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Urban Trees and Urban Environmental History in a Latin American City: Belo Horizonte, 1897-1964

Regina Horta Duarte


Global Environment 3 (2009): 120–153

This article deals with the city of Belo Horizonte, founded in 1897 in south-eastern Brazil, and designed after European models of what would constitute a “civilized” town in terms of sanitation and hygiene. Over the decades, however, its inhabitants have been confronted with challenges and obstacles determined by the specific historical context of Latin America. I focus here on an emblematic event, viz. the cutting down of 350 Ficus benjamina planted along the principal avenue of Belo Horizonte, just before the 1964 military coup d’état. This decision split the inhabitants and took on emotional, urban, social and, above all, political significance. Rather than restricting myself to an analysis of this case study, I want to use it as a springboard for a discussion on the relationship between nature and society in Latin American urban environments. The case of Belo Horizonte exemplifies how studies of this theme must necessarily take into account the political and historical peculiarities of Latin American societies, and how these societies are enmeshed in transnational networks whose political and social significance is manifested in phenomena such as the acclimatization of ficus trees, the introduction of sparrows, and the attack of thrips.
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