Cidade Floresta

City as Forest

Is a speculative project that brings city and forest together, envisioning both as complex, collaborative and communicative ecosystems. CIDADE FLORESTA is an invitation to think about the challenges and powers of an urban future beyond the industrial paradigm, which currently organizes urban life around the needs of factories and companies, of workers and consumers. These paradigms have been shifting since the 1970s, with the search for new ways to live and exchange that are more autonomous, sustainable and thoughtful.

Historically, the city has always relied on the countryside, on surrounding areas, for a supply of food, water and clean air, and for absorbing its effluents, residue and exhaust emissions. Those areas surrounding the city have been envisioned by modern infrastructure planners as a stable frame of reference that could be expanded infinitely. The limits were circumstantial, and could technically be surpassed. However, what happened was not what had been envisioned.

In many cities in Brazil and the world, we have been facing recurring problems of scarcity of water, clean air and food. These feel like moments of local failure, lack of planning and modernized infrastructure. However, these moments probably herald the climate change catastrophes to come. Will there be enough resources to solve the innumerous problems? Will crises become permanent?

On the other hand, there are countless experimental projects of urban agriculture, green roofs, rainwater harvesting, decentralized wastewater solutions and others. The focus seems to be on the better use of resources and flows that already exist, and on attempting to reduce the pollution released into the environment.

At what critical point will a structural change come from these experimentations? Could the forest become a new paradigm for cities? What can we learn from the forest, the trees, the fungi, its invisible and subterraneous portion, as much as we do from the green exuberance on its surface? What urban policies can we put to practice from the perspective of the forest? 

The history and archaeology of indigenous life in the Amazon forest show that the forest has never been the jungle of the colonial imagination. It has always been a cultural landscape inhabited by various species, including humans. The city has also never ceased to be nature, a co-creation between species. Since nature has always been sympoetic, what future can we build and inhabit from this observation? Is it possible to retake the cities that already exist and organize them based on forest intelligence?

In that sense, FOREST CITY casts a critical eye on the emerging green economy that promises technical solutions for current challenges without questioning the relationships that support these solutions. Even an economy that makes the best use of its available resources, the so-called climax economy, would not be able to solve how the values it produces are appropriated and distributed. Poverty would remain a political matter, as well as security and respect for differences. It is necessary to go beyond the best management of resources, to support a political space occupied in the cities.

City as Prison

It was after hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans that Mike Davis established a prognosis that cities would become prisons: Those who couldn’t escape in time were confined in their homes, abandoned by the government, climbing to the second floor, and then to the roof, to stay safe from the rising waters when the sea invaded the city. The poorest people were the ones who could not escape.

The COVID-19 pandemic has created similar conflicts. How has Davis’ prognosis been resonating after a year of social distancing, of letting people die, of a lack of response from the state and the collective? What city do we still have left? While some managed to create communities of temporary isolation, moving from the city to the countryside, most people stayed active, taking crowded buses to work and relying on a network of in-person support to organize the task of caring for children and the elderly.

The pandemic reminds us of the radical sharing of the city: The air becomes contagious when we do not respect the existence of the virus, a new player in the game of life. The streets become rivers when there is not enough room for the power of the water to expand. Despite the collective nature of such crisis, there is a tendency to respond individually, which only prolongs the emergency.

Urban relationships are particularly vulnerable and powerful at the same time. Intelligent solutions, like those developed by Fiocruz and the Maré Networks, have implemented simple and effective measures for the communication, care and isolation of people who are infected, significantly reducing death and contagion rates for the disease. However, the program was not implemented in the whole city. There is a lack of capacity or interest in considering the city as a whole.

The Forest within the City

When Rio de Janeiro, in the mid-19th century, had a water crisis, the imperial government appropriated lands that were being used to grow coffee and started a large-scale project of reforestation. To this day, Rio de Janeiro has the world’s largest urban forest. The water generated by this forest supplies waterfalls and rivers, but as they enter urban spaces, these rivers become polluted, transporting waste and sewage to the Guanabara Bay, which also receives industrial effluents.

Once again, we are facing a water crisis in Rio de Janeiro, before, during and probably after the pandemic. What democratic and fair process could be envisioned to respond to this crisis of confidence in a poorly run state-owned company? That water, awful in smell and quality, used to connect the city – all neighborhoods, during this crisis, rich or poor. They were not equally impacted, obviously, but there was a seed of a shared experience in a territorially divided city. With the privatization of water and sanitation, the city will be divided in zones with different suppliers. How can a better service be guaranteed for everyone?

