Century-Old Trees Face the Axe in Brazil

Residents in Porto Alegre are threatening to climb and occupy century-old trees in the southern Brazilian city to save them from being axed for an expansion project in preparation for the 2014 World Cup.

Porto Alegre is one of the twelve main cities in Brazil to host the premier international football event, held every four years. The city is known for the green canopy its old towering trees form over the streets. In fact, Porto Alegre's Gonçalo de Carvalho has been called the “most beautiful street” in the world.

On 6 February 2013, the City Council [pt] made the shocking move to chop down 115 trees on Edvaldo Pereira Paiva Avenue, between the historic Gasômetro Power Plant (now a cultural centre) and the Pinheiro Borda Avenue Flyover in the city centre.

However, the plans could not be completed because a group of residents stopped the City Council Environment Department (Secretaria Municipal do Meio Ambiente – SMAM) [pt] by climbing the remaining trees in front of the power plant.

On Twitter, <a href="https://twitter.com/zecaleal">@zecaleal wrote</a> [pt]: "Gasômetro devastated by out-of-control tree lopping...Mockery and cynicism from the Environment Department".

On Twitter, @zecaleal wrote [pt]: “Gasômetro devastated by out-of-control tree lopping…Mockery and cynicism from the Environment Department”.

Cutting down the century-old trees is part of the works to expand Edvaldo Pereira Paiva Avenue, a project for the 2014 World Cup. According to the Public Traffic and Transport Agency (Empresa Pública de Transporte Circulação – EPTC), the project involves expanding the roadway by 5.8 kilometres between the Gasômetro Power Plant and Pinheiro Borda Avenue.

Dudupruvinelli1 [pt] posted a film on YouTube showing the trees on the ground along the avenue:

The project to reconstruct this stretch of Edvaldo Pereira Paiva will cost more than 22.5 million reais (11.1 million US dollars), according to the Council's Cup Transparency Portal [pt].

Civil Society Mobilises

On hearing of the measure, a group of opposition parties at the City Council [pt] called a meeting with SMAM through the Committee on Health and the Environment. At the start of the evening, Mayor José Fortunati ordered a halt to the felling. Regardless, the representative made the controversial statement that “no-one uses the Gasômetro trees”, a line which has been ironised in this film on the YouTube profile tonpoa [pt]:

On 19 February, a public hearing was held at the Public Prosecutor's Office. Civil society and developers asked the city administration about the option to construct access at tree level so that they would not have to be cut down, a proposal which was dismissed by the EPTC “due to the high cost and risk of major flooding at [Lake] Guaíba”.

The portal Sul 21 reported that there would be provision for compensation of “400 seedlings in the city”, a figure that was increased by the Council a month later during the public hearing at the City Hall on 18 March. On 23 March, an event was held to plant the new seedlings at Harmony Park, near the Gasômetro, as stated on the blog Porto Imagem [pt – all links]:

Ao todo, para compensar a remoção de 115 vegetais, está previsto o plantio de 401 mudas, além do projeto de arborização e paisagismo da avenida que deve viabilizar mais 2 mil árvores ao longo do trecho duplicado. Todas as mudas plantadas pela Prefeitura são nativas, ao contrário da maioria das que estão sendo removidas, classificadas tecnicamente como exóticas e invasoras.

In total, to compensate for removing 115 trees, 401 seedlings are scheduled to be planted, in addition to the project to green and landscape the avenue, which should see more than 2,000 trees along the extension. All seedlings planted by the Council are natives, in contrast to most being removed, which are technically classified as exotic and invasive.

In his blog Rendering Freedom, architect and town planner Anthony Ling analyses the works within the context of “the Council's planning for the World Cup, (…) a one-off event full of contradictions and suspect actions in public management” [pt – all links]. Ling confronts the vision of the city's growth and questions if “the city's quality will increase proportionally with the increased speed of vehicle traffic on the street”. On the other hand, although he is against the project, Ling also criticises the goals of the different protest movements divided between preserving green spaces and the use of public funds:

O problema do debate entre “árvores” e “desenvolvimento”, no entanto, normalmente é uma visão distorcida do que está em questão. Os resultados da turma que é a favor da obra não resultam em desenvolvimento, nem a defesa de quem é contra a obra é necessariamente pelas árvores dos locais.

