3 Jan

Planning with the Community

“Planning with the Community, Negotiating Borders” was a pilot project designed by the Federal University of Amapá to intervene in irregular areas, having Urbanism III of the institution’s curricular grid as an investigation discipline, involving teaching, research and practice. That experience enables architecture and urban planning students to prepare urban planning projects for the needy community living on the Amazon riverside.

Figure 1: Cidade Nova District; Authorship: Collection of the Federal University of Amapá.

Dwellers of the Cidade Nova District – formerly known as Igarapé das Mulheres – in Macapá, capital city of the State of Amapá, were the first people to participate in this citizenship exercise. Currently, Amapá is recognized as the best-preserved State in Brazil, having a preserved area of 3,867,000 hectares, bigger than several European countries. It is the preservation unit created in 2002 that became one of the largest natural sanctuaries of the Amazon Region and that was assigned the title of largest preservation unit in Brazil, in addition to being the world’s largest protected tropical forest area. That attractive area, however, hides serious problems about the State’s urban development.

Figure 2: Location Map of the Cidade Nova District in the city of Macapá.

The population of Macapá – 594,587 inhabitants – (IBGE, 2000) has serious environmental and social problems relating to the disordered growth of the city’s space. The high urbanization rate is influenced by the intense migration process of the population coming from the State of Pará and from the State of Amapá itself. In the case of Pará, migrants come mainly from the cities of the Marajó Island, in the proximities of Macapá, that are displaced in search of jobs, better life conditions, healthcare and education.

The pressure made by such human mass in the capital city of Amapá resulted in the growth and emergence of irregular settlements where people live in subhuman conditions. The housing deficit in the State of Amapá is currently 15,546 units, whereas 18,555 units are classified as Housing Inadequacy (Data from João Pinheiro Foundation). Mike Davis (2006), in his book Planeta Favela, reports important UN data in relation to the informal or illegal market, showing that such market accounts for most additions of residential stock in most cities below the Equator line in the last thirty or forty years.

According to British architect John Turner, when dwellers control the important decisions and are free to make their own contributions to the project, by building or managing their homes, both the processes and the resulting environment encourage individual and social wellbeing. When people have neither control nor responsibility for key decisions in their housing process, on the other hand, their housing environments become an obstacle to personal achievement and a burden on the economy.

The Cidade Nova district is the segregated area in the city of Macapá that is considered an environmentally weak area. That landscape is locally called ressaca*, and what characterizes such landscape is the existence of wet areas and water basins influenced by the tide system or by rain precipitation and subject to seasonal floods and draughts. It is a rich system in terms of biodiversity. Unfortunately, the negative interference of man in the flooded areas has been deeply modifying the ecosystem: destroying the natural habitat of several Amazon Region water species and also raising the city’s temperature, considering that the ressaca is an excellent thermal regulator.

*Ressaca is the regional word used to define the water accumulation basins, influenced by the movements of the tides, rivers and rains. The water basins serve as natural habitat for the most diverse forms of life (plants and animals) and have great importance for the city because they may interfere directly with the climate.

Figure 3: Current Situation of the Studied Area. Authorship: Collection of the Federal University of Amapá.

The students were trained as social workers and all project phases were followed-up by architects, urban planners and an environmentalist. Taking into account the irregular city and the need to find new manners of more participative urban interventions, the work raised the interest of the Government of the State of Amapá and had its methodology discussed in the Projetar 2009, conducted at the Mackenzie Presbyterian University in São Paulo.

In 2010, the study was presented in Coimbra and Lisbon, the first time in the workshop of the Portuguese Regional Planning Association, and the second time in April at the Portuguese Language Meeting of Architecture and Urban Planning Schools.

Planning with the Community: Introductory Workshop

It was an intensive six-week Planning Workshop on the area that surrounds the Igarapé das Mulheres District, the key re-development location in the outskirts of Macapá. Therefore, the studies focused on forces of change and also on the city’s conflicting re-development needs.

The contact with the community required a negotiation strategy. Of the 28 students who participated in the project, more than half were not familiarized with the area. Initially, the military police were sought to tell how the students and teachers should enter the community. Owing to the high level of violence in the area, special times of day were established to conduct the register survey. The police authorities informed that the area was extremely dangerous on weekends and after 6 pm.

