Brazil's political, constant and foremost preoccupation with development and
progress is very revealing of its cultural insecurity that has historically
prevailed throughout the growth of this country.
This regrettable preoccupation
and obsession is, perhaps, a legacy of the pervasive positivist ideology in
Brazil that culminated with the military dictatorship from 1964 to 1985.
Moreover, during those
years the military's political concern was to build roads and obliterate the
popular Brazilian sense of place under the banner of "order and progress",
and explicitly stated: "Enough of legends, let's build roads" (Chega
de lendas, vamos construir estradas).
Nevertheless, the general
lack of national enlightenment and awareness of sense of place in Brazil is
unfortunately prevalent today more than ever, especially in São Paulo.
The sense of place, the
regional richness, the geographic differences, the several coastal as well
as interior ecological, and cultural complexities seem to completely disappear
under the banner of development and progress in Brazil, regardless of political
platforms, right or left of center.
This may be perceived
as the blatant prostitution of Brazilian land and as the corporate selling-out
of its people under the guise of progress. This is particularly disturbing,
because the level of social greediness in Brazil is directly (and indirectly)
responsible for the social discrepancies, and as such they reflect the silent
level of social inequity expressed at its worst with disgraceful homicide
rates reminiscent of war-statistics. Aaccording to the United Nations, an
estimated 40 to 60,000 homicides occur in Brazil per year.
Concepts such as environmental
conservation and a sense of place seem to be foreign, submerged and inexistent
socio-cultural and ecological considerations amongst most Brazilians and amongst
most Brazilian political platforms (particularly in São Paulo).
These concepts are unfortunately
and mistakenly taken as secondary political issues or as topics pertaining
to the bourgeoisie and upper classes. As the word itself in Portuguese: paisagem
(loosely translated as "environmental landscape") reflects notions
of social privilege and noble aesthetics, as most Brazilians will associate
the word paisagem with "beauty" (aquilo que é belo).
Henceforth, a misguided
notion of social class with ecological awareness translates into a national
absence of any sense of place. This national unawareness is also evident within
the meaning of the word mato (loosely translated as "overgrowth
of weeds", or "unused land") as a wasteland
not to be
confused with the word: mata ("forest").
In the city and its periphery,
there is no public awareness or political attempt to inform the subtle distinctions
amongst the local vernacular of wetlands, conservation land and so on.
Moreover, any form of
ecological discourse is quickly dismissed and labeled by the general public
and by the Brazilian media as rhetoric coming from an eco-chato (loosely
translated as ecologically obnoxious people).
This example, in and of
itself, is sufficient to describe the state of how Brazil is starving in its
general enlightenment and is ecologically malnourished.
The city of São
Paulo has become unrecognizable within the past 8 years, with its ghastly
newly built commercial and residential skyscrapers, and the countless unchecked
and irresponsible real estate developments, not only within the city, but
also extending along the coastal areas of the state (i.e. Guarujá).
ubiquitous in São Paulo city, demonstrates the lack of political unity
in urban and suburban places toward the preservation of cultural heritage,
but also illustrates São Paulo's lack in any attempt towards becoming
a future ecological city.
There is a lack of urban
grassroots political unity to oppose such irresponsible and criminal works
performed by the current mayor around the city (i.e. trees capriciously butchered
in front of the Ibirapuera Shopping Centerit is very likely they will
not survive). The city has yet to realistically shine under all the superficial
celebrations of its recent 450th birthday
The city of São
Paulo has become "a place just like any other place"
With huge logos and advertising-signs along highways that scream of corporate
irresponsibility, such as Walmart, and as such corporate welfare is the best
kept secret in the land of Brazilian naiveté.
Graffiti on São
Paulo walls are not sprayed as symbols of political resistance or of social
movements or even expressions of art, they are outbursts of mere vandalism,
as meaningless symbols resulting from the utter placelessness of Sao Paulo.
In the land of churrasco
and caipirinha, even the Australian steak-house franchise "Outback
Steakhouse" has access to the piece of the Brazilian pie.
In the land of the non-blue-eyed-blondes,
a blue-eyed-blonde model of German descent, Gisele Bündchen, is the sole
source of unrelenting adulation amongst Brazilians.
It seems that anything
or anyone that creates an illusion that Brazil is part of Europe or the US
(or of the English-speaking world) is highly valued, and conversely anything
that reminds Brazilians of their very own sense of place is quickly and unfortunately
Brazil, and São
Paulo in particular, is the "land of milk and honey", from transnational
corporations to greedy realtors, foreigners and Brazilians alike, selling
virtually anything to anyone is possible, building anywhere in any way, advertising
anything to anyone at any place.
Political, social, or
corporate accountability seem to be at best, challenging, at worst it is completely
absent. There is no viable place- conservation or "sense of place"
principle: these concepts are absent in both popular and political mindsets
The main topic in Brazil,
and again, especially in São Paulo, seems to revolve around crime:
its protection, management, and prevention. Of course, the correlation between
social responsibility and social inequity is more often than not, forgotten
amongst most Brazilians.
There is a feeling when
one is in São Paulo, that one is submerged into a dark, polluted and
non-descript place in a scary science-fiction movie, surrounded by suffocating
buildings, infinite graffiti, inundated by noise generated from cars and by
gun-shots from altercations in the favelas (slums) between drug lords
and the police.
This is a very unfortunate
outcome of the city that was founded in 1554 initially named: São Paulo
de Piratininga, in between the Tamanduateí and Anhangabaú rivers...
now virtually transformed into open city sewers.
Alan P. Marcus (Ph.D. candidate, UMass, Amherst) is a Brazilian geographer
who now lives in the USA. He has written other articles for Brazzil magazineavailable
onlineon race, ethnicity, Northeast Brazil, and animal rights. E-mail