Life in Streets - Sao Paulo

Street Artist getting dirty on

So let’s talk about the streets.

Back in 2007, Lupe Fiasco released one of the greatest albums of all time: The Cool - a concept album that tells the story of a kid who navigates through the unjust world he was born into. Through this story, he personifies “the streets” as a force which pulls youth into the culture of street life through manipulation, fame, greed and drugs. I was 16 at the time and I never considered that a physical space could have so much power to breed culture, and, even become culture.

Lupe very much focused on the American experience of life intersecting with streets, but Brasil is an entirely different story. Sao Paulo - the largest city in the southern hemisphere, has an interesting history, especially in context of urban development.

Slaves, gold, bandeirantes, formed the primordial structure of Sao Paulo’s history. It was the wild west of the Portuguese Empire and these “explorers” who ventured out into what is now Sao Paulo, did so brutally. It’s crazy how the story is the same for so many places in the Americas - “explorers” come in, kill and enslave the native population and then extract the resources. FFWD a couple hundred years, and everyone discovers the wonderful black goodness that is coffee.  After about a hundred or so years of slaves making coffee, in 1888 Slavery was made illegal, but that didn’t stop people’s bloodlust for that black liquidy goodness. Immigration grew, and slowly but surely Sao Paulo started to get real rich - real fast - cementing it as the resource powerhouse of the south. 

So, I was really hoping that there would be trains in Brazil. I loved riding on trains in India, and it really is the best way to do long term travel. In 1955, Brazil elected this leader riding on populism for development named Juscelino Kubitschek (what a Brazilian name eh?). Circa 1955 the path to development was between the following: Roads Vs. Rails 

Kubi chose roads - a decision, which by the way had multiple profound effects: massive urban sprawl in Sao Paulo, and sadness of Sandro taking buses through Brazil instead of trains. I walked through the physical effects of Kubi’s work and saw the diversity of culture and life in the streets that now dominate Sao Paulo. 

Culture on the streets is like a conversation. It’s a form of expression, a shared dynamic experience between the people who transit through it. It’s a stage for people to grow, and for people to showcase their identity. We spent most of the day walking through massive boulevards and stopped for sips of coffee and overpriced croissants in the bougie area of Sao Paulo. People walk by on these wide sidewalks, with trees hanging over providing subtle shade in the thick humid weather. Skyscrapers jut out every few meters marking the landscape in a surreal topography reminiscent of the dystopian future of Blade Runner. 

But if you look away from the structures and megalithic shows of industrial extravagance you start to see the lived life of people forging their own path on the streets. Vendors selling varieties of vivacious, vibrant fruit - musicians playing live instruments that blast through the streets from blocks away - artists showing nuanced and cheeky depictions of counter culture pop art. The very essence of life in streets is a contradiction to the extravagance that physically defines them. What does this say about Brazil’s experience with industrialization that the streets are actually a demonstration of spontaneous, uncontrolled and cooperative life? It’s a beautiful thing to see the creativity, subversiveness and resilience of people forging their own identities and using the physical spaces they inherited to live life on their terms.

Life in Sao Paulo streets manifests as a song of expression, held in tension by people looking to forge their own mark on the physical spaces they have inherited. The stark contrast between the sanitized and socially rigid interactions in Toronto is the fuel that keeps me sitting in this cafe just watching with wide-eyed curiosity at what will happen next, and boy was I in for a show.

The march of the students.

If you like my work, follow me on Instagram for more photos from my travels! Also, what do you think about street life where you live? Leave a comment below! 

Peace and Love

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