Estelita and the Horto d’el Ray

The Horto d'el Rey
The Horto d’el Rey

The last two cases that I’ve been investigating for my research are the Cais José Estelita in Recife and the Horto d’el Ray in Olinda.

The Estelita is an historical train yard located on a wharf or pier on in the São Jose neighborhood of Recife. It was established in the middle of the 19th century and helped facilitate the shipment of vast amounts of sugar across the world. Since long abandoned, in 2008 the land was illegally auctioned to a group of real estate investors that planned to build a series of 40-story towers that would dramatically change the skyline of Recife. In 2012, a group of concerned citizens formed the Grupo Direitos Urbanos (Urban Rights Group), which has since staged an occupation–OcupeEstelita–of the land. The city of Recife approved the construction of the towers in 2012, but according to Grupo Direitos Urbanos, there were many steps in a legally mandated approval process that were not followed (e.g., environmental review) and the process was not transparent. The controversy over the construction of the towers has divided many people in the city over what should be done. Because of the environmental/historical issues involved, the Brazilian federal government (e.g., IPHAN) is also involved.

The Estelita has many elements that would be important for my study, including motivated stakeholders and a significant problem that needs to be addressed. On the other hand, the potential number of stakeholders could be quite vast, essentially encompassing the whole of the city. Stakeholder engagement at this level may be outside of my capabilities, especially within the four-month period of time in which I have to conduct my work. I also have some concerns about the political issues involved in this project, as there are some powerful forces at work and a lot of money that is involved. My primary goal is to make sure the environment in which my students and I are working will be safe. (In 2014, work began illegally on demolishing structures at the Estelita, which was documented by a protester who tried to stop the demolition; the protester was then assaulted.)

The Horto d'el Rey
The Horto d’el Rey

The last case study option is the Horto d’el Ray, a 14-hectare botanical garden which is located near the Nossa Senhora da Conceição convent in Olinda. It is the second botanical garden established in Brazil. Its proximity to the historic core of Olinda, which is on the World Heritage list, means that the garden is considered part of the historic landscape of the city. It was established in 1811 to investigate which plants from other parts of the world could be acclimated to Brazil’s climate and many of the plant varieties that are now grown in Brazil can be traced this botanical garden. In the later part of the 19th century, the garden was sold to a private entity, and remains private property. A video (in Portuguese) can be viewed on YouTube.

Based on meetings with some of the experts and stakeholders in the area, it appears that the core of the original garden has survived relatively intact from its abandonment in the early part of the 19th century. Over time, however, the vegetation has overgrown, but some of the studies that I’ve seen indicate that many of the original plants remain here that were tested for Brazilian adaptation 200 years ago. Houses are being built in the northern part of the garden, a process the has accelerated recently, which threatens the overall integrity of the garden, however.

As a potential case study, Horto d’el Ray is the strongest one, primarily because of the excitement and interest that I have received from the stakeholders with whom I have met. The primary requirement for my study is that the community needs to have some kind of issue/problem that it want to solve and is actively seeking assistance. I do not want to come in to a community as an outside expert, proclaiming that I know what the community needs. My role is to have the community teach me (and the students who will be working with me) what they need and I will help facilitate a process where the community explores potential solutions that they, themselves, will create.

Dense vegetation growing in the Horto d'el Rey
Dense vegetation growing in the Horto d’el Rey

Some of the stakeholders associated with the Horto d’el Ray are the members of the neighborhoods surrounding the garden, including the communities building houses in the north of the botanical garden, the owner of the property, SODECA (Society for the Defense of the High City of Olinda), the municipality of Olinda, the Irmandade da Igreja de Rosário dos Homens Pretos, and the Associação Horto d’el Rey, among many others that I have yet to identify. (One of the first tasks of the community I work with is to help identify stakeholders.)

Stay tuned!

Inside the Horto d'el Rey
Inside the Horto d’el Rey

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