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What a Queer Urban Future Looks Like: São Paulo

This article was originally published by Arts Everywhere as part of a Global Roundtable responding to the question: What does a queer urban future look like?

By Thiago Carrapatoso

At the moment I started working at the center of São Paulo, in 2005, I understood better the inequality and discrepancies of a Third World city that was constructed based on privatized wishes and demands. São Paulo is extremely segregated, and it is easy for its residents to isolate themselves for their entire lives in the reality of their original neighborhoods, without knowing the rest of the city because of the vicious routine of leaving home, getting in a car, going to work, getting in a car again, parking in a shopping center, getting back in the car, and going back to one’s private life. 

Nowadays, we ironically joke that we didn't suffer an urbanistic process, but an uncontrollable greed process of the real estate market, in which the state—which was supposed to articulate improvements in urban space—and residents—those directly affected by the new developments—were only tools for accomplishing an exponentially increasing profit of privatized companies. Our city, our home, is considered their sandbox for new enterprises, where the shining reflection on the windows of brand new skyscrapers daze any sense of reality or citizenship. We (literally) live in a concrete jungle.

São Paulo, as you may know, is the most populous city of Brazil, of Latin America, of all the Americas, of the Southern Hemisphere, and of the Western Hemisphere. "São Paulo, the fastest growing city in the world," as the U.S. Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs proudly presented the city in a promotional video of the 1940s. This "fast-growing" city only forgot to consider the human life living here. Its main goal was to bring big international companies to the country and sell the most of what could be sold to them. The government was (still is?) an intermediary for these companies to make their big projects happen, like Uber for taxis or AirBnB for rooms. The residents were (are?) voiceless, creating an urbanism constructed by greed and not by the residents' demands.

Using the provocation of the question, I would like to ask you to focus on the affirmation by [José Esteban] Muñoz: "Queerness is an aspiration toward the future. To be queer is to imagine better possible futures." Considering São Paulo's urbanistic reality, the "better possible futures" could only come from a bottom-up initiative. Since 2011, I've helped found a movement called BaixoCentro. Our goal was to bring civil society to the streets as a way to engage citizens in the urbanism discussions that were violently happening in the center of the city. At that time, I edited a video called “I S2 SP” trying to explain everything that was happening. The movement organized three festivals, produced more than 700 activities, raised more than $30,000 through crowdfunding, and was a starting point for the creation of several different collectives that question the urbanistic process in/of the city.

This experience made me believe that queerness inside the urban environment necessarily needs to acknowledge and encourage emergent movements and discussions that are outside of the hegemonic, rationalistic, top-down perspective of how a city needs to be managed. It needs to consider the social housing movements so present here in São Paulo; the cultural flourishing and activism; it needs to go against private interests; it needs to preserve socioeconomic diversity; it needs to protect and retell the history of vulnerable communities; and it needs to consider public space as real public space, not a privileged place for the hegemonic class.

Considering all this, the BaixoCentro movement contacted the Rede Paulista de Educação Patrimonial, or REPEP (Paulista Network for Heritage Education), to organize the first collaborative inventory of the communities around the Minhocão, a 3.5 kilometer (2.2 mile) viaduct that crosses the heart of the city and that was responsible for the devaluation of the properties nearby. Our goal is to use heritage laws to preserve the social use of the territory and to protect the immaterial culture that has emerged there since the 1970s, when the Minhocão was built. For this purpose, we defined five communities that were easily mapped in our first investigations of the region: poorer workers/residents of the center; LGBT+ community; newcomers/immigrants; cultural workers; and homeless people.

Another goal is to map the cultural references of the communities and to understand what the Minhocão created, instead of what it destroyed, as is usually the approach taken by researchers and activists. In this instance, together with the cycle of activities as a part of the Queer City project, we organized a walk guided by the actor Paulo Goya to discuss the LGBT+ post-war history in the area. Goya, as an habitué of bars and libraries of the region at that time, described how the LGBT+ community, mainly wealthy or intellectual gays, migrated from the Praça Dom José Gaspar (where the Galeria Metrópole and most bars were), passing through Praça da República (where mostly prostitutes, transvestites, and poor gays were hanging out), to finally reach the Largo do Arouche, an historical gathering place for the LGBT+ community from all places in the city, including the peripheries.

Although we are discussing sexuality in this case, it is important to go back to the Muñoz quote: “To be queer is to imagine better possible futures.” Protecting the social use of a territory such as Largo do Arouche is a way to guarantee that use for decades and to protest the fierce gentrification process that is happening in the area, with the help of the government, of course. Protecting the social use of the territory is also intended to guarantee the right of a specific community—in this case, the LGBT+ community, but it could be African and Latin-American immigrants, for example—a safe place for gathering and expressing themselves. This is a future that we look for. This would be a better possible future for this concrete jungle.

*****

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Thiago Carrapatoso is a journalist and specialist in communication, arts, and technology. He holds a Master of Arts from the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College and is a collaborator of the BaixoCentro Movement in São Paulo and the REPEP group, helping create a methodology to use heritage education against gentrification.

[Photo courtesy of Júlio Boaro]

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