Fortaleza is the fifth most populous city in Brazil and the ninth largest urban area, with 2.5 million people and 193.4 million square kilometers, respectively. The capital of the northeastern state of Ceará, it stands as the richest city of the region and the tenth in the national ranking.
Yet its metropolitan region, with 3.8 million inhabitants, possesses a GDP lower than the metropolitan regions of Recife and Salvador, falling to third place in the Northeast and maintaining the thirteenth level nationally, with a wealth estimated at R$ 59 billion (19 billion USD).
Of its total GDP, R$ 43 billion (14 billion USD) belongs to Fortaleza. This wealth is apparent in its many landmarks, including the enormous skyline, its tropical waterfront, its beautiful beaches, its huge cathedral, the international airport, the Castelão Arena, the Dragão do Mar Arts and Culture Center, its downtown commercial buildings, and the Mucuripe Port, as well as its events and regional influence and its abundant gastronomic offerings.
However, it appears that in the planning and construction of such buildings, they did not think about constructing a true city, an urban space, a metropolis. Fortaleza is not the only one to commit this error, but among the metropolises of which I am familiar (São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte, Curitiba, Campinas, Santos, Natal, and Florianópolis), this appears to me to be the most worrisome case in terms of deficiency of urban planning and, consequently, in public spaces.
On arriving to the Pinto Martins International Airport, we see a terrific skyline outlined by blue sky. An influential city, rich with nature. However, in exiting the airport and taking a taxi, my technical eye of the urbanist awakens and begins to critique: immense expressways, but without note of mass collective transport; highly precarious sidewalks; shortage of collective transport priority, in this case, with buses that are obligated to fight for space among automobiles, motorbikes, bikes, and taxis.
I noticed that the speed limit is high for a large number of roads, creating a sense of insecurity for pedestrians. Staying in Meireles, the nicest neighborhood in the city, and the one which contains the majority of the skyline buildings, it was quite the negative surprise to see the immense deficiency of sidewalks. Cracked and narrow sidewalks, disconnected from commercial and service axes, along with automobile priority were present throughout all of the city. Additionally, many corners and intersections lacked accessible ramps.
Being from Sao Paulo, and therefore being accustomed to the daily use of collective transport and walking, it is something scary to be hostage in a city taken by cars, in a heat above 30°C and a lack of public spaces.
When in situations like this, we notice the efficiency and potential of a city that values its people, the inhabitants of the city. Underlining this is the prioritization of forms of mobility. When the pedestrian is placed above bike lanes, bus corridors, trains, metro and car lanes, you are automatically giving value to all of the inhabitants of that location. Public spaces are a collective good and give character to the city.
Sidewalks and squares form the pathways that interlink the important parts of the city mentioned in the beginning of this article. Not all of my criticisms are negative, for I have found many interesting interventions that have been a sigh of relief in the face of these negative surprises, such as the revitalization of part of Monsenhor Tabosa Avenue, which connects the downtown to Meireles. The street received a nice treatment, with the widening of the sidewalks, which are at the same level as the space for cars, and include gazebos and benches.
Thus, here is one last critique: despite progress, this street becomes one of the most insecure points in the city at night. On the one hand, it is bustling throughout the day, thanks to its stores and galleries. On the other, it is dead at night due to the lack of mixture of land use; I noticed only two small residential buildings, which were privileged with many amenities. But one should think before all of this power, the population should always be valued above anything else.
What is the state of pedestrian infrastructure in your community? If it is lacking, are improvements underway? How can improved pedestrian facilities improve economic equality? Share your thoughts and your city's stories in the comments area below.
Original article, originally published in Portuguese, here.
Credits: Data and images linked to sources.