Prejudice was an evil to overcome; mutual respect and trust grew everyday among the community and the university. It was a victory achieved by meetings and assemblies held, where intervention strategies were discussed. Dwellers were enthusiastic, and several families joined the students enabling 718 homes to be visited in two weeks. Therefore, a computerized database was built, providing safe information for the area’s socio-economic profile, which was fundamental for our work.

Figure 4: Academics and the Community. Authorship: Collection of the Federal University of Amapá.

Knowing the dwellers is essential, because in their simplicity they are fully aware of what they need. Most respondents have a riverside origin. When talking about Brazilian popular architecture, Günter Weimer states that “in some places, owing to the lack of a housing policy and because of the social exclusion process, one of the few alternatives remaining for the poorer strata of the population is to build their homes on stilts.” This proves to be quite real; however, what is experienced at the Cidade Nova district is a desire to live on the Amazon riverside because that is part of their culture. The fishing activity is still strong in that community. Almost all homes visited have a jirau, a type of outdoors kitchen where the housewife washes the fish, therefore avoiding the odor to spread throughout the house.

Students’ intervention proposals: The academic universe may learn several lessons from the vernacular architecture.

Our purpose was to explore different possibilities for that area to respond to the multiple needs of the place and its urban landscape. Each group’s proposal defined a clear concept for the development of the area, based on two main elements: a programmatic concept for types of uses; and a space proposal dealing with scale and types of buildings and spaces.

Figure 5: Canal Intervention proposed by the Academics

There are currently several irregular palafitte-type homes (homes supported on stilts), without no basic infrastructure. They lack water and sewage systems, and their electricity system is precarious. Inexistence of basic sanitation accounts for the numerous cases of malaria, hepatitis and dengue.

Six teams submitted their projects and all of them were gathered in a single proposal that the Government of the State of Amapá registered with the FNHIS (National Social Interest Housing Fund).

The final proposal contains the opening of new roads, construction of a dredging and sewage system, and macro-dredging of the canal. To meet the educational area demand, a high-school building with capacity for 400 students and a daycare center for children from 0 to 6 years of age were designed.

The scarcity of homes will be covered with the creation of residences and buildings, which will observe regional characteristics and will use low-cost items in their construction.

The recovery of ressaca areas is fundamental; therefore the students created the “park of swamps”. Thus, the need to preserve the systems of globally important wet areas is recognized. Local and regional tourism would be valued, therefore recognizing the uniqueness of the ressaca habitat.

Figure 7: Proposal for Ressaca Areas Recovery. Authorship: Academics of the 2006 Class

The “Planning With the Community, Negotiating Borders” Project contacts local associations, considering their aspirations and demands, turning them into guides for the works conducted by the academics of the Architecture and Urban Planning course of the Federal University of Amapá, who, through the guidance of their professors, develop mechanisms that generate ordered spaces. Through the academic work, the population participates in the building of society, getting fully involved in order to put urban planning into practice, proving that this is an instrument for economic, spatial, social and housing transformation. And the students get ready for their professional life.

The Amazon Region and its rain forest have been investigated by several researchers. Those professionals seek to bring solutions for region development and environment preservation. Those studies are very important, but it should be pointed out that most people live in the cities and the distortions and absence of public policies in the Amazon Region are still scarcely studied.

The “Planning with the Community” project has currently made investigations in 23 ressaca areas in the city of Macapá with the aid of State of Amapá’s Institute of Scientific and Technological Research. Research studies are in progress, but it is estimated that about 100,000 people live in those stilted-home areas in the capital city of the State of Amapá. The same study indicates the need for a concrete zoning system established by nature that should indicate the innovative manner to use the territory. And the cities are the strategic territorial units to introduce the new production system and to break with the dichotomy existing between the big and rich and the many small and poor agents in the region.

Today the University has a democratic and innovative teaching model, with study extension activities, both for internal and external audiences; therefore, the University fulfills its task as an institution and inserts the academics in society.

Figure 8: Academics preparing their diagrams. Authorship: Class of 2006.


DAVIS, Mike. Planeta Favela. São Paulo: Boitempo, 2006.

FUNDAÇÃO João Pinheiro. Centro de Estatística e Informações. Déficit Habitacional no Brasil 2000. Belo Horizonte, 2001.

SOUZA, Marcelo Lopes de. ABC do Desenvolvimento Urbano. São Paulo: Bertrand Brasil, 2007.

TURNER, John F.C. Housing by People. United Kingdom: Marion Boyers, 1976.

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