Reclaiming its unloved network of rivers could revitalise São Paulo
Experience is a buzzword in the marketing industry. Physical products are surpassed by the sensorial perceptions that experiences allow. The immersive nature of a city yields multifarious experiences. Understanding the different ways São Paulo citizens relate to this vast urban area, how deep their experience of the city goes, how it could be improved and what role people and brands could have in that is not always obvious, but it’s crucial in order to build a better city.
“At the heart of our work is the belief in experience, the knowledge one receives from the senses. Something happens when you feel rather than think.” José Bueno, founder Rios e Ruas
There is more to knowing a city than ingesting information about it, but it’s also not enough to be a passive dweller. Flamingo’s local team spent an inspiring afternoon walking along riverbanks in São Paulo’s Santo Amaro district with the founders of the Rios e Ruas (Rivers and Roads) initiative in the hopes of gaining a different perspective on the city. The experience is registered in the film below.
Out of sight, out of mind
As Luiz explains in the video, few people know that São Paulo is built on a dense network of underground rivers and it’s a surprising fact even to those who were born and raised here. Paulistanos’ (people from São Paulo) conscious relationships with these waterways is almost non-existent. After countless decades of simply existing in the city – going from private bubble to private bubble – never living its complexities and subtler dimensions beyond the dictates of their everyday necessities, the people of São Paulo are looking to reclaim and occupy public spaces. Bike rentals and bike lanes, open-air cinema sessions in parks, car-free Sundays on Avenida Paulista – one of the cities most important avenues –, and open-air street parties… In this context of actively reclaiming their surroundings, the Rios e Ruas initiative plays an important role in stimulating locals’ sense of ownership of their city and generating awareness of its nuances, problems and virtues.
Tietê and Pinheiros are the main open-air rivers that people have contact with – meaning they drive by on expressways that contour them. They are known as open-air sewers and citizens disclaim their responsibility in this tragedy. Countless cities have cleaned up their rivers and no doubt the government has a big role to play, but the source of the garbage that ends up there stems back to irresponsible consumption and its only a change in that mindset that will effectively impact the fates of these bodies of water.
São Paulo’s riverbanks
Built with “its back” to the rivers, much like medieval European cities were, São Paulo’s main rivers were – still are – used as dumping ground and their exuberant fauna and flora neglected. Walking along the reclaimed banks of the Pinheiros River, despite being far from a pleasant picnic spot, we were surprised to see several storks and budding flora, as well as the potential for it to become a well-developed area. Pharmaceutical giant Bayer has offices in this area and put in a bike lane and a car-free bridge that goes from the office building to the train station, which was inaccessible from that point before. By understanding the surroundings and local context, private initiatives are able to tackle urban problems benefiting not only its direct stakeholders, who use these facilities to get to work, but also society at large. By contributing to improving “their” area, Bayer sets an example for their competitors and neighbours.
Be the change
As soon as people start to truly experience a city beyond superficial interactions and realise the power and potential of the exchanges that occur between people and their urban surroundings, significant mindset shifts start to take place. Living in São Paulo, at this time, demands that one contribute to bettering it. People and companies willing to collaborate to make this happen will join an on-going movement that is bigger than any of the individual parts that compose it and will mark an era.
- Article by Zoe Graham and Camila Belchior