We arrived in Brasilia after a short pit stop in São Paulo and were immediately surprised by how different the city felt. It was much cleaner than São Paulo, much nicer, and by the looks of it, much more organized.
We were staying in an AirBnB apartment on the South side of the city. Looking at the map, we quickly figured out that the city was designed in the shape of an airplane. The centre of the city housed most sights, tourist attractions, and hotels, while the north and south wings were designated as residential areas. This layout was perfectly pre-planned and designed back in 1956, when president Juscelino Kubitschek ordered the construction and creation of Brasilia and designated it as the new capital of Brazil.
Brasilia is often referred to as a utopian city, designed to perfection by the architect Oscar Niemeyer. We could clearly see why. The residential area we were staying in was perfectly manicured. Here, trees were planted in straight lines, grass trimmed, and bushes and flower pots were diligently cared for. There was not a piece of garbage on the ground. The residential apartment buildings were grouped into super blocks. Each super block had a designated commercial area, with prescribed number of schools, and retail shops. It partially reminded me of cities like Toronto, or Brisbane, or maybe even in Singapore. But partially it took me back to my days growing up in Ukraine, giving me flash backs of the communist concrete jungle blocks. This was not the Brazil we expected, and not the Brazil we had just experienced in São Paulo.
The next day, on our way to the World Cup game we made our way to the city centre via public transport. First, we rode on the metro, clean to the brim with sparkling floors. Then, a free bus, that looked like it hadn’t been in operation for more than a few years. It was simple, efficient, pleasant, and at times it made us forget we were in Brazil.
After spending the whole day engulfed in football (that’s another story), we dedicated the next day to exploring the city. All of Brasilia’s main attractions were located along the Monument Axis running straight through the centre of the city.
First was the TV tower that offered unbeatable views of the city. Looking down from the tower we were fascinated by the perfect symmetry of Brasilia’s design. From residential complexes, to shopping centres, to road layouts, everything looked like an identical mirrored image.
Further down the Monumental Axis we spotted the monument of president Juscelino Kubitschek, reaching high up into the sky, overlooking the city.
As we made our way towards Lake Paranoa, an artificially lake created to increase the amount of water in the region, along the was we also saw a few more architectural wonders of Brasilia: the National Museum of the Republic, the National Library of Brasilia, and the Cathedral of Brasilia. Each unique and spectacular in their own way, all adding to the overall futuristic design of Nieyemer’s vision of Brasilia.
It’s easy to get caught up in Brasilia’s structural perfection and elegance of its design. Many, walk away from Brasilia in sheer admiration of its architecture and perceived high quality of life. But all it takes is one conversation with a local on the bus into the suburbs to see through the utopian facade.
“Yes, I like living here”, says Jacinta, a local woman sitting next to me on the bus. “It’s a good place to work and live. My family moved here in the 60s when the city was in construction. So for me, Brasilia is home. But it’s not really Brazil. It doesn’t have Brazil culture. It’s not same like Rio or Salvador.”
“Do you think Brasilia is safer compared to other cities in Brazil?”, I ask getting straight to the biggest question on my mind.
“It used to be, but now, many more people moved to Brasilia, many not uneducated and have no jobs. The crime here is bigger now. It’s not so safe anymore. You should not walk around alone, especially in centre. And always hide your purse and that big camera”
And she was right. At first, Brasilia did look picture perfect, but the second we stepped out of the rich residential areas and away from the tourist attractions, I felt uneasy. There it was, the dirt, the begging, and the onlookers that made me clinch to Max for safety.
Brasilia is now home to over 2.5 million people, a lot more then the 600,000 this city was designed for. The property costs in the residential areas have gone up high, forcing the lower-middle class to move out of the city and create pockets of poverty and slums on the outskirts.
Brazil’s economic development over the last 10-15 years has been nothing short of amazing, with 19 million people being lifted out of poverty since 2003. But the picture isn’t quite as perfect as it may be painted. 20% of people in Brazil still live below the poverty line, earning less than $2 a day. That’s almost 40 million people, equivalent to the size of the population of Argentina.
Brazil’s capital may be a picture perfect futuristic city, but it certainly isn’t an accurate representation of Brazil. If it wasn’t for the World Cup, I probably wouldn’t have chosen to visit Brasilia. But I’m glad I did.
Brasilia is what the future of Brazil could look like, but it’s not quite there yet. Let’s be optimistic and hope that in another 50 years it will.
To learn more about our my trip to Brazil, check out these posts: