Brasília, Brasil

The idea of a capital city located in the interior of Brazil was supposedly first proposed by the Independence Movement leader Joaquim José da Silva Xavier in 1789.  In the 1891 Constitution of the Republic, article 3 established that an area of 14,400 square kilometers shall be set aside in the central highlands for the construction of a new capital.  But it was not until 1956 that the newly elected president Juscelino Kubitschek de Oliveira could initiate the construction.  Kubitschek's election slogan was "Fifty Years in Five," under the premise that he would be able to accomplish what could not be done in the last fifty years within his five-year term.  In April 1960, the official inauguration of Brasília indeed took place in front of the world.  In 1987, Brasília was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

For many Brazilians, the city of Brasília is a symbol of their national will to overcome seemingly insurmountable odds to succeed in erecting a modernistic (even futuristic) planned city, and therefore gave them much to be hopeful and proud of.  The establishment of a capital city inland also shifted the focus of the nation away from the traditional southeastern coastline and hopefully bring economic development into the interior of the country.  On the negative side, there are other Brazilians who felt that the whole enterprise was a tremendous waste of money which could have been put to better purpose elsewhere.  While the ultra-modernistic cityscape of Brasília has been of great interest to urban planning theorists, architectural students and even religious mystics, the opinions of its many inhabitants are not uniformly congenial.

To have a functioning capital for the nation of Brazil, the government needed to have a large staff of government functionaries.  Politicians, bureaucrats, administrators and academicians were lured to Brasília by huge salary hikes as well as subsidized housing.  Unfortunately, the local amenities are such that Brasília is widely known as the "Three Day City," --- the wealthier official spend only three weekdays working in Brasília and then jet to Rio de Janeiro or São Paulo for an extended weekend of real city life. 

The table below contains some data taken from the TGI Brasil.  This is a consumer survey of 10,103 persons between the ages of 12 and 64 years old conducted by IBOPE during 1999-2000.  The data here show that the people of Brasília are more affluent and more likely to work in the public sector than the people in the rest of Brazil.

Socio-Economic Level

Brasília Rest of Brazil
Socio-Economic Level


Employer Type



(source: TGI Brasil, 1999-2000)

Brasília was laid out in a precise geometry based upon LeCorbusier's theory of La Ville Radieuse ("The Radiant City").  Absent were the narrow streets and congested neighborhoods of the old cities.  The new Urbanisme called for clear, hygienic self-sufficient building blocks specialized by function , separated by large tracts of open landscape and connected by concrete superhighways.  Brasília is divided into distinct sectors --- residential sectors (with people being entombed in large apartment blocks known as superquadras), hotel sectors, embassy sectors, banking sectors, commercial sectors, warehouse sectors and so on.

The specialization and disconnectedness of the various sectors poses a travel problem.  To access different services requires traveling to their respective sectors.  Due to the vast open spaces between sectors, it is difficult to travel by foot.  While the clear blue skies that usually hang over the city may look pretty, it is torture to walk around under the blazing sun.  So the fact of the matter is that this city is stratified by automobile ownership, simply because one needs an automobile to get around and not owning one is a sign of poverty.  According to TGI Brasil survey, 54% of persons 12 to 64 years old in Brasília lived in households that own automobiles.  The comparable figure for the rest of the survey universe in Brazil is 41%.

The unusual characteristics of Brasília also led to some distinct ways of using modes of transportation.  The comparative data are shown in the following table.  Compared to the rest of Brazil, the people of Brasília are more likely to go by automobile as well as by foot.  They are less likely to travel by taxi (which costs a minimum of $2 for even the shortest trip) and by bus (which may take multiple transfers due to the geometry of the city).  The Metrô subway of Brasília is in place and currently being run on an experimental basis, but has not begun commercial operations as of the end of 2000.

Transportation mode used in last 7 days

Brasília Rest of Brazil
Bicycle 21.3% 17.6%
Motorcycle   2.2%   6.2%
Automobile 65.9% 51.9%
Taxi   3.3%   6.5%
Metro   3.3%   7.7%
Bus 55.7% 57.7%
Travel on foot 23.2% 11.2%

(source: TGI Brasil, 1999-2000)

But living in a planned city such as Brasília does have its advantages.  For one, the infrastructure is expected to be better designed to meet modern needs; for another, in a city with a large number of government bureaucrats, it becomes imperative to delivery quality service.  In the next table, we show that the people of Brasília are more likely to have cable television and internet access.


Brasília Rest of Brazil
Has cable television at home 17% 10%
Used the Internet 22% 11%

(source: TGI Brasil, 1999-2000)




(posted by Roland Soong on 12/26/00)

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