Rua Paulo Gustavo

A street called Paulo Gustavo

“Se essa rua, se essa rua, fosse minha…” (If this street, if this street, were mine…). The song from our childhood has already been interpreted by many people. A lot indeed. But it would fit well in the voice of actor Paulo Gustavo. Yes, himself: Paulo Gustavo. And in this case, for several reasons.

The actor, who passed away in 2021, curiously connects street, innovation, citizen, and tribute in a single sentence. And illustrates well how technology can change political life and popular participation in Brazil.

As the actor would say, in his great comedy shows, “go to the clouds”. It goes, it’s true, but don’t worry, it stays there. You can trust.

But like in many comedies, this is a story that starts off sad: after all, the actor is perhaps one of Brazil’s most famous victims of Covid-19. He passed away on May 4, 2021, as a result of a series of complications caused by the coronavirus, after almost two months in hospital, amid the brutal second wave of the pandemic in the country.

But let’s organize this story, as Dona Hermínia, the actor’s character, would say.

Paulo Gustavo in “Minha Mãe É uma Peça 3”. Image: Disclosure/Globo Filmes.

First act. Born and raised in Niterói, in the metropolitan region of Rio de Janeiro, Gustavo has always included a bit of the city in his works, portraying places such as Praia de Icaraí and Campo de São Bento, “the Central Park of Niterói”.

A few hours after his death, the city didn’t even wait for the mourning itself. And soon wanted to pay homage to one of its most famous sons. On May 5th, 24 hours after the date of his death, the city hall opened a public consultation to transform it into the name of a street, in the same neighborhood of Icaraí, where Coronel Moreira César Street used to be. But here is a detail.

Instead of taking up city councilors’ time in discussions in the city council, the entire process was carried out with the help of Niterói residents, through the Colab platform.

Whether on the startup’s website or app – a govtech that was created in 2013 to help citizens report urban janitorial demands – more than 34 thousand people gave their opinion on the proposal, without even leaving their homes. It was one of the biggest votes recorded in the municipality, in terms of citizen participation, with 90% of votes in favor of the change.

Image of the public consultation page on the Paulo Gustavo Law. Image: Colab Platform.

Second act. In less than 15 days after leaving as not planned, the actor’s name and even phrases were already on the signs on the renamed Ator Paulo Gustavo Street.

Okay, changing the street name may seem like a simple task, but this story shows the power that can exist when politics is in the palm of your hand or on the screen closest to people.

In Niterói, other more complex consultations have also been carried out with the help of Colab, such as the discussion on whether the city’s municipal guard should be armed or a survey on the needs of those who use public transport in the municipality. “It’s the type of decision that helps to further validate the ideas of the public manager in charge of a city”, comments Camila Romano, operations director at Colab, which currently has over one million registered citizens in different corners of Brazil.

The fact is that citizen is willing to speak. Not randomly. He wants to be heard. And social media has amplified this desire. Want an example? Green Movement in Iran. In the 2009 elections in that country, social media served as a stage for supporters of this aspect to express themselves against the ayatollahs’ regime, in favor of an opposition candidate, and one of the codes translated into a green piece. How did they know the color of the clothes? Through social media.

In other words, technological revolutions as opinion tools, social media as amplifiers of the popular voice are at the center of interest for governments, regardless of their nature, size or ideological creed. They came to stay.

When thinking the future of the places we live in, there are many people who talk about smart cities as if it were an exercise of science fiction. It isn’t – and it doesn’t need to be. Sometimes, the major intelligence lies in simple technologies, but which reach people’s hands and give them the power to speak, monitor and express their opinions.

In times of municipal elections, it is always time to think about what kind of cities we want for the future. And what better and more democratic way is there to manage municipalities than creating ways so that people don’t only think about it once every four years?

Third Act. Because, as actor Paulo Gustavo would say: laughing is an act of resistance. Imagine when laughter joins hands with initiative, how resistant the citizen becomes.

“Safety and security don’t just happen, they are the result of collective consensus and public investment. We owe our children, the most vulnerable citizens in our society, a life free of violence and fear.”

Nelson Mandela

3 questions for…

Bianca Tavolari

Professor at FGV-Law School and researcher at Cebrap and Mecila.

1) The line “são as águas de março fechando o verão” (are the waters of March closing the summer) is classic, but in times of climate emergency, many Brazilian cities have recorded above-average rainfall – a problem in itself and one that becomes even greater given the waterproofing of soils. How should the public authorities of a city like São Paulo act, in the short and long term, to mitigate the impact of increasingly intense rains?

Extreme climate events are nothing new for Brazil or for a city like São Paulo, where the consequences of rain are usually quite serious – flooded houses and neighborhoods or landslides are frequent, especially among the most vulnerable population. In fact, these events have become increasingly frequent, in a scenario in which we will not be able to reduce carbon emissions. Therefore, it is important to talk about mitigation and not an attempt to prevent it, thinking about adaptations. A city like São Paulo could make changes to aspects such as soil waterproofing. Today, there is no obligation in new constructions to install adequate drainage or rainwater collection equipment and systems for a city concerned with extreme climate events. Yes, there is a policy of incentives and discounts on the concession fee for those who want to do so, but this is more of a discussion of the business model of each construction. Another aspect that the city needs to rethink is the filling of rivers, the canalization of streams and the construction of large reservoirs (piscinões) – which are very expensive structures and seem to be the only alternative for dealing with floods. This model needs to be rethought. We are far behind: São Paulo could be an example from the point of view of adapting to climate change, but it is not.

2) How can technology and innovation support the reduction of the impacts of climate change in large cities? And to what degree can this mitigation be done (or not)?

Technology and innovation are fundamental to thinking about mitigatingthe effects of climate change. There are several examples. In Amsterdam, forexample, there is the use of green slabs or adaptation gardens in buildings,which helps with issues such as temperature and rain capture. Other dimensionsare the collection of garbage and recycling using specific sensors in the bins,creating an efficient and proper network. It is also necessary to think aboutthe entire dimension of the use of electrical energy: an electric bus fleetwould be more interesting than a diesel-powered fleet. Technology must alwaysbe combined with an urban policy dimension. There is a lot to be done, buttechnology cannot be allowed to replace a dimension of democracy and discussionof problems in a central way.

3) Still talking about innovation: today we already see several digital government and popular participation initiatives through applications and digital platforms. In your view, how much progress can be made in terms of democracy and representation by narrowing the channels between the population and public authorities through technology?

Today, we already have various experiences of participation: from discussing legislative projects in the Senate to more substantive agendas, which go beyond “yes” or “no”. But here the discussion is long: when talking about a country with high inequality like Brazil, one cannot ignore the problem of internet access, which became clear during the pandemic. When the Master Plan was reviewed in São Paulo, the problem was not internet access, but the quality of access that allowed anyone to participate in such a discussion. Someone who is poorer may have access to the internet or WhatsApp, but would probably not be able to participate in a public hearing on Teams for two hours, for example. There are several ways of thinking to encourage participation in cities, but again: technology does not solve problems without us thinking about democratic issues. Imagine having a platform that shows all bus lines, the frequency of these buses, and correlates with contracts and concessions made by cities? This would allow social control for people to monitor the concession, understanding why a bus may take 40 minutes or two hours to arrive. This is very important not only from the point of view of people’s daily lives, but also from the point of view of democracy. It is something that would place technology, in innovative dimensions of platforms and data repositories, in a place at the service of smarter, but above all more democratic, cities.