Today we bring you the first in a series of Dispatches from the Field, a new feature where we ask Flavorwire friends and family living abroad to share thoughts and images from their travels. This inaugural installment showcases São Paulo, Brazil, through the lens of Ben Watt-Meyer, a Vancouver-based environmental designer and urban planner currently backpacking across South America.
“My first impression of São Paulo was an inability to comprehend its magnitude. It is overwhelming to attempt to locate oneself in a metropolitan region of over 19 million with few distinct landmarks, seemingly infinite concrete apartment blocks, and a complex urban fabric far different than the logical grids of Spanish-planned cities such as Santiago, Chile or Buenos Aires, Argentina. “I began to understand the city as I stumbled across it in search of several intriguing architectural projects that I hoped to spot. Although less monumental than the well known architecture of Oscar Niemeyer and the Carioca school (of Rio de Janeiro), a generation of Paulista architects such as Lina Bo Bardi and Vilanova Artigas contributed buildings far more in tune with the tenor of Brazilian life. “Explosive population growth, a lack of definitive geographic boundaries, and weak urban planning have created a city that struggles to provide its expanding periphery of informal settlements with proper infrastructure. The Urban Age South America Conference, hosted by the city of São Paulo in December 2008, attempted to bring together planners, designers, and politicians to address issues facing Latin American cities. Some of the key themes were mobility, urban governance, informal economies, environmental infrastructures, and the effect of the economic crisis on cities. I left overwhelmed by the persistent differences between architects proud of their latest innovative urban interventions, activists pleading the urgency of social and environmental change, and savvy Brazilian politicians who took full advantage of the international crowd to tout yesterday’s achievements and tomorrow’s promises.”