Right to the City: São Paulo DIY Games
In October 2013, we traveled to Brazil to participate in the 10th Architecture Biennale of São Paulo and organize a workshop parallel to the event. The exhibition and workshops highlighted different forms of creative grassroots activism, and demonstrated how communities were strategically transforming cities from the ground up.
After discussions with the organizers of the Biennale, our plan was to collaboratively organize a workshop about DIY games. Games are one of the most effective ways we have seen to promote aright to the city. A form of occupation, playing is also fun and interactive. The idea was relevant because Brazil will undergo two major sporting competitions—the World Cup, which is currently underway, and the Olympics in 2016. Despite huge investments flowing in, many cities are being shaped by the goals of capital-driven interests, with little attention being paid to local realities or requirements.
Activism in São Paolo hit a peak last summer, when an activist group began to protest the authorities' desire to raise the fare of public transport in the city. A country ridden with inequality, this move was seen as extremely unfair. In the beginning, these activists were not supported by many, and the liberal press called them 'vandals'. But the situation changed after police violently dispersed one of their meetings. The next morning newspapers were filled with headlines criticizing the government. This led to mass protests in the city and against the authorities who wished to hold a series of major sporting events: first, the Confederations Cup, Championship of Latin American football, and later the World Cup and Olympics.
Although Brazilians are some of the world's most extreme football fans, people began to emerge with slogans dedicated to the fact that even though they love the sport, they were against such massive spending on infrastructure just for visitors. It became clear that there was a demand to use these large amounts of money allocated to mega game projects to reform transport, schools and hospitals, which in many regions of the country are in a dismal state. Our goal was to build on this resistance to mega games by organizing low-cost, community organized events and instilling a sense of play as a right.
The Process: Partizaning Interventions
Our 10-day workshop began with an exploration of the city to understand the context. We collaborated with a several activist groups—Basurama, Muda Colective and Recooperar—who were working in different capacities to address urban issues in their city.
Conversations with people living and working in São Paulo became the basis for our research. We walked, skated and used public transport to get to know the city. We paid attention to the writing on the walls, using graffiti and stencils as an indicator of how people felt about the games and related urban developments.
After visiting several different areas, and based on recommendations from our collaborators, we created a route for our interventions.
The sites we selected were the minacao highway, park augusta, an occupied building at the city's center, and the concrete plaza roosevelt park. All these sites in the city required creative activist interventions. Some of our actions were planned to be collective, while others were interventions for people in the city to stumble upon.
We first decided to work in one of our favorite places—a large area with an air duct from the subway. We collected colorful, discarded packages and made a spontaneous sculpture and play-space. This simple intervention conveyed our idea of how infrastructure could be hacked and transformed for people to enjoy their city.
Overall, the following principles guides our ideas to inspire action in the city.
1: Using Familiar Language or Make Things Look Official
In São Paulo we noted special workers in uniforms with colored flags and caps, to help people navigate dangerous intersections on weekends. We decided to use to create our own uniform, logo and flags based on the shape of the city and its love of skateboarders and football. We used these uniforms to create temporary spaces for games, and to legitimize the idea of occupying urban spaces for play to passers-by.
2: Playing to Occupy Public Spaces
We developed a route and a list of events for our DIY Olympics, to break the boundaries of conventional use, and challenge people's routines in these spaces. Coordinating through via facebook group, we organized a series of mini competitions, which included racing on giant recycled skateboards, parkour for kids and several other improvised outdoor games.
3: Being Spontaneous
We spent a lot of time demonstrating how to play and occupy space in the city. We bought nearly two dozen footballs, played with passers-by including the many police in the city, threw them in inaccessible places, passing the ball to random people and requiring them to further pass the ball to someone else.
All of these spontaneous playgrounds were marked on the map and added to a list of games on a website which we created along with the rules of games and spaces for people to add their own results.
4: Highlighting and Challenging the Obstacles
In the city, we experienced many barriers and police, and wanted to promote the idea of being free and anarchic. The rules for our 'unfair football' game were simple: the strongest player or team takes the top goal, while the weaker one stays below. The game was analogous to unfair rules of life based on inequality in the city.
The parasitic basketball court commented on the fences (including high voltage ones), separating the territory of more affluent citizens from "the dangers of the street." Although we delineated a markup on the street, getting behind the fence to play was impossible.
5: Occupying through Everyday Actions
We ended our event with a picnic in Park Augusta, next to the city's nightlife epicenter. Entry to the park is only possible through the parking lot, and the park was under discussion to be destroyed and replaced with elite housing. We are glad that we have made a small contribution to the struggle to save park through our mini festival and occupation. Recent months have shown a fierce struggle between the developers and activists, but it now looks like people will be able to save their park.
As usual, the idea of participation was harder to implement in practice. In a completely new context, we faced barriers of language and culture—but were lucky to work with other creative urban activists.
With more time, perhaps the working styles and practices could have been better synchronized. For now we are happy to stay up-to-date about different occupations and transformations in the city, which reflect people's sense of ownership and their right to live in and enjoy their own city.
Special thanks to our amazing collaborators: Ursula, Marcella, Mister, Ricardo and Tiago. Partizaning team: Igor, Shriya, MakePhotographs: Igor, Make, Ricardo, Anne Website for the DIY Olympics