The Black city:

Modernisation and fugitivities in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil

Glória Cecília dos Santos Figueiredo, Brais Estévez and Thaís Troncon Rosa

Published in Issue 2.2 // The Long Read

Keywords: Black city; anti-Blackness infrastructures; uncommons; urban collaborations; Salvador, Bahia

Abstract:

Salvador is a Black city. Besides being a place mainly inhabited by a population which is racialised as Black, any urban phenomenon in Salvador is inseparable from the complexities and violence typical of the sites of racial encounter. In this article we explore two collaborative experiences that brought together the authors and different grassroots movements around two urban struggles in the city. The first experience unpacks the 30-year conflicts surrounding the Programme of Recuperation of the Historic Centre of Salvador, where thousands of people were evicted to turn a stigmatised Black neighbourhood into a scenario for cultural heritage enjoyment and tourism. The second experience uncovers plans underway to replace the Subúrbio railway with a monorail, a project which will negatively affect several Black neighbourhoods in Salvador and its metropolitan region and hundreds of thousands of Black daily life practices. These serve as just two examples of urban initiatives cyclically carried out by Salvador’s elites and official spokespeople which, under the discourse of modernisation, always threaten the improvised ways of inhabiting the Black city. We argue that the urban struggles that we analyse in this article trace a continuity with the historical struggles for the affirmation of Black life within sites of racial violence. For this reason, this article establishes a dialogue between urban studies and Black theory, through ideas of Black city and Black fugitivity.

Glória Cecília dos Santos Figueiredo is an urban planner and lecturer at the Faculty of Architecture of the Federal University of Bahia (FAUFBA). She is a member of the Lugar Comum research group. Her work focus on collective practices, instruments for collective action, and the right to the city. In 2016, she coordinated the project “Popular Audit in the Historic Centre of Salvador” in collaboration with the Association of Residents and Friends of the Historic Centre of Salvador (AMACH). She also integrates the Pipoco Platform (https://www.pipocoufba.com/), a collaborative online platform for the mapping of urban struggles in Salvador, Bahia. In the midst of a pandemic collapse, she is a visiting professor at The Bartlett Development Planning Unit at University College London, UK.

Brais Estévez is an urban geographer who is currently working as an independent researcher. His work deals with issues that range from the politics of public spaces, to urban controversies, new forms of citizen protest, and the crisis of democracy in the city. He is a member of the Geography and Gender Research Group at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. Between 2017 and 2019 he worked in Salvador, Bahia (Brazil), as a Postdoc researcher in the Geography department of UFBA. During his Postdoc, he participated in the “Popular Audit in the Historic Centre of Salvador.”

Thaís Rosa is an architect and urban planner. She is a lecturer at the Faculty of Architecture of the Federal University of Bahia (FAUFBA), where she integrates the Residência AU+E – Specialization Course in Technical Assistance, Housing and the Right to the City, and coordinates the Liminal Urbanities studies group. She has worked in collaborative projects and researches in working-class neighbourhoods, slums and outskirts, being engaged in collectives such as TEIA—Casa de Criação and Usina—Centro de Trabalhos para o Ambiente Habitado. Currently, she works on contemporary cities and their margins, being especially interested in issues of housing policies and daily urban struggles, but also in collective urban practices and memories, gender politics, issues inequality and urban difference.

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