Monday, June 10, 2013

Trees, sidewalks and street life - São Paulo

Every Thursday morning I walk back home after Reading Mum (see post last week). It's about a 5 km/3 mile walk depending on the route I take. I try to vary my route every time, not only because a police man advised me to do so (that is a story for another day) for security reasons but because there is nothing like a walk for learning about a place. The latest discovery on my walk is that there exists in São Paulo a Center for Hellenic Studies. Who knew? Must investigate--I did love my Greek mythology.

The first part of the walk goes through what I call "gritty" Pinheiros. Office towers, small restaurants, mom and pop shops selling everything, people rushing to work from the metro. Next up is a stroll  through the feira (farmer's market) where I get calls to check out various veggies and fruits, as well as smell the fried pasteis (pasties, as the Brits call them) at 10 am (this does not make me hungry).

Then, all of a sudden after 2 km, the world changes. Trees are everywhere. I am in Alto de Pinheiros (know how there is Upper Nob Hill and Lower Nob Hill in San Francisco? This is Upper Nob Hill). The sidewalks change from concrete city sidewalks. In reality, sidewalks change in front of each house. Every house owner is responsible for putting sidewalks in front of their own house. You can choose the material. And the style. And so everyone does--and the sidewalk is a patchwork of tiles, and stones, and planks and concrete. You cannot ever run on a neighborhood sidewalk--you will for sure trip over the tiles or concrete slabs. Many of them are uneven because of trees that grow on the verge--the growing roots bubble and warp the sidewalk, a small earthquake that takes months and years to manifest itself.

This is one of my favorite ironies of São Paulo. The sidewalks must be built and maintained by each owner in front of their individual house. But the trees belong to the city. You may not cut down or even trim a tree in front of your house. Even if a branch sheers off to the last stringy part, you cannot cut it or you are liable for a large fine as per municipal law. If the roots of Haddad's trees (yes, I call the trees for our SP mayor--remember you pronounce it Ah-Dah-GEE which makes it fun), warp your sidewalk, too bad for you. You have to fix the sidewalk or face paying a fine because your sidewalk is dangerous. Unfortunately what this leads to (and this I have seen near my kids' school) is some residents cutting the roots of the trees under their sidewalks. They lift up each tile, cut the root, put the tile back. Tree murder.

I live in Pinheiros. I don't get too worked up about whether it is Upper or Lower Pinheiros. The neighborhood was named for the Araucaria pine trees which used to line the Pinheiros River and populate the neighborhood. In 2008, a local botanist did a study and found there are only 10 araucarias in Pinheiros, and they are all new and trying hard to survive in Praça Panamericana (Where are the Pinheiros of Pinheiros neighborhood?). In a 5 square mile area, there are 10 araucarias. Sad, no? They are beautiful (see photo below from the fazenda in Joanopolis).

While Pinheiros has many other trees (the lovely ficus pictured above is a recent settler, and is problematic in its size), São Paulo in general is under-treed. The city has four square meters of green space per inhabitant, with the recommended Urban Green space is 12 square meters (source:  Urban Nature). So we're lucky here in my neighborhood.

Ah, in case it comes up in Trivial Pursuit (does anyone still play that?), the official tree of São Paulo is the cambuci. And the official flower is the azalea.  I have seen lots of the latter, not many of the former. More research awaits me...

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