Partners in Preservation

Bertioga, São Paulo, Brazil
The preserve is in the middle of the town of Bertioga, a town with a population of around 60,000. It is a long and narrow municipality, hemmed in by the mountains (Serra do Mar) on one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other.  It is a place of great natural beauty, but not so much wealth. This makes it more challenging to conserve nature, since local people might want to use the forest or even occupy parts of it. This was how favelas got started in Rio with unfortunate social and ecological ramifications. The nearby picture shows the road right on one of the preserve edges and gives an idea of the possible challenge.

Partners in Preservation
SESC officials, like Juarez recognized this challenge and made it a virtue.  Their philosophy is that people should be integrated into the natural community and that natural communities should be integrated into human ones, so rather than fence off the forest, SESC invited the local people to participate. They did outreach to find out what the local people thought and what they wanted.  Most of the local people appreciated the forest and wanted to conserve it and they are a strong force for protection.  One thing that people wanted was a community garden, which SESC helped build on the fringe of the area of conservation. There are also plans for “agro-forestry” within the preserve.  This will mean that in some places there will be food for people.  All this means that the people living near the forest have become partners in preservation rather than adversaries to be excluded.  This is a model of how it can work.

Restoring the Magnificent Atlantic Forest
 Brazil’s Atlantic forests were magnificent and parts of it still are, but since the Atlantic forests were first to be exploited and now are more densely occupied, protecting what is left is important and restoring some other what can be restored imperative.
One of the features that makes Brazil’s coast so spectacular and beautiful is that the green mountains sweep down to the sea.   Among the most preciously rare in this already preciously rare ecology are the thin strips of forests between the beaches and the uplands.   This is mostly flat land. If you are going to try to grow something, this is a logical place to start.  If you want to build a beach front home or hotel, this is the place to do it – above the high tide and not subject to the shifting ground of the hills.  SESC’s forest is on precisely this ground and it is precisely why it is surrounded by human habitation.

SESC employed scientist and naturalist to study the flora and fauna of their preserve and found it rich in the diversity of both.  It is very unlikely that this forest patch was never cut, but SESC has owned it since 1947 and it has been intact at least since then.  The trees rarely grow to great height, as they do farther inland, since the sandy soil does not support the kinds of root systems that can hold them up.  As we walked through the wood, we saw wind throws that revealed just how shallow the root systems could be even for big trees. My guess is that this is a more ephemeral ecology.  This provides some advantages for restoration.  The fabled triple canopy forests take many more years to restore.

 SESC also owns a significant amount of riparian land along the Itapanhau River estuary.  Here the brackish tidal water supports mangrove thickets. Mangroves are the classic edge community. Edge ecosystems are often among the most diverse, since they combine two or more environments. They usually punch well above their weight and are crucial to the larger ecosystem they join. Mangroves are amphibious trees that grow between high and low tide. They are sensitive to frost. In the U.S., they grow only in south Florida, and a few places in Louisiana so we went to see some in the Florida Keys. The tangle of roots and branches help hold soil and protect the coast from erosion and storms. They also provide cover for fish and wildlife to breed. Mangroves are also a threatened ecosystem, since people often want to “develop” the places they occupy and the very tangle that makes them such a formidable ecology is annoying to people wanting to get around.  Removing mangrove, however is almost always a mistake, as with them go the wildlife benefits mentioned above and also protection from storms. The mangroves provide a flexible and self-repairing protection that no feat of engineering can match.

Doing the Right Things for the Right Reasons Make Sustainable
I was mighty impressed with what SESC is doing. They are integrating natural and human communities into their developments from the start, as the crucial parts of the project that they are, rather than as something to be tacked on at the end.  Juarez credits the long-view taken by SESC management and the resource they are willing to commit to the long term.  It is a model.

Talking to an IVLP ten years later.

