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Uncover Buried Rivers in Brazil

Project Aims to Uncover Hundreds of Buried Rivers in São Paulo, Brazil

By The Global Grid | Sustainable Cities Collective

Cidade Azul (Blue City) is an idea that was implemented in a single week to bring attention to a part of São Paulo, Brazil that has been buried for a long time. In order to bring the smells, sounds, and freshness of the hundreds (yes, really) of rivers that cut through the city, to as many people as possible, the project began with an audio guide series. But this is only the beginning.

The map that illustrates the blue city shows an expansive mesh of rivers that run under the city; something that is impossible to “un-see.” Once you are aware that water is always present, well below your feet and with a maximum depth of 300 meters, it is not possible to look at the artificial environment we have created, aboveground, in the same way.

The objective of the project is to spread evidence of these rivers’ existence, as they run through areas that previously no one would have thought possible. For this purpose, the proposal of Cidade Azul is to offer a “sensorial experience,” as an effective way to change the perception we have about the urban environment.

Denis Russo Burgierman was impressed by the lack of visibility of the city’s rivers when he wrote about this topic in “This is not normal.” The journalist states that he has spent the past few years exploring odd locations in the city, like alleys and one-way streets that were designed to follow the course of the river. The Batman Alley, for example, is one of these places that only exists because the early residents built their houses on the banks of the Rio Verde. His involvement with the topic led Barbara Soalheiro, founder of Table and Chair, to invite him to be part of the team which put together the project in five days, following the method of “learning by doing,” that the company practices.

“We think that this is an important step, towards change, towards understanding the city’s dynamics. As soon as we can convince everyone that they want these rivers, we will begin to think about public policy,” stated Denis Russo Burgierman.

The audio guide’s suggested route – the first in a series – follows the path of the Rio Verde. It suggests the listener to note the signs of the water’s presence running through the region of Vila Madalena. Posters were hung on signposts, and drains and manhole covers were painted blue in order to alert passersby to the river’s course. After creating the audio guide, the team recorded this video and published it on social networks to bring together people who want to share the experience.

San Francisco is an example of a city in which rivers hidden by urban infrastructure are in the process of being uncovered. Its project Ghost Arroyos (Spanish: “Ghost Creeks”) also seeks to call attention to forgotten rivers that cross the city, by painting their sinuous lines on the asphalt, and placing speakers that play the sounds of running water and stories told by local inhabitants along the path.

Understanding the city in a new way is part of the process that Cidade Azul wants to initiate, starting with changing the view that rivers are obstructions to progress. But this is only the first stage. The project intends to see the rivers run again, free and clean, integrated and transformed to fit the urban landscape.

A fundraising campaign to support the next actions of Cidade Azul is currently searching for supporters on Cartarse. One of the team members has recently returned from Austin, where the initiative was a finalist in the Place by Design competition at SXSW Eco 2015.

The plan for an additional audio guide will be finished by the end of the year, and Cidade Azul will be coordinating the reintegration of six rivers that are nearest to becoming part of the city again.

The final dream is be to bring these rivers to the surface. Water transport, with ciclovias and gardens along the water’s edge are some of the possibilities. The water crisis in São Paulo has led many to see the importance of water. Rivers are not only geographic features, they can be patched together to accommodate the expansion of the city. It’s a good time to bring them back into the conversation about São Paulo and, who knows, maybe we will have a chance to see, smell, and hear the rivers running once more.

What geographic features have been buried or removed from your city? How can regular citizens help to restore them? Share your thoughts and city’s stories in the comments area below.