Pedra Branca: A Different Kind of Place
By DAVE ANDERSON
Photos by: Caio Cezar & Cristina Estefano
Strolling down the main street in Pedra Branca, lined with shops, restaurants and beautifully designed benches, felt out of place. After all, I was in Brazil.
The street had no curbs and was covered in granite tiles of two different sizes – smaller in the street and larger on the sidewalks – so that there is a visual as well as sensory separation. Driving over the smaller tiles in the street produces vibrations felt in the car and the large tiles covering the extra-wide sidewalks provide a smooth surface for walking and cycling. That kind of meticulous urban planning and attention to detail one would expect to find in Stockholm, maybe, or some funny-named city in Switzerland.
In Brazil, most foreigners arrive through Sao Paulo or Rio De Janeiro and are immediately greeted by chaotic traffic, unkempt sidewalks, trash strewn everywhere – well, an inescapable evidence of inadequate infrastructure planning.
A planned neighborhood in Palhoca, Greater Florianopolis Area, it is the first project in Latin America to participate in the Climate Positive Development Program, which is a collaboration between the William J. Clinton Foundation’s and the U.S. Green Building Council. The program supports the development of large-scale urban projects that demonstrate cities can grow in ways that are positive to the climate.
Cities now house more than half of the world’s population, and while they occupy 2 percent of the globe’s land mass, cities consume 70 percent of global energy and produce 70 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. If anything meaningful is going to happen on climate in the short term, Mr. Clinton likes to say, it has to start in the cities.
As one of the initial 16 Climate Positive real estate developments on six continents, Pedra Branca demonstrates Climate Positive strategies, striving to reduce the amount of on-site carbon dioxide emissions to below zero and setting a compelling environmental and economic example for cities to follow.
Betting the Farm On It
Initially a farmland of 250 hectares (about 620 acres), this project was born to an idea of creating a livable and sustainable city. “Not quite in one shot,” said the CEO of Pedra Branca, Valerio Gomes. “The concept evolved over time. We started 15 years ago and it’s probably going to take another 15 to complete it. It’s a long term project, a continuous work in progress.”
Mr. Gomes, coming from an influential Brazilian family of Portobello Ceramica, the Brazilian ceramic tile market leader, has assembled a group of investors and employed an international team of advisers, urban planners and famous architects to shape up and implement the project. As a result, the development was planned in accordance with the New Urbanism principles, a people-first community where you can ‘live, work, study and play’ with minimal use of cars.
The ‘study’ part was taken care of early on, by donating a piece of land to UNISUL State University to build a campus on it, which in turn attracted other likeminded businesses and made the neighborhood grow with the desirable demographics of 20-35 year-olds, “the people who want to change the planet” as Mr. Gomes puts it.
The buildings are constructed with low environmental impact materials and techniques, low energy consumption and low CO2 generation. The projects also have natural lighting and ventilation, solar heating, rainwater storage and many other items included in the LEED rating system, the world’s leading certifier of green buildings.
Quality Public Spaces
Some of the buildings are of mixed use, residential and commercial, and special attention was given to the relation between the apartments on the first floor and the sidewalk, or ‘street level living’ – all of which bring the sense of community, as well as enhance the safety of public spaces. Bicycles are the preferred mode of transportation, but there is also a car-share program in the works.
“Sustainability and quality in public spaces is the key factor to adding value to your real estate business. It’s not a work of science, to give a public space design, the care you would give to the design of your own house or apartment”. Mr. Gomes said, as we walked down the main street, measuring his words with subtlety of a seasoned public office holder, all the while trying to subdue how passionate he really is about ‘his’ city.
But as a small group of children on bicycles came around the corner and rode past us, his face lit up with excitement, “Film that! Take a photo of that! That’s what this is all about.”
Dave Anderson is a freelance writer reporting from South America on business, science and tech