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Call it a freak of nature or architecturally brilliant, but Brasília, the planned, utopian capital of Brazil, turns 50 this year.  The city was a long time in the making, and when president Juscelino Kubitschek finally dedicated Brasília in 1960, Brazilian bureaucrats, horrified at having to leave Rio de Janeiro, were practically bribed to move several hundred miles into the jungle.

Brazilian statesman José Bonifacio promoted the idea of an inland capital back in the 1820s in order to develop Brazil’s interior.  The idea was forgotten until later in the 19th century, when a Salesian priest in Italy predicted that a new civilization would emerge from Brazil.  By 1891, land was set aside in the jungle.  But the reality still had to wait another 70 years.

President Kubitschek, leading a country beset by a myriad of economic and social problems, decided that Brasília had to become a reality.  Borrowing massive sums from international banks, the city’s construction started in 1955, and build build build the country did.  Kubitschek became a national hero to many Brazilians, and another icon was born:  Oscar Niemeyer.

Niemeyer build Brasília with the notion that Brazil had a great future coming its way.  The buildings exude prosperity, modernity, and equality.  Niemeyer’s socialist view wound its way into the capital’s design:  all the top ministers and civil servants were to work side-by-side in Brasília’s buildings—and the apartment buildings around the city were owned by the state, to be rented to the city’s workers.

The jury is still out on Brasília.  It really represents Brazil at its core:  full of promise, once so far away from its potential, and now emerging on the world scene with a vengeance.  Once abandoned during weekends, Brasília now has a bourgeoning nightlife and restaurant scene.  Niemeyer still had his presence, even though he was eventually kicked out of Brazil because of his leftist politics.  Some of his buildings only recently have been completed, which is only fitting:  he is still alive, having resettled in Rio.  He turned 102 in December.

Brasília faces challenges.  Its water supply is threatened, and many of its workers live in substandard conditions.  But the city is a marvel, and could very well be an important city during the 21st century if Brazil stays on its path to global prestige.

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About The Author

Leon Kaye

Leon Kaye is the founder and editor of GreenGoPost.com. Based in California, he is a business writer and consultant. His work is has also appeared on Triple Pundit , The Guardian's Sustainable Business site and has appeared on Inhabitat and Earth911. His focus is making the business case for sustainability and corporate social responsibility. He's pictured here in Qatar, one of the Middle East countries in which he takes a keen interest because of its transformation into a post-oil economy. Other areas of interest include sustainable development in The Balkans, Brazil and Korea. He was a new media journalism fellow at the International Reporting Project, for which he covered child survival in India during February 2013. Contact him at leon@greengopost.com. You can also reach out via Twitter (@LeonKaye) and Instagram (GreenGoPost). As of October 2013, he now lives and works in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.