Neighbourhood power: addressing environmental challenges such as waste recycling in São Paulo by accelerating urban circularity

Brazil | 2017-2018

Objective: Pilot innovations through a “neighbourhood [community] approach” that could eventually be scaled up at city and even national levels.

Jardim Helian is a neighbourhood in the east of the city of São Paulo, and was built on the watershed of the Tone Stream, which is fairly typical of informal settlements, with many self-built and often precarious homes. With the city of 12 million and still growing, Jardim Helian expanded; the population of the area is now around 14,000 people, and is made up of low- and lower middle-income families.

The unplanned nature of the settlement has inevitably led to problems: houses invade the river’s territory, leading to forced channelling. Sewage is also thrown directly into the creek. The area was developing in a take-use-dispose (or linear) way, causing problems and degrading the environment in which the citizens live. How does one respond to this, and accelerate urban circularity? By restructuring neighbourhoods, investing in city-wide transit systems, building inclusive renewable energy grids and energy-efficient buildings, reducing waste to zero, and resource sharing.

A joint project of UNEP and the Sustainable Cities Programme, with the Cities Institute, at the Federal University of São Paulo was developed, based on a “neighbourhood [community] approach.” It capitalizes on inhabitants’ perceptions of these problems, and then replicates the solutions through city planning.

An indicator framework was co-created with the residents, based on a framework developed by the UNEP-led Global Initiative for Resource Efficient Cities (or GI-REC) that helped the community better articulate its problems to the local government. The residents were able to suggest development initiatives such as the installation of waste-collection points, bus stops and the creation of proper schedules, the creation of a cooperative of waste pickers to generate income from recycling, and an environment education centre to promote more sustainable lifestyles. These initiatives reflect community concerns (seen through a systems perspective) and link them with local government priorities.

These development initiatives have been presented to the local government of São Paulo for inclusion in its overall urban development plan, as well as to potential external donors.

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