Greater São Paulo is now home to nearly 20 million people. It’s the fourth largest agglomeration of human beings on Earth, where issues such as air pollution, climate change, urban mobility, solid waste and water treatment assume frightening dimensions.
The proven increase in rainfall and average temperatures, as well as the incredible difference of up to 8 degrees centigrade between different areas of the city at any one time, are some of the most dramatic examples, with direct impacts on health and quality of life.
What does the illustrious citizenry of São Paulo have to say? According to a survey coordinated by sustainable issues forum Rede Nossa São Paulo, half of all paulistanos would move out of the city if they could. It’s an alarming trend. And a clear sign that things are not going well.
But all is not lost. São Paulo was one of the first Brazilian cities to pass a law on climate change and, if properly applied, it will make the city better prepared to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change. Public transport is still under-funded, but is an increasing government priority for the first time in many years. The bicycle isn’t just for leisure anymore, but a solution for urban mobility, along with the long overdue expansion of the metrô and commuter rail.
Not long ago, I witnessed a picturesque scene. On Avenida Brasil, one of the busiest thoroughfares in the city, the driver of a blue Ferrari looked visibly irritated at having to drive, with that revved-up car, at the same speed as someone walking, given all the traffic congestion. He found a solution by letting the cars in front of him move forward 10 or 15 metres, and in that short space, accelerating like he was in a mini drag race. A tiger trapped in a birdcage.
I realised at that moment that São Paulo and its citizens will inevitably face dilemmas. After all, what kind of city do we want? One with Ferraris trapped in chaotic traffic, or one where people can move without all the drama?
André Palhano is organiser of the Virada Sustentável.