Public Space: Fights and Fictions

RENATO CYMBALISTA

Architect and urbanist Renato Cymbalista is Professor of Urban History and the History of Urbanism in the School of Architecture and Urbanism at the University of São Paulo (FAU-USP). He holds a PhD from FAU-USP, and a post-doc in history from the University of Campinas, and has been a guest professor at the Technische Universität Cottbus, Germany, Paris 7 (Diderot), Paris 1 (Sorbonne-Pantheon) and Parsons—the New School of Design. Renato Cymbalista coordinates the Sites of Memory and Conscience research group and the Lab for Other Urbanisms, and is president of the São Paulo-based NGO Instituto Pólis.

As we know, in recent years civil society has been reclaiming public space and the right to the city in completely new ways and with a new intensity. This new trend is particularly strong in my country, Brazil, and in São Paulo, the city I live in. In our case, a major effort would be required to consider these new movements a fiction: they can be seen everywhere, especially among young people, who are demanding and creating public spaces.
As an urbanist, researcher and citizen, from my experience in São Paulo I can see the new trend of occupation of public space as a necessary means to reboot democracy. But I can also see that, in my city, democracy is already rebooting itself. Local government is very busy inventing new instruments, reframing existing ones, launching public calls… just some of the many movements now showing that the necessary changes in government are already starting to happen.