Round N Around is a collaborative research project between the University of Applied Sciences in Amsterdam (HVA Citizen Data Lab and Play & Civic Media Research Group), the University of São Paulo and Het Nieuwe Instituut. Together with Gisela Domschke and Floor van Spaendonck I was one of the organizers of the project and editors of the final publication. Cyclespace also contributed to the programme.
With the support of local biker communities, the project aimed to make use of urban data and research through design to stimulate biking culture and bike usage in Sao Paulo. The project consisted of two workshops and a public event to collaboratively map the biking culture in Sao Paulo using Marije ten Brinks app SnappThis. After that we drew up a road map to work towards better biking conditions for the future.
Sao Paulo’s biking culture
From Copenhagen to Los Angeles, and from Amsterdam to São Paulo, over the last few years, conditions for bikers in cities around the world have improved considerately. Meanwhile citizens around the world have increasingly taken up biking as a way of getting around town.
Many of these shifts can be credited to the biking communities themselves. With new tools such as social media and apps to assemble data about biking patterns, it has become easier to campaign for more bikeable cities, and inform citizens about the advantages of and opportunities for cycling. Meanwhile, also city councils around the world have embraced the promotion of biking culture as a public good, contributing to more liveable, social and sustainable cities.
São Paulo is no exception to this. Thanks to the dedication of biking activists as well as to the commitment of the local government, the city has seen the layout of numerous bike paths, as well as the opening up of major avenues for cyclists on Sundays.
But there is still room for improvement. What is attractive about biking in São Paulo? What could be improved to stimulate biking? What does biking culture and the biking experience look like? And how could it be opened up and made more attractive to a wider population? During two workshops participants will try to elaborate on these questions. They will be engaged in a collective mapping of biking culture in São Paulo.
To address these questions, participants were invited in a workshop Bikeability to collectively go out and map the biking culture on their regular biking routes with the use of the SnappThis-app, developed by the Amsterdam Citizen Data Lab. On their return they discussed their results and draw a road map for issues to address in working towards establishing a more welcoming culture for cyclists in São Paulo. Read more beneath about the two workshops.
The results of the workshops are presented in a publication that can be downloaded here
Hacking the city; Making it more bikeable
(Introduction to the publication)
One of my best experiences in São Paulo took place when one of the partners in this project took us biking through São Paulo on a Sunday afternoon in the early spring. After cycling through the parks of Villa Lobos and Ibirapuera we shifted our gears to their lowest settings to climb the steep hill up to Paulista that – as usual on Sundays – was closed off for motorized traffic. Because of that measure, the broad avenue that I had previously only seen as a busy thoroughfare packed with cars and blanketed in exhaust fumes, now had become one of the most pleasant public spaces that I have visited in my life. Here were people leisurely riding their bikes or skateboards. Bands had started spontaneous performances on the streets. People from various ages and backgrounds were dancing, going for a stroll, protesting for or against political goals, just enjoying the spring sun, or having a bite at one of the foodtrucks that had stalled along the boulevard. The atmosphere was at the same time laid back and festive.
The closing of Paulista I had learned during an earlier visit to São Paulo was the result of a citizen led campaign, in which various civil society actors had played an important role. As Guilherme Wisnik writes in this publication, it can be understood as a broader movement in which Brazilian citizens have started to organize themselves in new ways to reclaim their public spaces. When I visited Minha Sampa earlier this year, one of the key organizations behind the Paulista Aberta movement, I learned more about the digital tools that were used to orchestrate the campaign. Of course, social media were used to mobilize people to come down on Sundays to Paulista. This started with minor interventions such as organizing small but festive events on parts of the sidewalk. In addition, more sophisticated tools were designed, such as Minha Sampa’s Pressure Cooking Platform. This online application allows people to easily send personal messages to legislators, to make a request for a particular policy change. It was used many times over to pressure local politicians to close down Paulista in Sundays.
