Blue City Mission
My fieldwork addresses water and sanitation topics, moved by the problem of city rivers pollution.
I have been been working on this issue for the last seven years, sometimes as an activist and more recently as a business woman
In 2015 I created a movement called Blue City, addressing the more than 300 buried rivers of São Paulo city and I realized that this problem happens in most cities of Brazil and Latin America: the cities urbanization process started in the twentieth century was marked by the word progress. Progress meant the construction of streets and roads, public and green spaces paving, city zoning system and the implantation of electric power and water supply centralized systems. Most actions aimed urban planning and disease control. In this scenario, wastewater treatment – water that companies, residences and industries used for their functioning – was relegated to the background, as well as city trash collection and appropriate destination.
It happens that this kind of urbanization – the one that marginalizes water and, consequently, rivers – repeats in the vast majority of Brazilian and Latin America cities.
This urban planning reflects the lack of understanding of the cycles of nature and the consequent disconnection to it.
Cities are designed in an attempt to dominate nature, not to work in partnership with it. Excessive soil sealing, indiscriminate trees removal, parks and square shortage and rivers used as sewage channels are examples of this urbanization model. The results can be seen – and felt – daily by citizens: floods, heat island effects, polluted rivers, water shortage, air pollution, etc.
In 2016 I turned Blue City into a social business and started to think about possible solutions. In 2017 and 2018 I wrote and scripted a TV series named The Blue Cities, to be launched in 2019. Because of The Blue Cities I traveled to ten cities in Brazil researching urban rivers and interviewing people.
After a lot of researching, thinking and doing, I wrote some considerations about the matter: whenever we start a conversation about the pollution of urban rivers, a whole bunch of reasons are numbered to explain it. Yes, there is a lot of problems causing the pollution of rivers, but this kind of argument is a problem itself, because when we list so many arguments, we get the feeling that the problem is too big and nothing we do will be enough. Besides, some arguments are not even real. Instead, they are a result of a social imaginary inherited from old narratives. So, I realized that it's important to understand the whole picture, but it's essential to focus on main topics. This is what the Blue City journey is about. