top of page

2. be aware

2.1. cities of slow time

2.1.1. [how is a city born?]

To every built space, there is an attached cultural perception, whether from the observer or of those who compose and build that space. The epistemology of creating and thinking cities has a certain opacity, which makes us look at the origins of this invention, more human than any other.

The history of the formation of cities is, in general, a long one. It is said that the oldest settlement in the world and still inhabited is Jericho, in the West Bank. Ruins of settlements over 11,000 years old attest to this scenario, in addition to the buildings carved in stone and sand, which express static in the face of the silent work of time.

In 1961, Lewis Mumford (1895-1990) investigated in his book entitled The City in History, thousands of years of memory involving houses, streets, walls, squares and the evolution of urban layout. Richard Sennett, in Flesh and Stone (1994), addressed the bodily experience in urban space, outlining an intricate plot between physical and sensorial complexion in the formation of cities. This work is not intended to do so.

The epistemology of creating and thinking cities has a certain opacity, which makes us look at the origins of this invention, more human than any other. In addition to overlapping functions, offers of services and infrastructure, the city can be decoded as a palimpsest: a kind of parchment or papyrus used to write and then scrape off the ink to reuse it, even if it were possible to glimpse traces of what was once recorded. This is how cities are, juxtaposition of multiple elements. They became a palimpsest, with increasingly contrasting literary quality. 

"Over time and through use, architectural settings accrue legibility as they chronicle the patterns of life they accommodate. Time does not pass in architecture, it accumulates. If it passed, it would leave no traces - but the reverse is true. Everything around us exhibits signs of its history, its development or deterioration. All physical things, especially bodies and buildings, offer themselves to visual experience as sedimentations of actions and behaviors. If a face is recognizable, it is because time has written onto its skin, or surface, signs of the ways it has conducted itself in the world."

― Leatherbarrow, D. (2009). Architecture oriented otherwise. Chronicle Books.

André Corboz, in 1983, wrote that “The land, so heavily charged with traces and with past readings, seems very similar to a palimpsest.". The transforming processes of time and history, buildings, landscapes and objects, relationships built and collapsed, are topics that intrigue me. As in geology, with its processes of accumulation and stratification of the earth, we have in cities an incessant restructuring of its elements. The palimpsest reflects a continuous process of rewriting over time, linking the past with the present and the future.

For Santos (1994), form and time are the abstractions that govern the elaboration of the urban history. We have the city, as the particular and the concrete, and the urban, as the general and the external. The urban organism is a space-time mediation and, thinking in the trinitarian way of Léfèbvre, it can be deciphered in three dimensions: symbolic (poiesis), paradigmatic (technè) and syntagmatic (praxis).

The concrete space is traversed by fixed and flows, instruments and actions. The variety of things and processes is included in the dimension and perspective of time and space. Santos (1994) understands by time the “course, the succession of events and their plot” and by space “the medium, the material place of the possibility of events”. At each movement, at each moment, these two aspects of time and space, in the world, walk and change each other.

Hybrid and heterogeneous, cities are meeting places with intricate networks of connections, which explain, in part, the urbanization process. When several networks operate in the same area, population attraction is generated and more people feel invited to this meeting point, which is the city. Consequently, new networks are created, increasing the range of possibilities within the city, making it attractive and unpredictable.

In the Middle Age, a simple grouping of houses could be considered a city and living in these places came to be seen as a true act of freedom and breaking with the feudal community. According to Adler Castro in his article “O muro que cerca é o mesmo que liberta" (The world that surrounds is the same that frees), the expression Stadtluft macht frei nach Jahr und Tag (“The city air frees you after a year and a day”), also known simply as “The city air frees you”, used to be a popular saying in certain regions of present-day Germany and alluded to the right of serfs who managed to escape to a city, to be released from their obligations after a year and a day, that is, away from the application of manorial law.

Thus, during the transition from feudalism to capitalism, we see that cities emerge as a place of free work, with the borough as their basic unit of labor, where artisans, bricklayers, tailors and merchants can carry out their activities with some independence. Agriculture is also responsible for the rebirth (post feudalism) of cities, given the food production surplus, which led to the development of other trades and migration to the city. The intense exchange between traders and other civilizations, with the period of the great navigations and the establishment of colonies, in the most diverse continents, considerably expanded this scenario.

The city, in a globalized world, is the world itself. For modern man, the instantaneity of actions and methods puts in check his apprehension of concrete and immediate reality, at the same time that transforms the city into a space for constant learning and re-education, for the creation of non-obvious connections, in a plural space, in which synchronies and diachronies occur concomitantly.

1. Corboz, A. (1983). The land as palimpsest. Diogenes, 31(121), 12-34.

2. SANTOS, Milton. Técnica, espaço, tempo. São Paulo: Hucitec, v. 3, 1994.

3. LÉFÈBVRE, Henri. A Revolução Urbana. Belo Horizonte: EDUFMG, 2004.

4. CASTRO, Adler Homero Fonseca. O muro que cerca é o mesmo que liberta. Medievalis, v. 2, n. 2, 2015.

2.1.3. [for being so inventive and seeming continuous]

time, time, time, time

The infinite narratives of causality determine the present event, the past event and the future event within the space-time mesh. The perception of time accompanies the human being since the beginning and the nature of this philosophical approach involves the veracity or not of this event, even the implications associated with its irreversibility.

When we talk about urban social time, it is worth emphasizing the emergence of the clock, this instrument of somatic functioning, which dominates the city landscape and disciplines the working bodies, being initially allocated in the most strategic points of cities, such as in railway stations and squares. The factory whistles demarcated the shifts of labor, characterizing the order of a typically urban life. Clock time is thus a historical construction, designed to record coincidences.

The perception of time inferred in a sensorial way is established from psychosomatic processes, turning this unit of measurement into a purely psychological event, defined in an idiosyncratic way. We feel the passage of this physical magnitude because we order the succession of events, culminating in an impression of transition of movements, with sequence and duration. For geography, the question of time can be dealt with on the axis of successions and on the axis of coexistences (SANTOS, 1994).


On one hand, the time that is linked to the daily events of yesterday and today, characterizing the axis of succession. At the other end, the axis of coexistence, of simultaneity, of the different ways of using and conceiving time, in not only successive but concomitant phenomena, crossing other agents at the same moment.

For Milton Santos (1996) the landscape is “the set of natural and artificial elements that our vision encompasses”, being a transtemporal, uniting eras and harboring inheritances of man's relations with nature and man with the environment. It is a witness to the succession of working modes, combining present times, colors, smells, movements, sounds.

It is essential to emphasize that landscape and space are not synonymous. While space is always present, horizontal (SANTOS, 1996), the landscape exposes different scales of time, horizons, vision and materiality. The landscape is always heterogeneous. With the greater interconnection of the various processes, we have that natural landscape x landscape transformed by man are no longer opposites. Even physically untouched locations have satellite coverage or political, economic, cultural intentions. Every map is a non-place, it is being in between two areas, occupying two points at the same time.

The landscape works as the coordinating structure of different times, allowing multiple temporalities to coexist, not necessarily in a harmonious way. The succession of contexts that we empirically feel, is inserted in space and reallocates the formal city as a stage for rapid movements (SANTOS, 1996). To the hegemonized man, who occupies the areas of poor economy - borders between what is considered formal and informal - the “slow time” predominates.

For Santos (1996), time can be slow or fast. Speed is restricted to hegemonic institutions, structures of power and dominion, and slowness to the most submissive roles in this dispute for voice and place. Contemporary acceleration builds metaphors and creates bodies “worshipping, doubtful or firm, of speed” (SANTOS, 1994). Making a parallel with the rural districts and villages, we have the figure of the “slow man”, as the character who does not fully fit into the accelerated historical making of the so-called modern time.

1. SANTOS, Milton. Técnica, espaço, tempo. São Paulo: Hucitec, v. 3, 1994.

3. SANTOS, Milton, 1926-2001. A Natureza do Espaço: Técnica e Tempo, Razão e Emoção / Milton Santos. - 4. ed. 2. reimpr. - São Paulo: Editora da Universidade de São Paulo, 2006. - (Coleção Milton Santos; 1).


bottom of page