SILVIA TAVARES

‘Urbanismo’ in Australia and Brazil: Differences and opportunities

I would like to start this text by clarifying, as Michael Hebbert did in one of my favorite articles on this topic: ‘urban planning is Anglo-Saxon, urbanism is Latin’. Australia follows the Anglo-Saxon model, Brazil follows the Latin model. Urban planning is process and regulation, urbanism is physical space.

In the Brazilian and Latin model, Architecture and Urbanism are part of the same undergraduate degree, which normally takes five years. This means that the profession is one, and that every architect is an urbanist and vice versa. The profession of Architect and Urbanist in Brazil also includes landscape training, and even those who decide to dedicate themselves to green and open spaces, are still capable of designing buildings or developing urban policies and projects.

The Anglo-Saxon model, adopted in the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the United States, and others, is different. If we consider only the scale of the building, for example, the professional who takes care of all the building pathologies, energy efficiency and environmental comfort is usually not an Architect. These professionals are Building Scientists and do not necessarily design buildings, unless they have a double degree, in this case training in Architecture and Building Science.

In other words, what in Australia are several separate courses and professions, in Brazil is one. If we consider from this perspective, it is true that in Brazil there is no time to learn in depth all the different aspects that each of these Anglo-Saxon professions address. But on the other hand, and what in my 10 years of experience in the Anglo-Saxon model I see as a Latin advantage, is the capacity of understanding well the interfaces – i.e. how buildings become the walls of the street, how life in society depends on the ‘sidewalk ballet’ and the ‘eyes of the street’, as Jane Jacobs so wisely emphasized.

This ‘urban life’ that is a consequence of physical urbanism takes place through human interaction, short distances and integration of spaces, rather than large setbacks and fences as it is prevalent in many parts of the Anglo-Saxon world.

With regard to ​​urbanism itself – which is the focus of my work – Australian Urban Planning focuses on the development of guidelines and policies, and on masterplans. The Urban Planning profession does not necessarily have the task of designing the city at street level. The architect designs the building, the landscape architect plans and designs parks and gardens, and the urban planner works on public policies to provide the backdrop and guidelines for urban development and for the public urban life to happen in an orderly way. When I became familiar with these differences I realised that it wasn’t clear who takes care of the street? The answer is any of these professionals, who invest in studying and deepening their understanding of the street life, scale, needs and opportunities. The professional concerned with the street itself is usually produced in a postgraduate-level degree.

Since the beginning of the 20th century the Planning profession of the Anglo-Saxon model has been striving to locate itself as a specific discipline and area of ​​knowledge. What does a Planner do that no one else does? The stages below summarize the development of the profession in the last 110 years (for more information see Davoudi and Pendlebury):

  • Formation phase (late 1800s – 1940s): establishment of the Town Planning Institute (TPI) and consolidation of specific urban planning education.
  • Consolidation phase (1950s – 1960s): changing the focus from design to a science-based curriculum. During this period the profession’s focus also changed from generalist to specialist.
  • Fragmentation phase (1970s -1980s): intellectual crisis and professional disillusionment, then an appeal to educational pluralism arises again.
  • Reconstitution phase (1990s): change of focus from urban to environmental planning. It also shifts the focus from practice to research and the establishment of planning as a specific area of ​​knowledge.
  • Maturing phase (2000s): specific knowledge in the area of ​​urban planning raises questions about the professional attributions that are unique to Planners, and that Architects and other professions cannot fulfill. In this contemporary phase, there is also a return to spatiality and society as a central focus of urban planning, development and design.

 

It is interesting to note that even before the 1950s, when Planning still had a strong focus on design, the main concern was still geometry, rather than the effect of this geometry on the users of spaces. Contemporary Anglo-Saxon urbanism, with its attention to placemaking, tactical urbanism, walkability and the rediscovery of urban centers, also seems to be rediscovering the ‘social spatiality’ lost in the many changes towards public policies rather than the design of spaces. In fact, as Gordon Cherry – a main figure in the development of the Anglo-Saxon model – believed: planners should avoid entertaining any vision of the physical form of town and country and put themselves instead into an enabling role of information-based regulation and management – ‘a technical job framed by social awareness’“. A ‘side effect’ of this approach is that these public policies generate the spaces used by people, even if not directly intended. If Urban Planners do not have a spatial concern and view, the physical result may be a surprise, and it often does not produce the desired effect making both the spaces themselves and the people increasingly disconnected.

In 2020 I joined the University of the Sunshine Coast, and I am very proud to share that this is the first university in Australia with a clear focus on Urban Design at the undergratate level, alongside Planning. The commitment to the training of professionals concerned with the human and physical dimension of urbanism is clear in the course description:

A career in urban design and town planning enables you to plan and design good places for people to live, work and play. Learn how to manage urban growth and plan for sustainable development, infrastructure and services. Our program is shaped by industry – our teaching and research academics are well-known and respected among planning profession and give you an edge to your urban design and planning careers.

Our Brazilian tradition is very rich in that sense. Our urbanismo that values city form, has the potential to add physical and spatial aspects rarely studied in undergraduate Planning courses in Australia. If, on the one hand, we have Brasilia as a model recognized worldwide and dependent on the car, on the other hand most of our cities follow an European tradition – Portuguese or Spanish – and even planned cities tend to have relatively small blocks and compact urban spaces.

In addition, the Latin tradition that combines Architecture and Urban Design in the Planning process brings rich experiences to the Australian built environment professions, which in recent years have been focusing on rediscovering and reconnecting with the street. 

* * *

Heading photo: Consolação, São Paulo (SP), Brazil; Photo by sergio souza on Unsplash

Note: An early version of this article was first published on the Arquiteto Imigrante blog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: