy a large area. Most of them are empty lots with paved floors and some parts covered. Only few of them have vegetation. They are cemented voids in the cement city.

But they can be turned into green economically maintainable voids. It is very simple in fact: the city hall expropriates the parking lots areas claiming public interest and builds underground parking lots under squares. This green area would suit the people for leisure and those underground parking lots would generate resources for the public power. In a few years time, the resources invested in the expropriations and work would return to the city, making profit after that.

Proposal of spraying the Parque Municipal through the appropriation of parking lots in the Hipper-Centre

And the city would have a large quantity of leisure green areas.

May it not be the monument squares made by architects that reflect their egos in self-referring objects, no more the Praça da Estação or the new square that Niemeyer wants to build in Brasília. But may it be squares open for changing by its users, which are rich in vegetation, and articulated in relation to the local needs; squares in which activities take place, with equipment and various kinds of vegetation, skating rinks, sports pitches, chess tables, benches to lie down, date, sleep, fruit trees, ornamental ones, trees of all sizes, playgrounds, flowers and mostly, allowed access to the lawn; squares that hold collective floras, spraying seeds through the city.

As the Parque Municipal was mutilated little by little, as narrated by Carlos Teixeira, perhaps the best way of giving it back to the city may be in little fragmented pieces that irradiate green fragments, spreading themselves to balconies, roofs and blank walls.

In many cities, there are communitarian areas with this spirits, such as some northern neighbourhoods of Paris. Empty lots have been turned into gardens, maintained by community associations. They are places for resting and at the same time, cultivation and donation of seeds.

An international movement called “One Degree Less” *** proposes the painting of the roofs in white or their vegetal covering. As the dark surfaces of the roofs absorb heat and make the cities hotter, this simple change could lower in until 6 degrees the average of a big city. The transformation of those parking lots in green areas could be an important step in this sense for Belo Horizonte, contributing for the environmental quality and the reduction of investments in artificial conditioning.

Public gardens of the 19th District in Paris. Performance made by the group COLOCO involving the community and the new art centre of the city. Extracts of the interactive documentary by Roberto Andrés.

An invitation to the city hall of Belo Horizonte The current administration of the city hall of Belo Horizonte is fully able to implement proposals as this one. The mayor has a majority in the City Council, has a stack of good administrator, had wide vote in the South Central region and was supported by intellectuals and environmentalists. He showed firmness in the public interest in his first actions when he vetoed the project of expropriation to the Vila do Acaba-Mundo, which would burden the public coffers mistakenly.
By using such capability of articulation and administration, the city hall can return green areas to the centre of the city, in an economically sustainable way, qualifying the urban areas and generating jobs in a crisis moment. It will be worth a significant vote in the region.
And if the current administration expands this approach to a series of actions aimed at characterizing the lives of citizens, focusing on transportation, public spaces for recreation and environmental improvement, there will assert 767,332 votes and will found a new chapter in the history of Belo Horizonte.

To learn more:

* Carlos Teixeira. Em Obras: A história do Vazio em Belo Horizonte. Cosac & Naify Edições.
** Luiz Felipe de Farias conducted research on the parking lots of the centre for a graduation project in Architecture course at PUC-MG. The research was published in the book Espaços Colaterais.

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