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A City of Division: Fear, Walls and Gated Community in Sao Paulo

Part 1 Dissertation 2009
Carly Gordon
University of Brighton UK
This dissertation examines the issues surrounding spatial segregation in Sao Paulo, looking in detail at the gated community of Alphaville and the effect it has upon the broader urban community. This topic is one of growing importance in today’s society, as cities across the world become increasingly fragmented and new forms of spatial segregation develop and threaten the cohesion of urban communities.

Sao Paulo has turned into a city where large sections of the population live in a state of paranoid fear, fixated on issues of personal safety and protection from crime. The need to provide security and create barriers of division from those perceived as dangerous has lead to a fortress mentality among the wealthy, with major effects upon community life and the spatial character of the city. These effects are spatial (kilometres of walls across urban neighbourhoods, removal of entire streets, distorted movement patterns, elimination of public space), visual (blighted views, elimination of visual contact between quarters and residents), social (loss of sense of community, privatisation of civic responsibilities, police protection and communal services that undermine the democratic political system and public realm) and also, importantly, psychological.

The dissertation argues that the state of fear and perceived need for protection is to some degree caused by the segregated urban structure itself: as the demand for gated communities in Sao Paulo grows, new forms of fractured urban spaces are created resulting in ever greater spatial and social segregation which in a vicious circle further fuels fear of others and crime. This can be observed in Alphaville where an extensive wall system surrounds the boundary of the development and further heightens residents’ anxieties and sense of isolation. These gates and walls act not only as physical barriers but also as psychological signposts, indicating that different groups within society must protect themselves from one another. The growing network of walls amplifies the condition it is meant to counteract.

The dissertation proposes that the restoration of social integration depends on breaking this circle of fear, division and loss of community which in turn depends on mitigating the trap of spatial segregation and on striking a new urban and architectural balance between exclusion and inclusion.

Carly Gordon

The issue of gated communities raises important questions about the future of the cities in relation to social and spatial segregation. This dissertation has made a good effort in connecting the psychological aspect (real and imagined fear of the other), physical aspect (walls and boundaries) and the community (Alphaville gated community) in addressing issues of urban spatial segregation and integration in Sao Paulo. The dissertation is clearly structured and the three main sections are arranged according to the different aspects stated above: “Fear”, “Formation of Walls and Division” and “Growth of the Gated Community”.

The student has chosen an appropriate case study in the Alphaville development which houses 30,000 of the city’s richest and most security-conscious residents. Its proximity to poor neighbourhoods and ways in which this is articulated in spatial and architectural terms make it a suitable and interesting site for investigation.

To develop her arguments, the student has used inter-disciplinary approaches that bring together architecture, urban studies and geography. She draws on wider academic debates as well as more specific discussions of the social and spatial divisions in Sao Paulo, using a broad and well chosen range of references, including works by Mark Davis, Teresa Caldeira, Nan Ellin, Ben Campkin, Iain Borden, Setha Low, Eduardo Lozano, David Sibley, Peter Marcuse, Harold Proshansky, and Richard Sennett. On the whole, the principle issues are well understood and presented and successfully explored in relation to the case study.

The student has demonstrated her ability to think independently while basing the discussion firmly in contemporary discourses on the subject matter. The dissertation is argumentative and critical, distinctive in its approach and conclusion, and of a high scholarly standard.

Yat Ming Loo
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