Living in cities built on geographical slopes is a unique and challenging experience. While these areas can offer panoramic views and impressive landscapes, the steep topography presents a series of challenges in terms of urban planning, structural safety, and socio-environmental risks. These cities require special care and solutions in the design of streets, buildings, and infrastructure, as well as an understanding that, for reasons of environmental safety and population well-being, not all areas should be occupied.
In urban terms, designing streets and buildings securely on rugged terrain is essential to ensure structural stability and the safety of residents. Streets need to be planned considering the slope of the terrain, rainwater drainage, and accessibility for pedestrians and vehicles. This necessitates resources such as the implementation of gentle curves, effective drainage systems, and appropriate retaining structures, especially to mitigate the risk of landslides and collapses. Buildings also require special attention, with solid foundations, flexible structures, and suitable construction materials to ensure resistance to gravitational forces and ground displacements.
Another major urban challenge for hillside cities is transportation systems. Designing access roads, such as roads and tunnels, requires special considerations to deal with sharp curves and the terrain's slope. Public transportation, such as buses and trams, often faces difficulties operating on narrow or steep streets, necessitating adaptive solutions to ensure accessibility and service efficiency. Implementing vertical transportation systems, such as elevators, funiculars, cable cars, and stairs, is a strategy adopted by many cities. Notable examples include the Complexo do Alemão Cable Car in Rio de Janeiro and the Metrocable in Medellín.
It is important to reiterate that not all hillside areas are suitable for urban occupation. Unsuitable soils and unstable or excessively steep slopes pose imminent and significant risks to residents' safety, often making their occupation dangerous and not recommended. Furthermore, deforestation and the removal of natural vegetation from these areas exacerbate the situation, contributing to landslides, erosion, and exposure to disasters, significant concerns in these areas.
However, these hillside areas often attract low-income populations seeking affordable housing in urban areas, in a process that more broadly relates to housing shortages and social inequality in cities. Frequently, this occupation occurs on unstable and unsuitable land for construction, increasing the risks of landslides and other disasters, especially during periods of heavy rainfall. Sadly, news reports covering these tragedies are all too common in many cities, highlighting the discussion on the social and racial differentiation of these impacts on the population.
Thus, the urban occupation of hillsides represents a complex and multifaceted challenge involving construction, environmental, safety, and social justice issues. Urban design challenges include the need to develop adaptive structures, efficient and creative transportation systems, and containment strategies to ensure residents' safety and quality of life. The lack of adequate planning and effective housing policies often results in poor conditions and significant vulnerabilities for the communities living in these areas.
Therefore, governments, architects, urban planners, engineers, and other sectors of civil society need to work together to develop integrated solutions that promote safety, social inclusion, and resilience in hillside urban communities. This approach is fundamental for creating fairer, more sustainable, and more inclusive cities for all their inhabitants.