Porto Alegre: Brazilian’s Capital Of Participatory Democracy


Porto Alegre, a Brazilian city with around 1.4 million inhabitants in the South of the country has, according to the UN, the best life quality of all big cities in Latin America. This is probably also because Porto Alegre is a wikicity! Click here to see an introduction video to the topic.

The project portoalegre.cc was mainly developed by Daniel Bittencourt (owner of  Lung) and his partner, Domingos Secco Jr., at the University of do Vale do Rio dos Sinos (Unisinos) close to Porto Alegre. With the support from people such as Hélio Sassen Paz, the project was already presented on big events in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, as well as the World Urban Forum in Italy in 2012.

What is a wikicity actually?

When governments do not build infrastructure, citizens can complain but cannot do much about it. They can pressure public officials and protest against proposed projects, but that is as far as citizen participation in city building normally goes: it is reactive, not proactive.

The model of a wikicity works differently. Citizens gain control over what happens in their cities. Local groups all around the world are taking initiative and are building the infrastructure that governments refused or hesitate to build. The platform’s operation is based on the methodology of social intelligence, composed of four axes: culture of citizenship, ethics of care, shared responsibility, and civic engagement. Through these joint axes, the team responsible for PortoAlegre.cc mobilises face-to-face actions and digital actions via social networks, volunteers’ meetings, and events that eventually combine reality and virtuality.

These groups are not aiming to replace government action. They are just trying to pressure authorities to act and direct their action towards livability. However, the most important effect of these actions is that they open a discussion, which did not exist previously, about who owns the city and who can improve it. These actions empower citizens to think about their environment and work on it, and that is ultimately more meaningful than the mere creation of infrastructure.

What has happened so far in Porto Alegre?

Since the establishment of the project in March 2011, more than 1,700 causes were registered in twelve categories: environment, entrepreneurship, urban mobility, technology, culture, sports and leisure, health and wellness, education, public safety, citizenship, urbanism, and tourism. As can be seen in the promotion video mentioned above, there were beaches cleaned jointly or zebra crossings painted onto streets. Moreover, it is a great opportunity for people of such a big city to overcome anonymity, get to know other people, and share stories.

The intention behind the whole project is to make the citizens of Porto Alegre feel co-responsible for the space they occupy in society. The governmental entities retain their constitutional duties, but rely on the help of citizens, the private sector, NGOs, universities, and research institutions. Thus, this project does not only have an impact on the concrete environment and style of the city, but also on the economy, culture, ecology, and politics of Porto Alegre.

Is a wikicity really for everyone?

The possibilities of such wikicities should not be overrated. They highly rely on a society that is media literate and has access to digital technologies. This might not always be the case (it is also not the case in Western countries, such as the Netherlands, for example) and therefore, such initiatives can also lead to further social exclusion. The big question here is: How to overcome this social or rather non-digital exclusion?

Maria Clara Jobst de Aquino Bittencourt, Content Manager of portoalegre.cc explains that they acknowledge that some people lack the access to digital technologies, but that they see a huge number of initiatives addressing this issue. One of the ways that PortoAlegre.cc attempts to overcome this sort of exclusion is by establishing partnerships with other private and public projects and initiatives to spread the methodology around the world and encourage the development of wikicities.

In addition, there are projects by Lung targetting schools and universities. Through workshops, the aim is to educate students from these institutions to use these tools in their communities. The purpose is to stimulate co-creation around positive and negative points of view for solutions within a particular region or locality. In 2012, they realised several daily workshops with more than 200 people, in a partnership with the City Hall of Porto Alegre. Hence, in this way more people of different neighborhoods in the city were engaged to use the platform according to Maria Clara Jobst de Aquino Bittencourt.
To sum up, Lung and the project of portoalegre.cc take social exclusion into consideration and are aware of the fact that the success of their projects highly depends on providing the possibility to participate to everyone.

Another example of a wikicity is Amsterdam.


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