Friday, May 24, 2013

Megacities and the Mayor - São Paulo

Here's the view from my seat at the Administrando Megacidades (Managing Megacities) event yesterday. Led by two local think tanks as well as Harvard University, there were a number of panels about the challenges of mega-cities (I particularly liked the "Demons of Density" term used by one Harvard professor) which include education, public transportation and security. The large auditorium was about 2/3 full and many of the attendees were students of the host university. There should have been many more than 250 people that found this topic of interest--remember that São Paulo has 11 million residents in the city and 19 million in the metro area. So many people complain about this city but so few actually want to learn how to take action. Much easier to complain.

The seminar was well-run though I would have appreciated more interaction between the speakers. The opening speech from a Harvard professor about the 12 learnings of big cities ("bus is good, train is bad") merit a post another day. The four-person panels were essentially a way to put four people in easy chairs--and then call each one up individually to give a speech. Most panels with which I am familiar have the panelists interacting and also include extensive question and answer periods. It would have been interesting to have more debate.

The keynote speaker was Fernando Haddad, the mayor of São Paulo since January 2013. I have seen him present before at another conference when he was the Minister of Education. He is clearly a very smart guy with an immense job. Why anyone would want it is completely beyond me. He gave about a half-hour talk, cut down from an hour, as he was clearly suffering from a cold or flu which was affecting his voice.

While Haddad spoke, I thought about a couple of things (besides what he was saying about moving the population of Uruguay 10 km twice a day. Seriously that is why traffic is bad. So you don't have to look it up, the population of Uruguay is 3.3 million. That is the number of people who have to get to work and back every day).

First thought after wondering about the population of Uruguay: no one ever calls the mayor "Fernando". In spite of Brazilians calling the former president by his nickname/now-legal name "Lula" and Dilma, the current president, by her first name,  Haddad is "Haddad." And in Portuguese you say "Ah-Dah-GEE". It's kind of cute.

Second of all, in spite of coming in with a posse of around 8 people, there was not a single security guard watching the audience. They watched him, they checked email; they did not watch the audience. There was no security machine entering the auditorium--most people had large bags, backpacks, briefcases or purses. No one checked them. I don't know this for sure, but doesn't the mayor of the largest cities in the US have security that involved bag checks, xray machines and secret service scanning the audience? This event was free and advertised on the internet. Almost anyone could have gotten in under an assumed name (they did not check documents, either). Just struck me that security was really lax for guarding the mayor of a large city with many many issues. And that, of course, is spoken by a citizen of a country where there are terrorist attacks. Here, there are none.

An excellent event...expect more about Ah-Dah-Gee in the future. Me likey.


  1. Since I was born I have never seen nothing worst than throwing some eggs at the mayor. We dont expect nothing bad.
    I believe that we (the citizien of São Paulo) have voted directly and democratically for that mayor we have respect for him. Of course we can desagree with him and be against him but there´s no expectation of any violent action from people.
    People are afraid when bad things happened in history.
    But I agree with you, most people love to complain, but to do stuff no one move a finger.

  2. I like the Brazilian way of treating their elected officials (with respect, that is). While I never liked George W. Bush, I never would have thrown a shoe at him like one person did. And to try to kill one is just killing the democratic process altogether.