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Public Spaces in Greater São Paulo

06/04/23 / 2018

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In this article, I want to share with you some photographs that I took as part of a final course project in collaboration with a friend. The theme of our project was to show the precariousness of public spaces in the Greater São Paulo area, which are being threatened by the invasion of large shopping centers and skyscrapers. We wanted to capture how these developments affect the urban landscape and the lives of the people who live there.

Photo 1: Lack of Movement in São Paulo Streets

Public spaces are essential for the social and cultural life of a city. They are places where people can meet, interact, relax, play, exercise, and enjoy nature. They also contribute to the identity and diversity of a city, as they reflect its history, culture, and values. However, in many cities around the world, public spaces are disappearing or being neglected due to urbanization and privatization.

This is what is happening in Greater São Paulo, where large real estate developments are taking over the urban space and reducing the availability and quality of public spaces. These developments offer everything that people need in one place: shopping, entertainment, services, housing, and work.

As a result, people have less incentive to go out and explore the city, and more reason to stay inside these enclosed and controlled spaces. This has several negative consequences for the city and its inhabitants, including the loss of movement and vitality on the streets. The streets are the arteries of a city, where people can circulate freely and encounter different people and situations. However, when people prefer to stay inside shopping centers and buildings, the streets become empty and lifeless, creating a feeling of insecurity and fear, especially at night when the streets become dark and deserted. This also makes it harder for the police and private security guards to patrol and protect the area.

Photo 2: Large Shopping Centers in São Paulo

The destruction of green areas and leisure spaces is another consequence of large developments in Greater São Paulo. Public spaces are being replaced by concrete and asphalt, which has a negative impact on the environment and the health of the people. Green areas provide oxygen, shade, beauty, and biodiversity to a city, as well as opportunities for recreation and relaxation for people of all ages and backgrounds. When these areas are eliminated or reduced, people lose access to these benefits and suffer from stress, pollution, noise, and heat. Additionally, there is unfair competition with local small businesses as many of them depend on the movement and diversity of people on the streets to survive. When people choose to shop and consume inside large developments, small businesses lose their clientele and revenue, which can lead to their closure or bankruptcy and affect not only their owners and employees but also the local economy and community.

This situation also has negative impacts on the mobility and accessibility of the city. The large developments generate more traffic congestion and pollution, as their residents depend on private vehicles to commute to work, school or other activities. Moreover, they also reduce the availability and diversity of public transportation options, as they are often located in peripheral areas with poor infrastructure and services. Additionally, they also hinder the development of alternative modes of transportation, such as cycling and walking, as they create barriers and obstacles for pedestrians and cyclists.

Photo 3: Unattractive Buildings

Recently, I had the opportunity to visit Cabo Frio, in Rio de Janeiro, and was surprised by the transformation of the area where I used to stay. Before, there were several historic houses with many trees in front, allowing for an incredible view of the beachfront. However, when I returned in 2023, I was surprised by several huge and unattractive buildings that completely obstructed the view and had no green areas, in addition to being completely walled.

This example illustrates how the expansion of large developments can affect not only the environment and the quality of life, but also the identity and the memory of a place. Cabo Frio is a city with a rich history and culture, dating back to the colonial period. It has a unique architectural heritage that reflects its diverse influences and traditions. However, this heritage is being threatened by the indiscriminate construction of large developments that disregard the local context and character.

Photo 4: Empty Public Space

Given this scenario, it is essential that authorities and society work together to find solutions that promote the revitalization of public spaces, preserving green areas and ensuring a safe and dynamic environment for all. It is necessary to rethink the development model that values ​​the construction of large developments at ​​the expense of public spaces. Some possible actions include:

  • Implementing urban planning policies that regulate land use and zoning, limiting the height and density of buildings and preserving historic sites and natural areas.
  • Promoting urban design strategies that integrate public spaces with private spaces, creating mixed-use neighborhoods that offer a variety of functions and activities for different groups and needs.
  • Encouraging participatory processes that involve citizens in decision-making about urban development projects, ensuring transparency and accountability.
  • Supporting community initiatives that reclaim public spaces for social purposes, such as cultural events, artistic interventions and environmental education.
  • Developing educational programs that raise awareness about the importance of green areas and public spaces for urban sustainability and social cohesion.

In conclusion, the uncontrolled expansion of large real estate developments in Greater São Paulo and throughout Brazil represents an alert about the problems that these developments can generate. In addition to the lack of movement and insecurity on ​​the streets, this expansion results in ​​the destruction ​​of green areas, harming ​​the environment​​ and ​​the quality ​​of life ​​of ​​the population. Therefore, it is urgent to change this paradigm ​​and ​​to value ​​the public space ​​as ​​a common good ​​that belongs ​​to everyone ​​and ​​that contributes ​​to ​​the improvement ​​of ​​the urban landscape.

Writen by Ongezell [E. Mangia] & C.Kodama