The problem with the debate between ‘trees’ and ‘development’, however, is it tends to be a distorted view of what is at issue. The results of the group for the works do not lead to development, nor does the resistance of those against the works necessarily favour the trees on the sites.

Opposing what he calls “planning heading for the ‘end'”, Ling proposes “relaxing current regulations” to encourage good use of the Guaíba Shore:

…transformando-a não em um espaço de passagem de veículos mas em um espaço de uso, o que uma incrível orla merece. Assim, minha crítica não é em relação à mudança ou às árvores per se, mas à forma “de cima para a baixo” de que o projeto está desenrolando, mantendo as restrições atuais sem atender demandas nem sociais, nem de mercado.

…transforming it not into a place for vehicles to pass through but a useful space, what an incredible shore deserves. My criticism does not relate to change or trees per se,  but the ‘top-down’ way the project is unfolding, maintaining the current restrictions without meeting either social or market demands.

Gasômetro Park

""Um das coisas que mais gosto nessa cidade (Porto Alegre) é passear por lugares assim. Infelizmente as pessoas em Natal não tem a menor consciência do quanto a preservação e o plantio de árvores pode fazer uma grande diferença na paisagem urbana." Foto de Kênia Castro, no Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

In the caption: “preserving and planting trees can make a huge difference in the urban landscape”. Photo from Kênia Castro, on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

In a meeting with councillors before the public hearing at the City Council on 18 March, Jacqueline Sanchotene, president of the pro-Gasômetro movement Movimento Viva Gasômetro [pt], brought up the project “to create the Gasômetro Linear Park” initiated in 2007 by architect Rogério Dal Molin, which could conflict with the Council's current plans. With a proposal to lower the road and extend the squares, it is intended [pt] that Gasômetro Park connect with the Guaíba Shore, “providing the population direct access to the Gasômetro Power Plant”.

As provided for in the Master Plan review of 22 July, 2010, by Supplementary Law 646 [PDF – pt], the green area will link Julio Mesquita and Brigadeiro Sampaio Squares, in addition to the Gasômetro Power Plant and Mauá Wharf, which also has a revitalisation project underway. However, the law states that this project should have been completed within 18 months – by January 2012. To date, neither the project, nor specific law governing it, have been presented.

Despite the different protests against the felling, at the end of the public hearing Deputy Mayor Sebastião Melo announced that it would resume, since contracts for the works had already been entered into.

Nevertheless, he also promised to create a working group to implement Gasômetro Park, which ended up being formed on 20 March with representatives from the five civil society entities that form the Council Committee for Urban and Environmental Development (Conselho Municipal de Desenvolvimento Urbano e Ambiental – CMDUA): the Rio Grande do Sul Environmental Protection Association (Associação Gaúcha de Proteção ao Meio Ambiente – AGAPAN), the Brazilian Institute of Architects (IAB-RS), the Union of Porto Alegre Residents’ Associations (União das Associações de Moradores de Porto Alegre – Uampa) and General Regional Planning 1 (Região Geral de Planejamento 1 – RP 1) [pt – all links].

In spite of the park, Porto Alegre residents continue to lament the tree felling.

On Twitter, citizens use the hashtag #SOSArvoresPOA to show their indignation, like Cintia Barenho (@CintiaBarenho) who stated that “it looks like we'll have to climb them again to protect them”, and Leonardo Frota (@leonardo_frota1, pt- all links) who wrote:

Atitude lamentável da @prefeitura_poa e Vice Prefeito @sebastiaomelo em manter a derrubada das árvores na região do Gasômetro.

The attitude of the Porto Alegre Council (@prefeitura_poa) and Deputy Mayor @sebastiaomelo is deplorable in continuing to cut down trees in the Gasômetro area [pt – all links].

An online petition [pt] has been created “to stop the tree felling and recognise Gasômetro Park” and had more than 1,200 signatories on 25 March.


Join the conversation

Authors, please log in »


  • All comments are reviewed by a moderator. Do not submit your comment more than once or it may be identified as spam.
  • Please treat others with respect. Comments containing hate speech, obscenity, and personal attacks will not be approved.