public space São Paulo is known as the city with the hard working
people of Brazil. I have travelled through the country and every
time I come back I feel the stress of the inhabitants. It is an
aggressive city compared to the others. It isn’t situated
on a beautiful setting such as Rio de Janeiro with higher
reference points where the beach is the communal area for
everybody. Still, São Paulo is the cultural city of
the country (the New York of South-America) with non-stop events,
leisure, great nocturne life, etc. People of the upper classes
meet in mostly indoor private places but where do others go to;
where is the common public space?
City Squares The public squares in the
city centre are merely visited by Paulistans. With the appearance
of the metro, many nice historical squares where transformed into
big terminal zones loosing their original public character and
destroying the existing lodges. Praça da Sé, an
important square in the history of São Paulo, illustrates
this. Till 1976 it was a pleasant rectangular square with the
church at the site and vehicles circulating around it. Now a bus
stop is placed next to it and the square is deformed into a large
one, which is more difficult to oversee, causing the presence of
delinquents and stopping the presence of others. Huge squares do
not work as good in São Paulo (and Brazil) as small
This also almost happened to another important square, Praça da República, which was saved by an amount of protest. There, the metro accommodated without destroying the existing plan. Urban planning is the art of integration!!!
The Valley of Anhangabaú is a great open area that connects the old city with the new one. At the end of the 70’s a competition was held asking a plan for this big rectangular area, burying infrastructure under it. The winning team separated pedestrians from car transit creating a huge space only for city dwellers. Somehow this separation was a simplistic solution and the square is not as accessible as it should be. It could have worked as the Ramblas, where the cars are part of the show and the commerce and functions around it make this area interesting. In this civic space concrete predominates (instead of green) and makes this square hard to walk through on hot days. It resolved an urban question by proposing a project but it is hardly used by people and works more as a transition zone than a place to stay.
Some projects that could have a public character such as the ‘Memorial da América Latina’ from Oscar Niemeyer and the sculpture museum MuBE from Paulo Mendes da Rocha do not make use of this characteristic and create abandoned plazas. The Memorial is totally fenced; it has only one entrance and consists of big concrete surfaces with a poor dense grid of palm trees. The MuBE is also surrounded by fences and has a bad relation with its contours. The space around the museum is a desolate zone. These projects do not give the possibility to hold spontaneous activities and interventions. Maybe there is the need to incorporate other functions, like at the Praça Roosevelt, in the city centre, where the square is linked to a supermarket and a school.Green In São Paulo there is 3.5 m2 of green space per inhabitant. There are 32 green public parks in the city and they are mostly used by the surrounded inhabitants. My observation is that generally speaking parks are not as much frequented by people as they could be. Higher classes do not always dare to go in and they have their green areas around their homes, on a farm in the interior or around the apartment on the coast. The City Hall is now working on 25 new projects for green spaces, especially in the periphery and around favelas. These inhabitants will probably really use the parks. Money is gathered by a new policy that asks money for every tree that is being pulled down (making place for the construction of a new building). The one responsible has to pay a fee to the City Hall depending on the magnitude of the tree. Parque Ibirapuera is maybe the only park who works as a real city park used on a large scale by everybody. It is a project that succeeded and a great example of modernism. The rich inhabitants surrounding this area wanted to make a university campus from it (such as the one I am studying in now which is not open for the public). But the architects, with among others Niemeyer, wanted a more social function: an open park with some exposition buildings in it. It’s integration with the city and continuation of the roads around it makes it accessible. In this park many free concerts and events are held on weekends and they are assisted by a big mass of inhabitants from all layers of society. The flux to and around a public space is of great significance. Segregation São Paulo is a concrete sea with a shortage of public spaces. It has much to do with the segregation of social layers, protection from criminality and with monotonous projects. For the average middle and high class Paulistans, shopping’s and clubs are their ‘public’ places. They are areas for socialising, eating, sporting, recreating, etc. It is noticeable that the public spaces are often taking into the building. Not only in shopping malls, but also in cinemas, restaurants, offices and others.
People who live in gated communities do not even have to leave their neighbourhoods. The biggest communities, situated in the periphery, are called Alphaville (there are many 1,2,3, etc.). They are American cities by itself with all the infrastructure, office buildings, shopping’s, etc. entirely guarded and controlled. This means that public busses cannot enter and all the servants and other workers have to walk long distances to get to their destination. Every morning you see a kind of procession walking through it.
Gated communities are also created illegally in the city (not only in the periphery). Neighbours place a barrier and a guard on a street that is actually a public one.Sreet Life Many students and more alternative people use to visit outdoor terraces and some plaza’s such as the Benedito Calixto on Sundays, where there are food stalls, markets and live samba or ‘chorinho’ (sentimental songs with samba tunes).
The Paulista Avenue and it’s wide boulevards are much frequented as well. The presence of a pleasant footway to walk through is almost enough to create a public space where things happen. Footways are scarce in this city where the car gets the priority. Pedestrians have to find their way out in many places, pavements are often very narrow and sometimes they suddenly disappear. People also stroll through the Paulista avenue because of the presence of museums and cultural buildings. It is even crowded on weekends when the offices are closed. The first building which gave diversity to this avenue is the MASP museum from Lina Bo Bardi. Under the building, where antique and second hand markets are being held on weekends, appears a public space.
Another example of public spaces that arise on footways are the pedestrian streets and viaducts (viaduto do Chá) in the city centre. The divers program and the presence of commerce, street shows, restaurants, etc. make people stay and hang around.
The lower classes create their public spaces outside, on the roads, next to a football-ground or around clandestine commerce. I had the chance to visit a small favela on a Sunday and for me it was one of the most cosy and pleasant places I visited.
These people are also responsible for the clandestine commerce that you find everywhere in the city, especially in the centre. These are movable stalls (the seller has to run away when the police is in the mood of taking them way) selling food, products, bus and metro passes (which are robbed or bought from poor people who get the passes by their employer, but prefer to walk long distances to save money). Around their settlements on pedestrian areas a public space is generated and there is dynamism.
Creating a public space that really works as such is an art. Public activities and the way they take shape differ and cannot always be predestined
Aura Luz Melis