As such, the movement can also be understood as an example of emerging international approaches to citymaking such as tactical urbanism and hackable cities. Tactical urbanism – a term coined by the American architecture office Street Plans – refers to the staging of a series of iterative, small-scale often temporary acts that serve a larger purpose. It’s a way of testing things out in the city, demonstrating their viability, and through this engaging an ever-wider base of support to turn these proof-of-concepts into more permanent fixtures of the city. The Hackable City – a concept developed in one of our own research projects – provides a model to understand the dynamics of these processes, as well as the relation between bottom-up and top-down forces in the city.
In a Hackable City, citizens organize themselves into collectives – often (but not always) led through professionals, designers, or NGOs – to ‘hack’ (alter, appropriate, take ownership in) a particular aspect of urban life, with the goal of increasing public value. Just starting to organize festive events on the São Paulo sidewalk can be understood as one of these hacks. The point is that these hacks are not meant as a temporary solution, but as a way of trying to force a more permanent change. To make that change, two aspects are of importance. The first is the act of storytelling and campaigning around the hacks. These stories should capture the imagination of broader crowds, give them an opportunity to identify with the story, to become part of the movement.
The second is more prosaic and consists of gathering evidence that the ‘hack’ or temporary intervention actually serves some sort of public (or private) good. Closing of roads for instance could lead to higher expenditure at local shops, to a higher quality of life, to better air quality. The more data one can gather about these effects, the more convincing the case will be. It’s the combination of the story and the data that then should inform (governmental) policy as well as civic action. In a democratic society, it’s local governments that have the legitimacy and power to formalize temporary hacks into a more durable planning practice, providing new frameworks for the collectives to operate in.
At the Citizen Data Lab at the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences, we are interested in the ways that the collection, analysis and visualization of data can play a role in these processes. Could new means for citizens to gather their own data help them to understand urban issues, and tell stories around these issues, mobilizing broader coalitions for change? Could the analysis and visualization of data be used as arguments to support the formalization of temporary hacks? As Gabriele Colombo shows in this publication, in this process, these data are not so much gathered as ends in themselves, but presented as the starting point for discussions, as building blocks for stories and arguments. They could serve as focal points around which publics emerge that can address wicked problems, such as André Leme Fleury argues.
The biking community in São Paulo is a great example of a collective of citizens that have ‘hacked’ the city, campaigning for change. And they have come a long way in the last decade. Much more can be read about that in the various contributions to this publication, amongst others by Albert Pellegrini, Daniel Guth and Danilo Cersosimo – looking beyond São Paulo, bringing in examples from Bogotá in Colombia. What the contributions of Letícia Lindenberg Lemos and Marina Kohler Harkot and the Dutch organization Cyclespace show is that also much is still to be done to make São Paulo more bikeable. For example with regard to the position of female cyclists. The starting point for this project was not so much the technology or infrastructure needed to make São Paulo more bikeable, but the way we could use storytelling and the collection of urban data to forward this cause.
One of the lessons from worldwide experiments in tactical urbanism and hackable cities, is that these are key elements to urban change – something that also Natália Garcia dwells on in this publication. In two workshops, that took place in September and November 2016 we explored this theme together with members of the São Paulo biking community, designers, researchers and policy makers. In the second part of this publication you will find the outcomes of these workshops. In the first workshop we used the tool Snappthis to gather qualitative data about cycling in São Paulo. Participants rode through São Paulo, taking pictures of challenges, opportunities, biking aides, or just the things that made them happy or they found frustrating about biking through the city. These citizen-collected data were used to stage discussions about the main issues with regard to biking. This resulted in a list of themes that could play a role in future campaigns.
In the consequent second workshop we used these themes as a starting point. How could we make use of digital media and urban data to craft convincing stories around these themes? How can we address the importance of these issues to a wider public, from fellow citizens to business and policy makers? Because that’s the way we believe that the ‘cycle hacks’ that have taken place in the city – such as the one at Paulista – could also be turned into a more permanent approach for São Paulo at large.