A complete radiography pertaining to the city of São Paulo

The environmental chaos and the greenery which has been left over in the metropolis, are exposed in the São Paulo Atlas, which is about to be published

Over the last five decades, the municipality of São Paulo has been continually water-proofed by cement and asphalt, in an uncontrolled occupation which has expanded, without planning, to the periphery, destroying the native vegetation and the green areas which it met as it went along. Only during the last 13 years, the capital city has lost 30% of its vegetation cover, the temperature has risen and consequently the quality of life has worsened.

This is what is shown by the first data of the project Environment Atlas of the Municipality of São Paulo, which will be available on CD-ROM and on the Internet by the end of December. The project of the atlas had the financial support of FAPESP to the tune of R$ 149,000 and the collaboration of professors of the University of São Paulo (USP) and of the Botanical Institute of the Secretary of the Environment of the State.

Developed to last five years, from 1999 until 2003, by 25 technicians of the municipal secretaries of Greenery and the Environment (SVMA) and of Planning, it is integrated into Biota/FAPESP – the Research Program into Sustainable Conservation of the Biodiversity of the State of São Paulo.

A late diagnosis
Enlisted into a project to reunite, analyze and interpret maps, cadasters, censuses, tables, reports and information obtained on site – by satellite images, aerial photos and field studies -, the team has been elaborating a diagnosis of the vegetation cover of the municipality. This in-depth registry comes associated with socio economic aspects of the use and occupation of the land, as well as the characteristics of the physical topography and the detailing of the areas of greatest interest.

The final objective is “to provide information about the ambiental problems of the capital to aid public policies which will permit an expansion and conservation of the green areas which are being degraded.” explained the geologist of SVMA, Harmi Takiya, coordinator of the project. The Atlas will also be fundamental for the planning of the municipality “which up until this moment did not have a diagnosis of this type.” affirmed Waldir Mantovani, permanent professorof the Department of Ecology of the Institute of Biosciences of USP and a collaborator of the project in the areas of ecology and vegetation.

Professor Mantovani understands, for example, that it is necessary to increase the number of species adopted within the planted trees of the city in order to obtain a diversity in the flowering and thus permit an increase in the fauna. He gave as an example: “On the city USP campus, by way of the vegetation, we have brought back birds such as the thrush, tucan, parakeet, and parrot, species which had disappeared.”

For the children
As well as the images of the satellite and of the photos taken by helicopter, photos of various locations were taken from the division with Peruibe until the high Cantareira and from the end of the East zone until the peak of Jaraguá in the extreme west. “We have details of these areas and are putting on the Internet descriptions of them. We are also putting them on a CD-ROM for the schools with the objective that the children have a better understanding of their city.” emphasized Professor Mantovani. For him, the municipal schools need to teach about the environment: The diagnosis is not only biological, but social as well, and the preservation of the vegetation is related to investments in education, health, housing and the distribution of income.”

The agronomy engineer Luis Roberto Jacintho of SVMA, who is participating in the project, said that the objective of the vegetation mapping is to identify the poorest areas so as to orientate the interference by public authority. “We are going to look to characterize the types of vegetation which exist in the municipality – as well as the lack of green areas in the urban and rural ambience – and to establish what can be done not to lose them.”

Lost greenery
Before beginning the research , the researchers already knew that , of the 1512 square kilometers of the largest Brazilian metropolis, only 247.4 were still occupied by green areas – of which 154.8 are in the urban zones according to a survey carried out in 1992 by the Secretary of Planning of the City Hall. Now, the comparative analysis of the images of the satellites show that the green areas have decreased throughout the municipality. The loss was more accentuated in the districts on the periphery, in the East zone and especially in two vital areas: the high hills of the Cantareira and the hinterland of the Guarapiranga reservoir.

“These are two protected and water font areas, close to rural areas, which are suffering from the pressure of urban occupation without any kind of planning.” confirmed the geologist Harmi. The engineer Jacintho remembers that the few remaining green areas are degraded and need to be preserved. “In a comparison of the satellite images of 1986 with those of 1999, we have already confirmed that there has been a loss of vegetation in terms of 30%. However, these are preliminary details: we are carrying out a check on the quantification which could increase or decrease the percentage of the loss.”

Internal migration
The researchers and technicians want to know exactly which of the areas have lost most vegetation cover and which of them have had the least loses or which will eventually make a gain. “We already know,” revealed Jacintho, “that districts such as Grajaú and Parelheiros, in the South zone, Tremembé, Jacanã, Vila Brasilândia, Perus and Pirituba in the North zone, and Cidade Tiradentes, São Rafael and Iguatemi in the East zone, have lost the most green areas.”For the researchers, the loss is related to internal migration of the population: people who could no longer afford to pay the rent in the more central areas moved during the last decade to the periphery where they constructed irregular housing in clandestine allotments.

Normally, when an allotment is approved, it is obligatory to preserve a part as a green area. In the cases of the irregular allotments, however, as well as occupying green areas, they do not reserve any space for vegetation. “This works doubly against the environment, first because there is the occupation of a public area which should be green and afterwards because they don’t leave any reserve.” lamented Harmi.

In search of green
The geologist cited the actions of other Brazilian cities which confronted the problems of the loss of the vegetation cover: “Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte, Curitiba and Vitoria also brought together well organized ambiental information, but the only ambiental atlas which has been concluded and edited into a book and put on CD-ROM is that of Porto Alegre, published in 1998”. As well as this work of the Gaucho capital city, the Paulista project was inspired by a German example: the Atlas of Berlin of 1995. The Atlas will group together data dispersed through various municipal secretaries, give them a brushing up and will group them into maps which will make up a system of ambiental information as stipulated in the Organic Law of the municipality.