Talking to an IVLP ten years later.
My first meeting of the day was at Renaissance Hotel with a participant in an IVLP on “Conservation of Biodiversity & Promotion of Sustainable Development,” from 2007. We talked about his visit and what had changed for him in the ten years since he returned to São Paulo, but we soon got into the broader topic of standards. His specialty is working with contaminated soil and water and he has lately been working on remediation of “brown field” sites.

Mitigating “Brown Field” Risk
If you want to build a shopping center or a big residential development in São Paulo, you will probably be building on a brown field site, i.e. a site formerly used for some industrial purpose. This does not mean it was a heavy, dirty industry. Even a former gas station is likely a brown field site and so are even places where lots of cars or trucks were parked, since they may have leaked oil or other fluids. (BTW – I am using “brown field” in contrast to a not previously built site, usually called “green field.”) These sites often require remediation, or at least a survey to indicate that they do not need cleanup. W/o this, real estate investors cannot know the true value or maybe the big risk of the site. (I thought maybe our president could understand the value of making real estate investment less uncertain.)

EPA Works Fairly Well Most of the Time
Returning to the question of what he learned in the USA, he praised the American style of practical cooperation. This may come as a surprise to us Americans. Whether or not you support EPA action in general or think that they are a drag on business, you probably think that they are working in opposition. He learned that there is a lot of cooperation. The goal is not clean up pollution, but rather to develop processes that avoid it. This is better all around – less pollution, less damage, less money spent remediating and less strife. Beyond that, pollution is essentially waste. Redesigned processes can not only avoid releasing pollution but maybe a way to make it a valuable input into something else.

Exchanges Useful
I have long been convinced of the value of exchanges in human terms, but when thinking about budgets we must be a little more practically centered. This is good for everybody, but are there specific advantages for the American taxpayer to have helped Brazil in this way? Yes. Consider American investors in Brazil. They face challenges of language and culture, but the environmental regulator regime is more familiar. Investors calculate risk, but uncertainty is reduced. Beyond that, there is a good chance that American investors will meet those affected by exchanges, either in the first order or by connection. He talked about the impact his program had on his co-workers and even his family. Once again, this is a win all around.

A point I just found interesting, i.e. not closely related to the program, was when he talked about the need to reduce water and soil pollution by going to the source, literally. Many of Brazil’s rivers have sources or important tributaries on the high plateau, Goiás, Mato Grosso etc. This is the hydrological heart of Brazil. The rainy season recharges the ground water and the reservoirs.

My first picture is the Renaissance Hotel. I used to stay there every time I went to São Paulo. Unfortunately, it is too expensive for long-term stay. I miss it. I walked from my hotel to Renaissance, a long walk but mostly pleasant. Pictures two to four are along the way. Picture three is an an aruacaria tree. They are common in the hills of southern Brazil and are truly magnificent trees. Don’t see so many in São Paulo. Number four is a little park in Jardins. I was lucky with the weather. It did not rain on my walk to the breakfast meeting. It started to rain hard later in the morning. The last picture is Avenida Paulista on the rainy morning.

Park Ibirapuera

Spent the morning walking around my neighborhood and to the big Park Ibirapuera. It was a cool and drizzly morning, but w/o real rain, so not bad to walk. Lots of people in the park.
I concentrate on the trees in the first batch. I cannot identify many Brazilian trees, but I think that the purple ones in the first picture are pink ipê. In Brasilia they are mostly yellow. The trees in the second picture are Indian banyan trees. I know that because they were marked. Picture #3 I do not know, but if you look closely you will see that all those trees are one tree. Some grew from roots and others from drop down branches. The second last picture is a sidewalk on the way to the park. I like how they just let the trees grow into the walls and walk. Last is just a nice picture of the pond, path and trees.

Last visit to São Paulo

Let’s call it a victory tour. I have been so extraordinarily lucky in Brazil, with opportunities opening and good people to work with, that I developed a kind of unreasonable dread that something would go wrong in the last few months and reveal me as only that little man behind the great wizard of Oz. “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.” With only days left, I think that I can declare victory, as nothing short of a catastrophe can prevent me from successfully completing the course.