Cidade Maravilhosa

City of Wonders

Economic development does not automatically solve issues of violence and lack of security. The economic process is structurally violent. What would be a non-violent way to live and produce in a city?

What if all the water were clean? Springs, waterfalls, rivers… Rio de Janeiro would be such a paradise! However, here is not a city of wonders, just a wonderful place to start a city, as poet Elizabeth Bishop emphasized decades ago.

Even imagining all environmental issues were solved, Rio de Janeiro would remain a violent place of confrontation between various armed forces, clashing to dominate a profitable territory for real estate speculation, gun trafficking, drug trafficking, extortion and blackmail.

Economic development does not automatically solve issues of violence and lack of security. The economic process is structurally violent. What would be a non-violent way to live and produce in a city? Instead of taking on the task of protecting a nature that is always imagined elsewhere, out there, could we create new alliances with plants and animals to understand and cultivate our own nature and (re-) create non-violent ways of being? The potential of many so-called drugs originates from plants as well as from human use, as in the case of the variety of cannabis. 

In this sense, talking about the Forest City also means talking about the third ecology, according to Félix Guattari: Our psyche. People who practice urban agriculture report a beneficial effect from their practices and positive reverberations on communities. To talk about the third ecology also means talking about traumas and working with the grief that surrounds the history of this city. Of all the Atlantic World, the port of Rio de Janeiro received the most enslaved people. It is still a place in search for sites of memory.

Rio before Rio

Before colonization, there was a social life in this territory, a CIDADE FLORESTA comprising more than 100 TUPINAMBÁ indigenous villages. Indigenous epistemology and grammar show that the perspective of the West on the relationship between culture and nature is merely one of several possibilities, and not necessarily the most indicated for the challenges we face. Thus, CIDADE FLORESTA is also a search for new political theories and philosophical concepts, moving away from the instrumentalist relationship with the land that was established against cosmotheisms and their ability to translate differences.


Life in the jungle has never come down to just survival! Indigenous and other minor perspectives prevent us from repeating another round of naturalization of political, philosophical, epistemic and aesthetic issues.

Calling the city “a jungle” is part of a long history of criticism of labor in the modern city. Upton Sinclair used the image in the title of his 1905 novel about work conditions in the Chicago meat industry. Thus emerged a counter image to a civilized and pacified city, denouncing it as actually unprepared, abandoned, violent and unjust. In the jungle, in this logic, life comes down to survival.

Also in Chicago, at the time, there was the creation of a highly influential school of urbanism that looked at the city as an organism that could become ill, like a garden in need of care, thus naturalizing social and historic relationships.

In the critical moment of the present, we observe yet another attempt to look at “nature” as inspiration and, to a certain extent, this project invites to do just that, but from a perspective that recognizes the colonial legacy and leaves it behind: Life in the jungle has never come down to just survival! Indigenous and other minor perspectives prevent us from repeating another round of naturalization of political, philosophical, epistemic and aesthetic issues.

Garden City

Knowing the history of experimentations around the nature of the city can also refine one’s critical sense in a process towards a CITY AS FOREST. At the end of the 19th century, the life reform movement questioned capitalist economy and life in industrial cities. The Garden Cities movement started in England and soon spread through Europe, especially to Germany. Its first ideas were radical: Agrarian reform, redistribution of lands and economic autonomy for the inhabitants of public housing projects being established between urban and rural environments. Soon the concept was integrated into urban development projects; a label for any suburban housing project focused on green spaces, and lost its radical quality. Liberals, left and right wing alike took advantage of the fantasy of a harmonious relationship between city and countryside, while the garden city mostly accelerated the suburbanization process, the urban sprawl. We might call this process greenwashing today.

In fact, the Garden City concept has come into the limelight again, under the name “Forest City”. It consists of plans for large concrete buildings, but with external areas such as balconies, terraces and green areas where many trees would be planted. The sustainability of these projects will depend on their capacity to create an ecosystem that is habitable for different species. Just growing more trees and plants is not enough, as demonstrated recently in China when a massive mosquito infestation made human habitation impossible in such a “Forest City”.

In the shadow of climate change and a predicted increase in natural catastrophes, from rising sea levels to more devastating storms and unprecedented droughts, just to name a few, it’s the ecological paradigm that will determine city life in the present. But both the economical and the ecological paradigms are of the sphere of the OIKOS, the realm of the house, the useful and productive, while nature remains as if elsewhere, as a separate place to be preserved or exploited.

CIDADE FLORESTA, city as forest, creates a fold between city and forest, an approximation that affirms difference and seeks new relationships between the two. Life in the city must become a pulsating territory for the many.