Streets and Social Infrastructure in Brasilia

A city without street corners and limited sidewalks can be difficult to conceptualize and poses several questions, such as: how have views of infrastructure played a role in creating such a city and how is the city’s social infrastructure affected? Sections of Brasilia, Brazil’s capital, adopted a modernist infrastructural design of high speed avenues, roundabouts, and limited sidewalks that all impact the social infrastructure of the city. This design and its effects can be viewed by employing Harvey and Knox’s (2012) method of focusing on the promise of speed, political integration, and economic connectivity.

Brasilia’s efforts to modernize the city by decreasing travel time are not unusual as speed is readily associated with modernity. As stated by Harvey and Knox, ‘Infrastructures like roads and railways are in many ways an archetypal technology of post-enlightenment, emancipatory modernity’ (2012: 523). The city’s adoption of modernist ideals resulted in high speed avenues and a lack of curbs and safe sidewalks that make it incredibly dangerous for residents to travel by walking (Holston 2005: 249). Without pedestrians or active street life, the city has earned the ‘reputation of a city that ‘lacks human warmth’” (Holston 2005: 250). In vigorously applying the concept that speedy infrastructure increases the city’s status of modernity, the social infrastructure of the city has been greatly impacted.

Brasilia was intentionally designed to change urban life (Holston 2005: 249), although the specific political goals remain unclear. The planners of the city have demonstrated political integration by directly altering the behaviour of the residents through the implementation of a modernist approach to cities. In changing the city’s transportation infrastructure, unsafe conditions for pedestrians have inverted the city’s spaces. In a preindustrial city, streets are open public spaces that welcome strolling, window shopping and casual meet-ups between friends; however, in the modern city of Brasilia, these spaces have been eliminated. Again, the exact intention remains unclear, but the modernist design can be used as a political method to improve public health because it removes one of the main causes: the pedestrians (Holston 2005: 248).

As Brasilia decreased travel time it is arguable that it succeeded in economic connectivity simply through speed, but other economic elements vital to the city are also altered. Brasilia’s full embrace of modern architecture resulted the elimination of what is termed the ‘corridor street,’ a street lined with continuous store fronts and building facades (Holston 2005: 245). Instead of ‘corridor streets,’ Brasilia’s shops are removed from the street by several feet, have very few front facing windows, and their entrances can be located at the top of a small flight of stairs (Holston 2005: 272). Consequently, activities such as window shopping, or strolling down the street and casually popping into stores, is made unappealing and could contribute to a decrease in profits for local stores. Brasilia’s attempt at achieving modernity by adopting a modernist approach to cities highlights speed, political integration and economic connectivity but also greatly alters the city’s basic social infrastructure.



Brasilia Image. South America Travel., accessed 25 January 2017.

Harvey, P. & Knox, H. (2012). ‘The Enchantments of Infrastructure.’ Mobilities 7(4): 521-536.

Holston, J. (2005). The Modernist City and the Death of the Street. In Theorizing the City: The New Urban Anthropology Reader. S.M. Low, ed. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press. Pp 245-276.




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