Mapping contested space: A walk in downtown São Paulo


Downtown São Paulo, the center of the largest city in the Americas and heart of Brazil’s industrial expansion, is a contested space. For many decades the area has come to be seen as deteriorated, with hundreds of vacant buildings as a result of many of the older enterprises relocating out of the city center. Since the 1990s, housing movements (often known as “sem-teto”–“roofless”) have been asserting their right to decent housing in central areas, while other forces aim to “regenerate” the area in the typical manner that privileges property owners and the elite rather than those that are truly in need of housing and access to the city.

This is a map I made based on a transect walk in downtown São Paulo with a professor in urban planning who was kind enough to accompany me, pointing out various types of structures that offer clues to the story of the city center. On our walk, we saw previously vacant buildings occupied by housing movements, older historic buildings from when the center was previously an elite space, newer “cultural” projects aimed to attract investment to the area, and indeed new apartment buildings with less-than-affordable rent aimed to attract the city’s newer business elite. It is difficult to tell the whole story with a limited map and photos (many occupations and developments are not included here), especially when the situation is in constant flux. In mid-September, one occupied building I had seen on the Avenida São João was raided by military police, carrying out a judicial order to vacate the building. It is clear that the future of the city center remains undecided.

30-IMG_3705

O centro de São Paulo, o centro da maior cidade das Américas e o centro da expansão industrial do Brasil, é um espaço contestado. A área foi percebida como degenerada nas últimas décadas, e movimentos de moradia (ou “sem-teto”) afirmam o direito á moradia digna na área central. Entretanto, outros poderes tentem criar um modelo de regeneração que beneficia proprietários elites e não as pessoas que mesmo precisam de acesso á moradia e á cidade.

Aqui apresento um mapa baseado num passeio no centro de São Paulo que eu fiz com um professor de planeamento urbano, que me acompanhou para que eu pudesse melhor perceber a história do centro. No passeio vimos prédios anteriormente vazios agora ocupados pelos movimentos de sem-teto, edifícios historicamente para o elite, projetos ‘culturais’ com objectivo de atrair novos investimentos na área, e prédios com apartamentos novos construídos para o elite mais recente. É importante notar que todas as ocupações e desenvolvimentos não são incluídos, e a situação está sempre a mudar. Em setembro, a Polícia Militar invadiu uma ocupação na Avenida São João para executar a reintegração de posse.

29-IMG_3702Neste clipe de áudio, o professor Comaru da Universidade Federal ABC introduz a história da moradia no centro, desde o século 19 até os movimentos sem-teto atuais:

Continue reading “Mapping contested space: A walk in downtown São Paulo”

Dar es Salaam: the “informal” city

1-IMG_2271 02-IMG_2668

I recently had the immense privilege of visiting East Africa for the first time. It was a trip to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, for two weeks as part of my MSc program to work with local community groups in a collaborative research process.

1-blog - darWith a population of about 5 million, Dar es Salaam is the largest city and commercial center of Tanzania. As a port city it holds special historical significance in the development of East Africa, not least because it was used by colonizers to extract resources from the continent. Under German and then British control before becoming independent, remnants from each era are visible throughout the city. There is also a large Indian influence, and many Indian families have lived in Dar es Salaam for over a century. One of my favorite moments was squishing into the back of a tiny precarious bajaji (tuk-tuk taxi) with three other people on a sunny day, and speeding down the road while the driver blasted music in Hindi.

Continue reading “Dar es Salaam: the “informal” city”

Introducing the DPU Photography Project

Happy to announce the launch of this project in which I took part:

dpu photo

“We are a group of 30 DPU students, hailing from 19 different countries, with a passion for photography. Traveling abroad for fieldwork as part of our MSc programmes, we agreed to take photos to share experiences from our unique trips to Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Cambodia and Peru. Before the trip we selected nine themes that served as creative lenses for participating photographers.

For us this blog became a temporary platform to experiment and explore the potential of photography.  For you we hope that the blog is conducive of real insight into people’s work and day-to-day experiences, allowing you to emotionally engage with different realities as depicted in the pictures and giving food for thought.

