The Novo Recife development envisages the construction of twelve luxury residential towers forty or fifty storeys high in a prime seafront site. True to their name, they would reshape the skyline of the city. This symbolic aspect is congruent with the specifically urbanistic objections that might be raised against the proposal. On a local level, there is no integration with the existing area, on which the towers will turn their backs, missing an opportunity to bring new life to their run-down surroundings. Mixed use, with shops, bars, restaurants — in short, lively streets — and residential units of various sizes aimed at diverse age and income groups would make a contribution to the city as a whole that uniform luxury cannot. Recife is not currently an attractive or inclusive urban environment, and this project gives paramount expression to the factors that make this so, setting the seal on the arrogant dominion of wealth. On the level of politics, this corresponds to the absence of the state, whose institutions (whose role should be to regulate the market) are bought and sold with campaign donations and through other forms of corruption. Even if governance improves in future, these terrible towers will be the monument to a naked abuse of economic power that has nothing new about it at all, in the tradition of the sugar cane plantation and its slaves. The very architecture alludes to this in the division between “casa grande” and “senzala” — the master’s house and the negro quarters. Those within the walls are separately, privately secure in a comfort achieved by excluding the many without, rejecting the idea of the common good, and therefore the city itself, reduced to a dangerous wilderness to be shut out and put out of mind while contemplating the unpopulated vistas of the ocean.
The concept has been fancifully transferred to other locations to bring home the sheer effrontery of the project:
As the World Cup kicks off, the site is home to an occupy-style encampment in protest. Let us hope the opportunity to build something better here is not lost.