In Fortaleza, a project called "Cidade da Gente" (“A City of People”) transformed Avenida Central (Central Avenue), in the Cidade 2000 neighborhood, an area heavily populated by motor vehicle traffic, into a people-friendly public space (photo credit: Rodrigo Capote/WRI Brasil)

Last weekend, temporary interventions helped the cities of Fortaleza and Sao Paulo send a message about how public spaces can be reimagined with low-cost investment initiatives and great results. The idea was to raise awareness and reflection on the safety and experience of pedestrians throughout the cities.

In the capital of Ceará, the project named "Cidade da Gente" took the first step on Sunday (September 17), on Central Avenue, in the Cidade 2000 district, be transformed into a people-friendly and not car-oriented thoroughfare.  This action was a way of showing the population how it is possible to give new use and meaning to available existing public spaces.  Specifically, a large pedestrian-only area was created where cars usually drive and park. Organizers only maintained one lane of vehicle traffic.

Central Avenue is the main axis of the very active Cidade 2000 neighborhood. This first intervention, still temporary, used easy-to-install and remove paint, potted plants and cones, so that the population could test out a new reconfiguration and use of the area. Based on this first experience, citizens will be able to offer suggestions before any definitive works are executed.

During the weekend, the typically narrow sidewalks were widened, and many social spaces were added. These spaces served as venues for presentations by musical groups and other artistic attractions, for professional workshops, giveaways of regional plants seeds, and for offering health examinations and guidelines. Additionally, there were spaces for public services, such as the promotion of a commuter card known as the Single Ticket, a card just for seniors, and credentials for special privileges.

"This is the first place in the City were an area for cars has been transformed into a public plaza. We took advantage of the flat infrastructure and put in a number of facilities to make the space a great public area in the capital city.  We started with pilot projects of many of the changes to test, evaluate, listen to the population and, if there is support, our obligation will be to expand the policy. We believe this idea will thrive and will expand to other locations in Fortaleza," said Mayor Roberto Cláudio.

WRI Brasil supports Fortaleza in road safety projects as part of the Bloomberg Initiative for Global Road Safety (BIGRS), which also has the partner of the Global Designing Cities Initiative (NACTO-GDCI) and Vital Strategies. At Central Avenue, the partners supported the project that gave a new face to Cidade 2000.

 "It was incredible to see the population take ownership of that space. Even before the project was fully assembled, people were using the seating, taking pictures, giving compliments and asking if it would remain like this.  The city innovated in offering this intervention to the population and by involving people in the decision on how to use that space. It is a pleasure to see up close, in a few days, a place that used to be basically parking become something alive, a joyful and vibrant space, a public space returned to the people,” says Rafaela Machado, WRI Brasil Road Safety specialist.

The new urban design of the temporary installation anticipates a quieter traffic plan announced for the region. The idea is that the community becomes familiar with the intervention for two weeks and participates in discussions about new urban design for the area, which offers more safety for the most vulnerable users of the streets, as well as guarantee spaces for leisure and urban living.

Therefore, a tool was developed in partnership with the University of Fortaleza (Unifor) will register the opinions of the residents, which can later be included definitively in the area of calmer traffic.  In social media, the mayor also said that if the initiative takes off, it could be expanded to other locations in Fortaleza.

In São Paulo, more color and more safety for citizens of the North Zone

In São Paulo, a similar action took place on Saturday (September 16), following a proposal by the 11th Biennial of Architecture of São Paulo. The Biennial this year is conceived as a project capable of combining several disciplines present in urban planning.

As such, the Transport and Development Policy Institute (ITDP Brasil) and the Citi Foundation carried out a temporary urban intervention in the North Zone neighborhood of Santana, in partnership with WRI Brasil, BIGRS, NACTO-GDCI and the local Traffic Engineering Company CET-SP.

Intersections (specifically the intersection of Ruas Dr. César, Salete, Voluntários da Pátria and Leite de Moraes) were temporary painted and got a brand new look, becoming much safer for pedestrians. The sidewalks were extended at all corners, two parking lots became open spaces, a roundabout was included and public areas were enlarged. With this, vehicle traffic slowed its pace and the pedestrian became the highlight of the installation, with shorter street crossings.

On Rua Dr. César, a public space enlarged where people were previously crowded in, by organizing the flow. A conduit was made for the vehicles, which causes drivers to reduce their speed before making a turn.  In a move to discourage pedestrians from crossing diagonally and inappropriate locations, obstacles like potted plants were positioned to block their paths. The painting was done during evening hours, with support from the Traffic Engineering Company (CET).

The aim of the action was to raise awareness among the population regarding road safety and the impact of urban design on the pedestrian experience. The region has high pedestrian flow and is close to the metro and bus stations.

"A bus stopped for two ladies and one of them came to me and said, ‘I've lived in the neighborhood for 82 years and a bus has never stopped so quickly to let me cross.' As the design of the street changes, so does the behavior of people – from pedestrians, who benefit from crossings --as well as from drivers, cyclists and all other users, who show more respect,” says Diogo Lemos, a road safety analyst at WRI Brasil.

The WRI Brasil team took advantage of interaction with the population to study the flow of pedestrians around the Santana station. Residents marked on a map how they traveled to get to and from the station and highlighted what made them feel unsafe while walking in the neighborhood.