Today, in Pernambuco, few things better represent the social, economic and political significance of the term “underdevelopment” than the urban revitalization project known as “New Recife” at the José Estelita Pier.
In fact, the word “development” expresses one of the most contested concepts in the social sciences. Today, even economic theory prefers other words and criteria, such as “economic growth,” which avoids the vagueness and imprecision of the idea of development.
Today, the idea of development has become one of those old conceptual artifacts that is regularly used, but has largely lost its original meaning. Few believe that one can devise a model to follow and follow only that standard. There is nothing more problematic than notions of development that address different realities under one criterion, usually taken from a particular context, to be transposed into other realities.
Many economic theorists realized the fact that some institutions were able to generate long-term economic growth by chance, but there was not a single policy that institutions should pursue. The problem was more a matter of form than of substance: the right institutions tend to produce appropriate responses depending on the context. And in fact, institutions should avoid only following solutions built by experts and technocrats.
Furthermore, economists started noticing a strong correlation between economic growth and institutions capable of producing social inclusion and political inclusion. The greater the ability to produce inclusion in decision-making and include citizens in the production of art, culture, education, etc., the more that social institutions would be able to thus produce economic growth.
Today there is a strong consensus that the problem of development has nothing to do with a certain type of economic plan and much less with the idea of following a model country that is supposedly more advanced than the others.
Instead, it is about producing institutions that enable individuals to decide what to do with their lives, individually and collectively and to build local realities of political, economic, artistic, cultural and educational inclusion that can reproduce and create a dynamic and flexible economy.
The Underdevelopment of “New Recife”
In this context, it is not hard to see how cities become central. They are the stages of the most important events, as well as the political, economic and cultural decisions that influence the planet today. And therefore, they are perhaps the central locus of those who reproduce the dynamics of social inclusion and exclusion. Cities are privileged spaces of production and creation, in various areas of social life. They are also critical to economic growth.
And at that point, new theories and conceptions of “development” seem to converge: the cities that are most able to become inclusive and attract cultural and economic diversity tend to also be the most economically important. But just as there is no one model of society being followed, there is no ideal city.
If we think of Brazil, we could say that Recife does not need to become more or less like Paris, London, Miami or New York to become developed. That’s not it. A city becomes rich, in various senses, as she can attract creative people, and fix various social dynamics. For it is these dynamics that make a city a material-economic, social and cultural space.
If, on the one hand, the ideas of development and underdevelopment were challenged, new development theories linking economic growth to the existence of certain types of institutions can tell us a little about the mechanisms related to urban life that keep populations in situations of poverty and suffering and those who are able to create inclusive dynamics.
If the city is the space of the most important social processes of today, urban structures based on inclusive schemes are directly related to these growth trends and social, cultural and even economic prosperity.
And that brings us to the direct relationship between the New Recife Project and the idea of development. By now, everyone knows what constitutes the New Recife city plan. The plan reproduces a known logic of exclusion and division of the city between those who are part of the economic, cultural and political class, while other classes are excluded.
The New Recife plan isolates spaces for those who can afford them and excludes those who can not; it reduces the common public spaces for social exchange and mixing. Due to the unfortunate design partnerships of real estate companies, public spaces are reduced again to traffic routes that are, again, privatized by automobiles.
The venture project insists on an urban logic taken to exclude in the name of protection. It reproduces social divisions rather than fighting them. Above all, it is the result of a construction process of the urban space that does not take into account collective interests, which is not based on space-sharing and conviviality. When we think of development as a result of the dynamics of inclusion that compose a flexible, dynamic and prosperous society, it is evident that nothing better represents underdevelopment, today, in Recife, than the New Recife Project.
What type of economic development plan does your city follow?
Original article,originally published in Portuguese, can be found here.
Credits: Images and data linked to sources.