A room with a view

There was never any debate about the wall on which the mirror should be hung. What took time was the careful calibration to capture the precise reflected image. I am privileged to live within a postcard of one of the world`s most beautiful cities – in fact, in its very Samba-pulsing heart. Rio de Janeiro is a city rich in iconoclastic images; so much so, that this month UNESCO designated it a World Heritage Site. It is also a very big city. As such, it has very big city injustices which are unworthy of its splendid frame of sheer granite peaks, fifty kilometres of white, sugary-sand, city beaches and the largest urban forest on the planet. The calibrations of these injustices will take much more time than the placement of my mirror.

The view from this mirror however,  greets me with an unapologetic smile as I exit my bedroom first thing every morning. It is a portrait of close and distant mountain ranges, tropically-dressed islands and a dappled sea. It is a panorama unchanged from my childhood except that the vegetation is even more luxuriant now. Indeed, within this carefully selected slice of my birth city (home to 12 million people), everything remains as untouched as it was when the first Portuguese discovers sailed into the Bay 447 years ago.

The only thing that does change within this view is the mood; defined, as it is, by light, cloud and season. It is always provocative, always seductive but always with this capacity to surprise which causes me to gasp a dozen or more times throughout the day.  Its greatest beauty however, is that it is a beauty well-shared. No single social class has ownership of it. The recent portentous but largely failed UN Summit on the Environment in Rio did at least provoke debate on the fringe. I attended a stimulating presentation by the reforming former Mayor of Bogota City who made the expansion of public space his political signature. His city’s projects on the democratisation of the urban environment are inspirational. After all, the value of a view should not be measured by how few people have been able to enjoy it, but by how many.

Alexandre Kalache,  Adelaide Thinker-in-Residence, 2012.