In May 2014 at 7:00 pm, São Paulo recorded the worst traffic backup in its history: 344 kilometers, covering fully 40% of the roadways monitored by the city’s traffic agency in South America’s biggest city. The next month, then mayor Fernando Haddad heralded the city’s new strategic master plan, which called for limits on parking inside new developments and prioritizing transit over cars, as the most advanced in Brazil. The master plan made its way successfully through São Paulo’s city council in part due to the hard work of Fernando de Mello Franco, an architect and urban planner who served as Haddad’s Secretary of Urban Development from 2013 to 2016. During his time, he was responsible for coordinating the city’s regulatory framework revision of urban policy, which set TOD strategies as one of the main axes. With a change in mayoral administration in 2017, Franco moved on to serve as director of the Institute of Urbanism and Studies for the Metropolis (URBEM), a Brazilian NGO focused on structuring urban projects with social impact, and working privately as a consultant and researcher.
ITDP: The theme of MOBILIZE is Making Space for Mobility in Booming Cities. What is your city doing to address mobility in the face of rapid urbanization? What are the challenges in accelerating these solutions?
Fernando de Mello Franco: First off, Latin America is one of the most urbanized regions in the world, but with a stable and even declining population in some places. The scenario of exponential growth is not the scenario in Latin America, much less São Paulo. We went through this 50-60 years ago and are in a different situation today. The question here is not what to do but what was the impact of this exponential growth and what was the positive and negative legacy that this growth left in a region with little capacity for investment. What investments can make up for lost time? That’s a question totally different from Africa and Asia.
We have a cyclical movement between progressive and non-progressive governments – at the moment we have the center-right returning to power in Brazil after a series of progressive mobility policies in favor of the public and against four wheels, for the collective over the individual, the active over the car. We improved public space, repaved sidewalks, installed bike lanes, and opened public spaces for leisure time on the weekends.
What we did from 2013-2016 was a reaction to the social movements energized by the Movimento Passe Livre [Free Transit Pass Movement, which sparked nationwide protests in 2013]. The right to the city is not just housing but also the possibility to access urban goods and services and the possibility of access is directly related to mobility. Free transport would have been an opportunity for everyone to access all the opportunities in the city: jobs, goods, services, a boyfriend across town. It was an update to the agenda of the right to the city in the 1960s and 1970s.
ITDP: What impact would you like to have in your role in the coming years to address the issue of mobility and rapid urbanization?
Fernando de Mello Franco: I am no longer working in the public sector. So now we are trying to structure from research and projects that relate urban development to mobility. I’m currently working on a special project: looking for mobility alternatives in areas that are being used for social housing but are disconnected from the transit network. We can guarantee social housing if we connect building to mobility alternatives. In the coming months we hope to answer the following: How can the private sector respond to the need for low-income housing to have 100% universal access to public transport? That demands a lot of capital, investment, and time. What are the alternatives that permit us to prioritize transport for low-income people in parallel with state investments?
ITDP: What city projects, anywhere in the world, are most interesting to you right now?
Fernando de Mello Franco: I am more and more concerned not with specific urban projects but rather with projects that integrate different sectors and knowledge bases. That’s the only way we can respond to the complex problems of metropolises. We need to connect the dots. For example, I worked for a city that won the Bloomberg Mayors Challenge with a project to contain informal sprawl by strengthening family agriculture.
The transformation of Medellín under Sergio Fajardo was a seminal moment for a series of urbanism questions. Medellín’s flagship were integrated projects that brought this vision of integrating public policies.
ITDP: What are you most excited about seeing or learning at MOBILIZE?
Fernando de Mello Franco: To the extent that MOBILIZE is going to bring together experiences from the entire world, that creates a special opportunity. Latin America can also bring a series of contributions to emerging countries as a region that is still underdeveloped but has already passed through urbanization. These regions in transformation are more interesting than New York City, Copenhagen, or London where the problems are less severe.
Fernando de Mello Franco: Zoning laws are generally focused on private lots – on this lot we can construct x – but we took a series of actions to impact the use of public space, not necessarily by creating plazas but by improving streets and sidewalks. São Paulo has one of the lowest rates of public space compared to other large cities – half of European and North American cities.
Public space and streets are terrain in dispute. We tried to mitigate this dispute that always privileged those who take up a lot of space and move very few people. Today there is an awareness that the street is much more and improving sidewalks is a top political priority. It’s now part of the national mobility plan that a few cities are implementing, São Paulo chief among them. We also established a fee on ridehailing apps – not a tax on the bill but for their use of public space, which was rather innovative.
We see the impact of all this on urban development. Today, the price per square meter of land near mobility corridors is going up. The real estate market wants to be near these corridors. The strategic master plan inverted the paradigm: instead of demanding a minimum number of parking spaces in garages – 30% of square footage built in the last few years was for cars – it established a ceiling, in order to advance the new mobility paradigm. People prefer to live near these corridors because if they move around the city, they do so by active mobility and transport.
ITDP: You managed to change parking regulations and implement a TOD policy along transit corridors in São Paulo. How long did this process take? What are some lessons from that experience?
Fernando de Mello Franco: We entered in 2013 and managed to approve the master plan relatively quickly in 2014. ITDP Brasil published a study recently that showed the impact of these policies on mobility, which already shows a new trend to build along mobility corridors although the numbers are a bit distorted by the economic crisis. But the number of apartments with one or no parking spaces grew significantly. Through the strategic master plan, we are reducing the rate of built area for garage spaces. It’s not a very reliable statistical universe, but nevertheless a positive signal that nearly four years after implementation, there is perceptible success.