Year: 2014- ongoing
Location: Sao Paulo, Brazil
Supported by: Einaudi Center for International Studies, Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future
Graduate Assistants: Amelia Jensen, Julia Gold

[An excerpt of the map of Sao Paulo, focused on the highway tangle and confluence of the Rio Tiete and Pinheiros rivers known as the Cebolao; we the map use a gis to build the spatial graph, an axial line analysis to measure connectivity and integration in road network, and grasshopper to interpolate between known points and visualize environmental data related to water quality]

Ciudad/Rio is developing descriptive and operational methodologies to map and analyze spatial conditions along urban rivers in South America, and São Paulo specifically. In addition, I am working with students and collaborators to produce alternatives for river infrastructure in São Paulo. The current focus of the project is the confluence of water quality, flood control, and public space associated with these cities and their industrial rivers.

As contemporary cities face the twinned challenges of environmental justice and a rapidly changing climate, the cleanup and management of urban rivers stands as one of the great tasks currently facing societies around the globe. Urban waterfronts and rivers are the site of much historical industrial development, some of the most important and sensitive ecological zones, and a wide range of human settlements which often simultaneously include the most desirable and the most vulnerable populations. Because of this they powerfully unite legacies of economic growth, social injustice, toxicity, and environmental degradation.

As industrial development proceeded throughout the twentieth century many urban rivers were converted from places that provided space for social interaction as well as water for domestic and industrial consumption to an outlet for externalizing industrial effluent and domestic waste. These untreated discharges, especially during and after storm events, combined to create difficult and dangerous conditions for vulnerable communities along the edges, often composed of poor and immigrant communities. In the last generations urban rivers have become the site of different cleanup initiatives through a combination of grassroots activism, shifts in public policy, new technological developments, movements in public health, and a growing environmental ethic. They are also proving to be one of the front lines for combatting storms and floods of increased frequency and intensity.

River Landscapes of São Paulo: Varzeás and Piscinões. In River Cities: Historical and Contemporary, forthcoming 2017, edited by Thaisa Way and John Beardsley and published by Dumbarton Oaks, based on the symposium in May 2015.

Piscinão: problems and possibilities of stormwater detention as civic infrastructures in São Paulo, in the proceedings of the Water, Megacities, and Global Change Conference, UNESCO, December 2015.

City Map

[Using GIS and grasshopper we identify areas of confluence in the public road and open space network and critical areas for water quality in the river system of São Paulo. This is useful for deciding strategic areas for further detailed study or intervention]

Existing condition

[Aerial view of piscinão Rincão; the piscinões are scattered throughout the city as flood capacity alongside rivercourses]

[The piscinões are dramatic landscapes, both aesthetically and as aggregators of floodwaters, sediments, and contaminants]

During the Fall of 2015 at Cornell I had the opportunity to work with a talented set of graduate students to explore some future possibilities for reconstructing and integrating these piscinões into the city. While important for flood prevention, the piscinões as currently conceived and constructed have many limitations related to maintenance, cost, performance, and public perception. And they are all over the city, with 53 in existence at last count, and 15 more on the drawing board. They are one of the primary ways São Paulo is combatting flooding in the megacity. However,

I believe that they are far more important than flooding capacity because of three reasons: they are very expensive, they are the materialization of the city's relation to its rivers, and their location in the neighborhoods make them a mostly unwelcome part of everyday life. I think this mega stormwater system can be understood and reconstructed as civic infrastructure– a part of the social life of the city. Below are some representative images that these fantastic students were able to produce. More about these projects is available here.