Building Guanabara Bay: Nature and Urban Environments in Latin America

Saturday, January 7, 2012: 2:30 PM
Houston Room (Chicago Marriott Downtown)
Lise F. Sedrez, Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro
Guanabara Bay, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, is the most important symbolic landscape of Brazil, a “place to see and be seen”, according to one illustrious visitor, Charles Darwin. And yet, it was also an urban landscape, the setting of a growing city, Rio de Janeiro, one of the world’s megacities. More importantly, Guanabara Bay was a changing landscape. Nothing, from its waters, to its shoreline or its biodiversity was to be untouched by urbanization, industrialization and oil spills over the twentieth century.

City, people and bay forged a curious relationship that alternated (or merged) feelings of pride for the glorious nature, fear for the frail ecosystems, and pragmatic calculation for the potential uses of the bay for a population that by the end of the century surpassed the 15-million mark. As pollution, siltation and land reclamation clearly altered both the symbolic and the visible image of Guanabara Bay, State institutions scrambled to develop acceptable - and affordable - concepts of pollution, pollution control and environmental management.

As urbanization is perhaps one of the most remarkable historical trends in twentieth century Latin America, the case study of Guanabara Bay illustrates some of the dilemmas faced by built environments in the region. If the bay has shaped the history of Rio de Janeiro city for centuries, as a protecting harbor, source of food and gateway for the world, the city had also transforming the bay. Social and environmental processes were intertwined in the history of Guanabara Bay. This talk discusses how these processes also bring to light issues of inequality, public health and science/technology development in 20th century Brazil.

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