As I wrote before, I am visiting my posts to say goodbye and thank you to the people who did the real work to make these years the success they have been. Today I am in São Paulo. I like São Paulo a lot. It has everything. You often hear bad things about the city and it is truly crowded and the traffic can be horrible, but it is also a very green city when you get to the human level. There are a surprising number of trees. True that many don’t have enough room to grow, but grow they do.

The people in São Paulo sometimes think of themselves as a country and in many respects they are not wrong. The São Paulo district, which includes São Paulo, Paraná, Santa Catarina, Rio Grande do Sul and Mato Grosso do Sul, produces about half of Brazil’s GDP. São Paulo state alone produces about 1/3.  It has the best universities and the big newspapers. That is why I have been to São Paulo so many times, that and I like to stay at the Renaissance-Marriott. But as public affairs officer for all of Brazil, I had to be careful not to be beguiled by São Paulo. You could spend all your time working in São Paulo and never run out of excellent projects and valuable things to do, but Brazil is a bigger country than that. I always remind myself that having priorities means not doing many things that are good and so much of my challenge was making sure I did LESS with São Paulo lest I become too fond of it. Well, I am done with all that anyway.

That is one of the reasons they built Brasília. São Paulo and Rio were just too attractive and they wanted to pull people and attention to the rest of Brazil. Actually, in the “old” Brazil they had three states that really counted plus one associate member. São Paulo and Minas used to trade power between them. They called it café com leite, or coffee with milk, since São Paulo was the big producer of coffee and Minas was a dairy state. Rio was important because the capital was there and Rio Grande do Sul with its peculiar characteristics and ambitions was off to the side, but still a power-player. These places are all still the most important parts of the country, but w/o the old predominance. It is the story about the rise of the rest and moving the capital to the interior really helped.

This may have been my last ever time in São Paulo. I liked it better each time I visited the city.   This is a post from one of my walks through the city on a quiet morning and another from the newer part of the city.  And my more recent walk.  My picture up top is from my hotel room.

I flew back to Brasilia on Gol.  Usually I take Tam.  Gol is a nicer.  There is a lot more room.

Pedestrian São Paulo

I walked from the Renaissance Hotel to the Fulbright venue.   It was a little more than three miles, which is a fair distance but not too far if you are doing it in the morning before it gets too hot and when it is not raining.  Like all big cities, São Paulo is really a patchwork of smaller ones.  Some are unattractive and dangerous, but the area around the original center, Jardims where the hotel is located, is green and pleasant.   This part is pedestrian friendly.  Well, maybe robust pedestrian friendly.  There are lots of obstacles on the sidewalks, sometimes missing pavement or steep steps.  You get used to the constant traffic that flows by as you walk.  The sounds merge into a kind of constant rush and it gets to be like walking on the banks of a river.  I prefer to walk whenever I practical.   It makes the journey more like an adventure.   If you sit in a taxi, you notice only the starts and stops of the traffic.  I can only imagine how stressful it must be to drive.   I have never driven in São Paulo and hope never to have that dubious pleasure.

I usually listen to my I-pod when I walk.  I have finished lots of audio-books that way and I like the Great Courses series.  These are perfect for walking, since they consist of lectures 30-45 minutes long, a good span for a walk or commute.  This time I was listening to a one about “Heroes of Literature.” There were no profound new insights, but I thought a little.    The lecture “hero” was Winston Smith from “1984.”  He is not much of a hero in the sense that he is frightened all the time, ends up betraying his ideals and in the end is just hopeless.  Maybe the better term would be protagonist, but the author says he is a hero because he wants to seek and know the truth.  Even if he ends badly, it is a tribute to the human spirit.