The final blog works as a mosaic of moments and motifs that will hopefully capture your attention.”

dpu map

Click here for the Flickr page

Click here for more background

Suppose it is granted that a plongeur’s* work is more or less useless. Then the question follows, why does anyone want him to go on working? I am trying to go beyond the immediate economic cause, and to consider what pleasure it can give anyone to think of men swabbing dishes for life. For there is no doubt that people–comfortably situated people–do find a pleasure in such thoughts. A slave, Marcus Cato said, should be working when he is not sleeping. It does not matter whether his work is needed or not, he must work, because work in itself is good–for slaves, at least. This sentiment still survives, and it has piled up mountains of useless drudgery…

…I believe that this instinct to perpetuate useless work is, at bottom, simply fear of the mob. The mob (the thought runs) are such low animals that they would be too dangerous if they had leisure; it is safer to keep them too busy to think.

George Orwell, Down and Out in Paris and London, 1933

*a plongeur is an employee of a restaurant charged with washing dishes and other tasks; in Orwell’s book it is described as extremely arduous work.

Hackney Wick 19 Oct 2013

These photos were taken on a walk from Mile End to Hackney Wick, which is the small space of land that is part of the larger borough of Hackney but also falls into the “Olympic fringe area” adjacent to the Olympic park. It is rather divided from the rest of the borough of Hackney. The area’s industrial history shows itself among the new housing developments springing up and young artist types searching for cheaper rent and blank canvases.

01-IMG_1575

02-IMG_1587

03-IMG_1590

04-IMG_1592

Continue reading “Hackney Wick 19 Oct 2013”

Who is it for? A critical reflection on power in “social urbanism” and planning

I wrote this reflection for a course that looked at Medellin as a case study through which to examine the concept of “social urbanism.” It was the first more design-focused class that I have taken and it was new for me to be working with brilliant designers and architects who made up the bulk of the class. Challenging but also illuminating, as I hope this reflection demonstrates.

cablecars

This course launched from the idea that “social urbanism,” or rather, design and architecture with a social conscience, is increasingly gaining in popularity in urban areas around the world. One very visible example of this is the city of Medellin, Colombia, where a transportation project of a metro and above ground cable-car system was set up to connect the city center to the marginalized informal areas that sprawl up the city’s steep hillsides. One such area is Comuna 8, one of Medellin’s 16 sectors that is home to about 136,000 people who are predominantly low-income and many of whom lack formal land titles (Terms of Reference, 2013).

medellin mapPlanned urban interventions in Comuna 8, Medellin

Medellin is the second largest city in Colombia and for a long time held a high-profile reputation for violence and drug activity. But with intensive public investment in infrastructure and urban renewal, encompassing transport as well as facilities such as libraries and learning centers, Medellin was largely able to change its global brand from city of violence to city of innovation and hope. However, there is little indication that these interventions have succeeded in addressing the widespread poverty and inequality that remain deeply entrenched. This raises the question of how much “social urbanism” can really answer to the needs of the people it purports to help. The following is an overview and analysis of some of the main concepts in the course, based on group project work, readings, and my own doodles and thought processes.

mobility.png
Continue reading “Who is it for? A critical reflection on power in “social urbanism” and planning”

Gender-swapped street harassment

Catcalling and street harassment get some brilliant gender-swapping treatment in a French animated series from the late 1990s.

Gender-swapping is one of these increasingly popular motifs that is so simple but that can be incredibly powerful. It can seem kind of mundane; I mean, why should a man dressed in women’s clothes modeling a perfume be so inherently strange or funny? But the fact that it does seem so strange to us is exactly what starts to reveal the norms that rule our society. Why does it seem so absurd for women to be catcalling a man like they are in the video? How come women almost never act this way in real life? Because, well, there’s this thing called patriarchy, and it dictates how we act and feel even in the smallest interactions. It is what makes men think that it is okay to mutter towards a woman in a public space, in an effort to remind her that the space, and her own body, do not belong to her. It is a structure that is reinforced constantly, even at an everyday scale, and that has be come so normalized that we barely even notice it. Luckily some simple gender-swapping can bring it back into focus.