By the time you read this, the future of the last remaining green area located in the centre of the biggest metropolis of the Americas had already been, or is about to be, decided.
by Henny Freitas
The sentence: “Cut the baby in half! That way each of you can have part of him”, was first said by King Solomon of Israel and summarizes the conflict involving a sanctuary that has been quietly hidden amongst São Paulo’s massive buildings for the past 40 years. The oasis in dispute is called Parque Augusta (Augusta’s Park) and it is located right in the heart of this enormous community I was born and am current living in.
Besides me, São Paulo also shelters a population of about 13 million people. Differently than other metropolis such as London, where about 47% of the city is covered in green, São Paulo city has far less than the minimum of green areas established by the World Health Organization. Whereas the WHO recommends 12m2 of green area per person, certain areas in São Paulo have merely 0,25m2.
Only nine of São Paulo’s 31 districts have comprised with the recommendation above. In order to attend the remaining 10-million inhabitants who live in areas where the minimum suggested is not sufficient it is necessary to create other 75-million square metre of public green areas. This is equivalent to over 47 new Brazilian Hyde Parks, considering about 1,58km2, each.
Could we ever have enough green in São Paulo?
The New Parks Network (Rede Novos Parques, in Portuguese) has offered a direct answer to a more ecologically friendly city environment, a possible solution to fulfill the minimum requirement set by the WHO to assure a good quality of life for its citizens. The network has mapped over 50 green areas likely to be new public parks in the city. Amongst these areas, lays Parque Augusta.
Parque Augusta therefore, is not exactly a park yet. For those who perceive the area as just another private building site, it is only a 25 thousand square metre rain forest spot abandoned for speculation in the centre of a huge city. For me and others, who think of Parque Augusta as a public space and look after it as our common ground, the story is quite different.
Besides chasing the government to take action on urban forest protection we, community members and activists, got tired of the bureaucratic decision-making system and decided to take actions with our own hands, minds and souls. Before being kicked out of Parque Augusta by police force, we had inaugurated the new park to the city and promoted several permacultural activities to the community.
In only 47 days, recycling zones, composting areas and water reservoirs were arranged. Amongst conferences, workshops and artistic performances, we managed to regenerate the park by planting over 200 native trees – all of them protected by law, which means that once planted, nobody could remove them without authorization.
Moreover, Parque Augusta has become a political symbol of resistance.
Instead of another real estate development we demand a more inclusive and participatory community city. So, what happens when two opposite parties don’t come to an agreement? They are sent to court. And this is exactly what happened to Parque Augusta.
Parque August has been sent to court
Even though there is a clause in the contract of the land guaranteeing the social function of the private property, the land-owners (who are two big construction enterprises called Setin and Cyrella) decided to arbitrarily close down the gates and insist in cutting the park in half, build on top of it, and manage both sides. On the other hand, the Public Ministry is pleading for the whole area to be managed as a public park through a civil action. In the middle, there is the Government, which had already approved a law in which Parque Augusta is officially declared as a park, but suggests it does not have enough money to expropriate the area.
The future of Parque Augusta is, therefore, lying in the hands of one single person: the judge Maria Gabriella Pavlópoulos Spaolonzi. If the judge in question was King Solomon, we already knew the sentence.
The judgment for which Solomon became famous for refers to a story from the Hebrew Bible in which two women claimed to be the mother of a child by tricking the parties into revealing their true feelings. After some deliberation, King Solomon called for a sword to be brought before him and, as a fair solution, ordered the baby to be cut in half. Upon hearing the verdict the true mother claimed: “Oh Lord, give the baby to her, just don’t kill him!” The false mother exclaimed: “It shall be neither mine nor hers – divide it!”
The king declared the first mother as the true mother who would rather surrender her baby to another than cut him in half. King Solomon’s judgment became known throughout the world as an example of profound wisdom. What Miss Spaolonzi will decide upon Parque Augusta’s case is still uncertain but her decision is certainly how she will be remembered for!