“1984” was and remains a depressing book.  We don’t think as much about it since communism collapsed, but maybe we should.  Tyranny did not end with the fall of the Berlin Wall.  North Korea must be about as oppressive as the Orwellian world.  The key about “1984” is that they control not only behavior but thought.

The author mentions a part of the book where the authorities are raising hate against one of the State’s enemies.   In the middle of the oration, word comes that the State has made a treaty with the former enemy and now a former ally is the enemy.   W/o stopping to think, the people just change the object of their hate.  This is called “Doublethink” by the state.   Essentially it means that you believe what the state says w/o thinking about the contradictions.

If this seems unbelievable, the author says that Orwell had witnessed it in real life.   British communists opposed the Nazis until Hitler made a deal with Stalin.  After that, they stopped opposing Hitler even though “their” country was at war with him.  When Hitler invaded the Soviet Union, they quickly again became enemies of Hitler.  Orwell was evidently surprised at how people who otherwise seemed intelligent could just ignore their own memories and experience. 

Anyway, nice walk in a nice day in São Paulo listening to an interesting lecture about a book that I don’t think I actually ever read.   I know all about it and I bet I could pass a test on it, but I cannot actually recall reading it.  I think that is true of many “classics.”  They become classics precisely because everybody can refer to them and is influenced by them, even those w/o personal experience.  Maybe that is Orwellian.   I do recall reading “Animal Farm” and a short story about shooting an Elephant, so I have read some of Orwell’s stuff.  

Unseen São Paulo

It is a São Paulo few people see, quiet and pleasant. To get to a conference at the Meliá Hotel at 9 am on Sunday morning I walked the three miles from Renaissance Marriott (my favorite hotel in São Paulo) and left a little before 8 am. São Paulo is quiet early on Sunday morning. 

The streets were mostly free of cars. There was some pedestrian traffic and the quiet whoosh of gardeners sweeping or washing down walkways with water. It was very peaceful. I brought my I-Pad but didn’t use it. Sometimes you just want to be in the moment.

The walk took me through some very pleasant neighborhoods. On the negative side, sidewalks are uneven and hard to navigate, but on the plus side there are lots of trees.  São Paulo gets a bum rap.  It is known as a concrete jungle, but much of São Paulo is a green and pleasant place. Of course, I tend to see the best parts. I would not walk in the less pleasant and more dangerous places.

I will let the pictures illustrate. I would be happy to live in neighborhoods like this; I couldn’t afford it.

Shared immigration heritage

The “Shared Heritage” seminars in São Paulo held at SESC Bom Retiro concerned recent immigration and labor force development in Brazil and the U.S.  The Bom Retiro area has traditionally been a place where immigrants landing when they came to Brazil, so holding the event here made sense.

Both our countries have been nations of immigration. Both experience big waves of immigration in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, sometimes from the same places and there are cases when Americans and Brazilians can trace their families to the same places at the same times. One group went south and the other north.  The same wave of Italian immigrants, for example, hit Brazil and the U.S. about the same time.

One interesting difference is the Japanese.  São Paulo has the largest Japanese population outside Japan and much of it results from U.S. policy. In 1907, the Japanese Government voluntarily limited Japanese immigration to the U.S. in the “Gentlemen’s Agreement.”  Japanese immigration was redirected toward Brazil.  In general, Brazil received many immigrants who would have gone to the U.S. after the 1924 Immigration Act in the U.S., which limited immigration by establishing quotas based on the composition of the U.S. population in 1890.  This limited immigration for people from southern and eastern Europe, some of whom ended up in Brazil.

The U.S. went through a period of low immigration from the 1920s until the 1965 Immigration Act changed that.  In 1940, only 4.7% of the American population was foreign born.  Today it is nearly 12%.  President Johnson said and experts agreed that 1965 Act would not significantly change the demographic makeup of the U.S.; they were massively mistaken.  This gave us the immigration experience we have today and which we were sharing with Brazil.