In this first phase the standards of the existing vegetation in the municipality will be checked out. “For example, in the extreme south,” said engineer Jacintho, “in the division with Itanhaém, there is the typical vegetation of misty forest (constant mist coverage) and native forest, with endemic species (exclusive to the place) and which includes an area under environmental protection. Also, we know that we have to protect Cantareira, in the Northern zone, where there is a vegetation which is being lost.”

Appreciation of the native forest
“In the next step,” added professor Mantovani “we shall study the significance of these examples in detail, to determine which species exist in the natural forest and to characterize in minute detail the park areas.” Once the green areas have been set out, the researchers and technicians will draw up proposals of plans to preserve the vegetation and to create new green areas, since the pressures for occupation are extremely high. For Mantovani, one of the major problems is the occupation around the Guarapiranga reservoir and the degradation of its original vegetation.

“City Hall does not have a single project for the preservation and the re-introduction of native species.” he emphasized. He also mentioned that in re-foresting various species are used – Brazilian spiderflower, ligustro, sibipiruna, tipuana, bibnonia tree, silk-cotton tree, and the pottery tree -, of which “only the silk-cotton tree is native of São Paulo”. The Brazilian spiderflower tree, sibipiruna and the pottery tree are from other regions. The others are exotic – coming from different countries – and the nearest of them is the tipuana tree which comes from the north of the Argentine.

Already on the Internet
The Atlas will be printed at the end of the project, but a part is already available at the electronic address: There are various types of maps on the vegetation, climate and temperature, occupation and use of the land, socio economic information (with maps of income, birth rate, and death rate, population concentration and the shanty town population per district), of drainage and sewage, geological and geotechnical. These are data which could help even to combat floods, in the prevention of landslides and in the implantation of roads and avenues.

As well as the CD-ROM, there will be edited maps on a regional scale of 1:50.000, with details of critical areas “to orientate the authorities and for the population to have access to information of quality and which is up-dated.” said the geologist Harmi. For this, as well as the financial support of FAPESP, the project had the support of SVMA, which invested R$ 100,000.00 in the first phase of the Atlas.

Integrated with Sinbiota
“The Ambiental Atlas of the Municipality of São Paulo is the 24th project to integrate into the program Biota/FAPESP and has the same importance as the other 23.” stated the coordinator of Biota, Carlos Alfredo Joly. “One of the basic premises of Biota, ” he emphasized, “is to appreciate all the information produced in the width of the program, since the most important is the integration of this information into the Sinbiota, the System of Ambiental Information of the Biota Program.” The feeding of the data banks of Sinbiota will be on line, the same as the other projects.

Joly concluded: “The level of the loss of vegetation of the municipality of São Paulo is alarming and clearly shows that, as well as the quantitative and qualitative diagnoses of the remaining vegetation, the Atlas Project will have to define an agenda of actions which will revert this picture. That is to say, it will be necessary to establish a program of recovery of the native vegetation.”

An extravagant occupation

The ecologist Waldir Mantovani, collaborator with the project, explained the diversities of the occupations within the city limits. “There is an area of high density: they are buildings constructed during the last fifty years in the old city center, on the axle which runs from Avenida Paulista until Santo Amaro, in districts such as Santana, Penha and Tatuapé and in others near to the metro stations, such as Jabaquara. In these locations, the satellite images show a lot of dark patches and hide the vegetation.”

However, on the periphery, he explained, there is as the norm a high density of houses constructed on small land plots with no backyard or garden, on narrow roads without any trees. “It is cement on top of cement, without any cover of vegetation.” This situation in which is found the major extension of the urban area, including the favelas (shanty towns) with houses made of brickwork and without street planning.

Another type of horizontal occupation, which can be looked at in a more or less sparse manner as far as trees and gardens are concerned, occurs in districts which were the periphery 40 years ago, such as Brás, Ipiranga, Sacomã, Vila Prudente, Penha, part of Lapa, Vila Leopoldina and Santo Amaro. “It is not such a dense occupation: the plots are larger, with a backyard, there is extensive street planning, urban trees, some squares and a medium density of vegetation cover.”

Urban Oasis
In the districts of the Jardins, Higienópolis, Alto de Pinheiros, Alto da Lapa, Jardim América, Pacaembu, in the area close to Ibirapuera Park, in Morumbi and in Cantareira, “where the planning was made for a type of diffused arborization, with large trees and central passageways on the roads, the plots of the houses are larger and have ample sized gardens with large quantities of plants.” Other sparse vegetation zones exist and are in areas of industry, schools, hospitals, squares, lakes and a few parks such as that of the State park, Morumbi park and Ibirapuera park. “They are green areas which were planted or are maintained as remainders of native vegetation.”

Cantareira threatened
In the rural zone, the vegetation cover is more intense, above all in the State Park of Serra da Cantareira – the major green area of the municipality -, where there has been an increasing urban growth, often irregular, as highlighted professor Mantovani. “Then in the Southern zone, around the Guarapiranga reservoir, there are small farms in horticultural production, horse ranching, some eucalyptus plantations, and at the division with Peruibe, preserved spaces of natural forest.”

He revealed even more that “one of the types of vegetation which gives more density to the vegetation cover of the municipality are the reforestation of the Southern zone and also of the West, in the approaches to the motorways Anhanguera and Bandeirantes”. However, it is the region of the Serra do Mar which display the strips of native vegetation most well preserved, “with species of Atlantic tropical forest, natural country and mist covered Atlantic tropical forest.” Also, on the part closest to the high coastline ridge, there exist groves of lowland forest alternating with highland forest.

The project
Ambiental Atlas of the Municipality of São Paulo (nº 99/10955-9); Modality An individual research project integrated into the program Biota/FAPESP; Coordinator Harmi Takiya, of the Secretary of Greenery and the Environment; Investment R$ 148,845.00