In early May 2018, with my colleague Peter Kraft, I visited Sao Paulo to work on our EPSRC/FAPESP-funded project ‘Reinhabiting the City’. I am including some of the brief we published in the GEES School bulletin.
The project is exploring the issue of vacant and derelict urban spaces, focused on the area around Sao Paulo’s city centre. For a range of historical reasons, several once prosperous inner-city neighbourhoods have seen a mass exodus of residents, leaving vacant plots, empty buildings and a degraded urban environment that is increasingly subject to desertification. In some areas, such as Luz (also known as 'crackdown'), where we are focusing our work, poorer city dwellers have begun to settle in some properties, although they are generally deemed illegal ‘invaders’ by the city and it is often hard to tell whether properties are inhabited or not (an issue highlighted by the recent major fire in Sao Paulo). This was my first visit to Brazil and to the city of Sao-Paulo, hence a fantastic opportunity to immerge myself in the quite brutalist modernism of the megalopolis.
The project, which is a collaboration between architects in the Faculty of Architecture at USP (FAUSP), architects at the University of Nottingham, and geographers and planners in GEES, aims to explore socially-inclusive mechanisms whereby the city can be ‘reinhabited’. The term ‘reinhabit’ is used deliberately as a way to move beyond the common problems associated with gentrification and regeneration. Although focused on a range of temporary built interventions – such as the use of shipping containers to create community performance and arts spaces (see http://www.ciamungunza.com.br/conteiners) –we are interested in how small-scale transformations in the built environment could act as anchors for larger-scale community development and improvements to the built environment and infrastructure of neighbourhoods like Luz.
The visit in early May included field visits to Luz, invited presentations at the NUTAU conference on architecture and urbanism at USP, and a series of team meetings.