Brazil’s experience mirrors ours.  Their immigration was greater when ours was smaller and smaller in recent years when ours was higher, although for different reasons.  Brazil in recent decades was a country of emigration, with more people leaving than coming.   There was a lot of internal migration from the poor Northeast to the richer Southeast, but immigration to Brazil was small. This is changing.  As Brazil has enjoyed sustained economic growth, it is beginning to draw in immigrants again.  This trend will be reinforced by the rapidly dropping fertility rate among the native Brazilian population.  Already there are reports of labor shortages.

The interesting thing about immigration is that it is changing so much that we may not recognize it.  Birth rates are dropping all over the world.  Places like Brazil and Mexico are now below replacement rate.  The time when we had floods of immigrants may be over and we may be looking at shortages of talent and workers.  It will be an interesting turn-around.  We and our Brazilian friends are in very much the same boat.

São Paulo: Trees and Training (SESC &SENAC)

I am back from my time in São Paulo.  I am not telling anything new when I say the city is big, but I think that it is easy to overlook how green it is in many places.  Most of the streets in the old part of the city are shaded by big trees.  There really is not enough room for them, or would not be enough room in an American city.  This is something good and bad about Brazil.  The good part is that there are lots of trees. The negative is that the tree roots pull up sidewalks. Some of the sidewalks are like an obstacle course.  Overall, however, it is worth it to have the trees.

We visited another SESC, this time SESC Belenzinho.  It is housed in a building that used to be a textile factory in a neighborhood that used to be a little degraded. The SESC anchors that area and has improved the neighborhood.   I wrote about SESC here & here. These are like workers clubs. As you can see from the picture up top, there are lots of nice amenities. The picture just above shows the solar water heaters that produce all the hot water used in the facility.  Below shows some of the old neighborhood around SESC.  This was a neighborhood of Italian immigrants, many of whom moved away, some back to Italy. The ownership of the land under the buildings shown is in doubt. SESC wants to buy the land to expand, but it is taking time. This is complicated by squatters.  The people living in the houses are not owners, but once they sit there it is hard to move them out.

We also went to SENAC, which is the training part of the SESC partnership.  It works a lot like a technical school or university.  Tuition is low.  This branch of SENAC is also built in an old factory. This actually makes a very good campus, as you can see below.

They have lots of computer labs and work with businesses. Reminds me in many ways of community colleges int the U.S.  But there really is no exact equivalent, since SENAC is funded by mandatory contributions from businesses but is not government run.   Below one of the computer areas.

Below is the campus water tower painted to show the old São Paulo neighborhood.

São Paulo Traffic

It would be possible, in theory at least, to attend four or five outside appointments a day in Brasília.  This would never be possible in São Paulo because of the traffic. During the workday, it is impossible to get from the Consulate to almost anywhere in less than an hour. Worse yet, travel is unreliable. You cannot be sure how much time it will take, so you have to allocate lots more time for every movement. 

Perpetually jammed traffic is a serious impediment to doing business in São Paulo. I have read that it affects businesses and I can see how it affects our operations. I don’t have a solution; nobody does. I think we can mitigate the pernicious effects by planning to concentrate appointments in particular parts of town. This is not always an option, of course. 

I can see how the traffic patterns could create biases.  If I were here, I think I would favor places and people who were easier to access, simply because the cost of serving them is so much lower. I am not sure how bad this would be. After all, we have lots more opportunities for contact than we can satisfy.  Why spend two hours in traffic to accomplish the same things you could do by spending a half hour. It is frightfully expensive to be tied up in traffic.  If you just figure the price of the car and driver at about what it would cost to sit in a taxi, you are looking at around $75 in this alone. Of course, our cars and drivers may cost more.  And we need to use the cars and drivers sometimes to guarantee connections.  I also suppose if we only took taxis it would eventually become a kind of security risk.  But the bigger cost is our time. When you figure in all the direct labor and indirect upkeep costs, I bet an hour in traffic costs the government a lot more than $1000 an hour, significantly more if there are a few people in the car.  

