A Brazilian collective wants to create vertical parks in the largest concrete jungle of South America. The creative minds behind Movimento 90° have started planting the first green façades along the São Paulo freeway.
It’s a giant in a gigantic city. The elevated expressway dubbed Minhocão – “big worm” – stretches on past countless tower blocks for 3.5 km, carrying up to 80,000 vehicles a day through the city of São Paulo – at times passing within just five meters of people’s homes.
On Sundays, however, it’s an oasis at the heart of the city. The road is closed to traffic, families come for a stroll, there are buskers, boarders and cyclists. And now, the highway has an additional attraction: the largest vertical park in the Americas.
“In the last 80 years, Brazil has seen immense urban centers emerge in a barely controlled fashion,” explains Guil Blanche, one of the initiators of the project Movimento 90° – a social enterprise that wants to improve the urban environment by greening windowless walls.
Cultured and community-minded, Guil is part of a generation of young Brazilians who not only dream of a better future for their country, but work to make it happen, fusing creativity with pragmatism.
A city of blind walls
“Existing urban planning laws were not designed to foster growth in an organized way,” says Blanche. “Instead,” he points out, “our urbanization has been based on ‘imediatismo’, geared as much to solving short-term problems as to generating profit.
What we see as a result is too many people concentrated in small areas, relying on an inefficient infrastructure. This planning has brought us ugly, noisy and polluted places – a city that’s gray, arid and full of tower blocks.”
Movimento 90° wants to change all that – and capitalize on a particularly ill-advised building regulation that was in force from 1920 to 1992.
Based on a historic belief that the Southern wind was a health hazard, carrying germs causing diseases such as pneumonia, the city of São Paulo decreed that all south-facing walls must be windowless, creating thousands upon thousands of blind walls. What if all of these “non-spaces” could be turned into lush, vertical gardens?
“The ‘mur végétal’ was invented by Patrick Blanc in Paris,” says Blanche, “and we were able to adapt it for São Paulo, using recycled materials, creating a vertical garden that is neither expensive nor particularly difficult to implement.”
There are 7,400 blind walls just along the Minhocão. If Movimento 90° has its way, they will all turn green, creating one giant vertical park – a green corridor of almost 3 km. With seven vertical gardens covering 4,000 square meters to date, the current installation is already the largest of its kind in the Americas.
Designing a greener city
“The projects of Corredor Verde do Minhocão were designed by contemporary artists and are made up of only native plants,” adds Blanche. “We can create all kinds of shapes and designs, leaving the artist free to create. For us, it’s a way of democratizing contemporary art.”
However, as Blanche points out, the projects does far more than please the eye. “Our gardens absorb noise and lower a building’s temperature by up to seven degrees. In times of drought, they also increase relative humidity, making life much more pleasant for the people inside. Not only that, they increase biodiversity in the city and, most importantly, reduce air pollution.”
Sustainability is a major factor in the project, as Blanche is eager to add. The green façades are cultivated through a cleverly designed irrigation system, using a water tank that feeds the garden in a cyclic drop system. “Every drop is collected and reused, along with all rainwater that is also collected,” Blanche explains. “Therefore, even in dry periods, we are able to keep the garden sufficiently watered, without needing to use water from other sources.”
Fernando Haddad, who has just completed his term as mayor of São Paulo, didn’t hesitate to get aboard with the project: “This is an elegant approach to the problem of pollution, with many benefits for residents and the environment,” Haddad told local news channel Rit TV. “And it’s not expensive either.
These gardens are being paid for by companies who want to trade their environmental debt. Vertical gardens combat the visual pollution of gray walls, the noise pollution of traffic and air pollution all in one.”
Who knows, one day the entire highway could be replaced by liveable urban space – as has happened with a similar expressway in Rio de Janeiro. Until then, São Paulo’s first vertical park brings much-needed relief and adds another sight to this fascinating megalopolis.