Ecozona: Transforming Public Space Through Participatory Urbanism

Project name Ecozona
Location Joaquim Ferreira da Luz Square and surroundings in Santa Tereza neighborhood, city of Belo Horizonte, Brazil
Period of time of experiment’s implementation May 12 to 15, 2021 (4 days)
Stakeholders involved Public authorities, private university, civil society, local initiatives, and international NGOs and partners.

Source: Elaborated by the author

The project “Ecozona” in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, sought to apply traffic calming strategies and bicycle mobility combined with the redesign of a street segment into a colorful and vibrant square for people. The urban regeneration project as a whole had two focuses of intervention: 1) create bicycle accessibility to the neighborhood and 2) build a permanent open street for people. The first, a bike path was created, connecting the existing bike path infrastructure of one of the most important avenues in the city (Avenida dos Andradas) to the main access to the Santa Tereza neighborhood (José Maria Torres Leal viaduct). Also featuring a shared path signposted as a cycling route. The endpoint of the first is where the second part of the intervention begins: Joaquim Ferreira da Luz square, which received the Ecozona.

Register of the area before the implementation of the Ecozona project in February 2021. Source: Trevisan, 2021.

Source: Diagram adapted from França, 2022.

Diagram of the urban regeneration project. Source: Adapted from França, 2022.

The project was conceived during the Covid-19 pandemic as a low-cost and temporary intervention, driven by an iterative development process and a collaborative effort between the government, local and international partners, and civil society. The design included temporary and fixed urban furniture, the use of colorful resources to draw attention to the new space, and also to delimit the intervention space.

The Ecozona project implementation actively engaged civil society, residents, and visitors of Joaquim Ferreira da Luz Square. Despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the community meetings were successfully conducted remotely. A series of three open online meetings were organized, inviting users and volunteers to participate. The first meeting focused on presenting the intervention proposal to the community, communicating the chosen location, and gathering valuable input on the site selection. It also served as an opportunity to understand the community’s needs and preferences. In the second meeting, a preliminary urban design was unveiled, incorporating several elements that were discussed during the initial meeting. Subsequently, during the third meeting, the final project proposal was presented, encompassing an urban design that effectively balanced the demands expressed by civil society, budgetary constraints, and the possibilities of the project.

Source: Adapted from França, 2022.

As part of this proposal, a partnership was established with the academic Fab Lab and school office of the Architecture and Urbanism course of the University Center Newton Paiva, facilitating the on-site production of furniture made from rammed earth during the physical implementation phase (Queiroga Werkhaizer et al., 2021). The active involvement of volunteers in the furniture production process allowed for their valuable input regarding the placement of benches and tables, ensuring they aligned with the community’s desires and were conveniently situated in shaded areas.

[1]The aspect of bench and table formworks on May 2021. [2]Shaping the soil-cement mass into formwork on May 2021. [3]Manual pressing of the soil-cement mass into formwork on May 2021. [4]A piece of rammed earth furniture being unmolded on May 2021. Source: França, 2022

The public authorities also introduced cement-made plant pots to facilitate the closure of the square for vehicles and enhance its appeal as a pedestrian-friendly area. Furthermore, the project incorporated playful floor paintings, a small sports court, and a stage for hosting events. Additionally, in a subsequent implementation phase, rubberized flooring and a children’s play area were integrated into the project, as previously outlined in the final design shared with the community during the third online meeting. Some para cycles were also installed behind the stage.

Final aspect of the rammed earth furniture and urban
redesign intervention on May 2021. Source: França, 2022

Final aspect of the playful paintings on May 2021.
Source: França, 2022

Installation of rubberized floor and children’s playground on August 2021. Source: Photo by Janaina Dias Amorim.

Installation of para cycles in September 2021.
Source: Photo by Eveline Prado Trevisan.

Furthermore, it is important to emphasize the profound impact of the Ecozona project in building collective intelligence through collaborative construction tools and methodologies. Besides the pandemic did not allow full participation of volunteers, this experience successfully facilitated the integration between stakeholders, providing them with the opportunity to work together in a participatory process of creation, collective construction, and citizen empowerment.

Aerial view of the surroundings of Joaquim Ferreira da Luz square after the implementation of the Ecozona. May 2021. Source: Octopus Filmes, 2021.

Aerial view of the cycle lane on the viaduct that connects the pre-existing cycle network on the avenue (Avenida dos Andradas) to the Santa Tereza neighborhood and facilitates access to Joaquim Ferreira da Luz square. May 2021. Source: Octopus Filmes, 2021.

Revitalization of Ecozona’s furniture in 2023. Source: Photographic collection of the author. July 2023.

Tiffany Nicoli França, the author of this article, volunteering in the Ecozona intervention in Belo Horizonte, Brazil

References:

França, T. N. F. L. (2022) Urbanismo Tático aplicado às Zonas 30, ciclofaixas temporárias e Ecozona em Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais. Universidade Federal de Viçosa. doi: 10.47328/ufvbbt.2022.367.

Octopus Filmes (2021) Ecozona Santa Tereza. Brazil. Available at: https://youtu.be/EtQ5rbdVNi0.

Queiroga Werkhaizer, C. et al. (2021) ‘Ecozona30: rammed earth and digital fabrication for urban regeneration’, in Proceedings of the Fab 16 Research Papers Stream, Hogeschool Rotterdam. Rotterdam: Fab16, pp. 29–38. Available at: https://zenodo.org/record/5169824.

Trevisan, E. P. (2021) Ruas de estar: mobilidade e apropriação urbana. Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais. Available at: http://hdl.handle.net/1843/40264.

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