Of course, we have to be in São Paulo and we have to work in São Paulo, but we have to consider the constraints. Because of the traffic, I would guess that it would take five people to do the same work that four might be able to do elsewhere, assuming equal ability and effort.  Of course, São Paulo has the advantage of proximity to lots of university, firms etc.  I am not sure who the advantages and the disadvantage balance out. There are lots of new buildings going up, so evidently many think the balance is on the side of staying.

In São Paulo, you certainly need to plan your logistical day more precisely. I thought about staggered work hours, but there seems to be no time during a reasonable workday that the traffic is significantly lighter.  Of course, that might help with commutes, but would not address the central problem of fighting traffic to get to appointments during the work day.

Speaking of my own temporary São Paulo commute, I did find a better way to get from the hotel to the consulate; it saved me at least twenty minutes and usually around R$15 too. Taxis are allowed drive in the bus lanes along some of the major streets. If you travel along Av Nove de Julho (July 9 Avenue, named for the day in 1932 when the Paulistas rose the “Constitutionalist Revolution” in revolt against Getúlio Vargas) from the hotel, you bypass traffic and get to the consulate faster.  In theory it is a big longer and at slower speed, but in fact it is much better. One of the taxi drivers explained it to me and I explained it other taxi drivers less familiar with the route.  It is good to know a little about where you are going.  

One more taxi story.  You learn a lot talking to taxi drivers.  I was talking to a driver who, even though I explained São Paulo roads to him, recognized that I was a foreigner, tipped off by my outrageous accent.  After he found out that I was American, we went through the usual small talk about roads in America and Brazil and how Brazil has become a much better place.  But he also asked about education.  He was unaware of the Science w/o Borders program and when I explained, he asked if I could help his son, who was in his second year in engineering.  I could not help. I told him that SwB was something Brazilians could be proud about, since it was entirely a Brazilian initiative.  We were trying to help as best we could, I told him, but he could go to his own government.  They were accepting just about everybody who was qualified. He promised to tell his son. He was only a little concerned that his son might be sent to a country not the U.S.  He had great confidence in the U.S.; in others, not so much.  I assured him that our friends in UK, Canada, Australia and others offer excellent opportunities too, but, of course, if you can go to the U.S. that should always be the first choice.  It is good to know that the cab driver has a son in university. I am not sure we would have found that twenty years ago.  He wasn’t sure his son’s English was good enough, but that is another longs & sad story. 

My pictures are just of SP, not the traffic. 

São Paulo Old & New, plus Batman

Espen wanted to go the new Batman movie, so we went to the IMAX in the JK Iguatami shopping center.  This place opened only last month.  It is full of high-end shopping and places to each. Surrounding the shopping center is the new São Paulo.  Most of the buildings here are only a few years old and they are constantly building more. 

Traffic wasn’t bad, because it was on a Sunday.  They block off part of the street for bikes. It is a nice touch in this big city that seems particularly unfriendly to bikes in the center, because of the unyielding traffic but also because of the streets with potholes and the enormous hills in the central area.  In the new area, the streets are a bit wider and the topography more bike friendly.

The Batman movie was okay. They said it was 4D.  I don’t know what that means.  It was the regular IMAX experience as far as I could tell.  There was a surprising social commentary in the film, IMO.  It seemed to me to be a counter to the idea of class struggle. There were lines in there talking about how firms need to make profits before they can be generous with charity. The bad guy appealed to the resentment of the poor against the rich to help ruin the city and the mobs were like a big occupy Wall Street writ large and of course much nastier. In the end, the police were the good guys who took the city back from the mobs and the city was save, of course with the essentially assistance of the Batman.  Naturally, it is only a movie based on a comic book, but I sure wouldn’t live in Gotham. Every few months a super crook shows up to try to destroy the place.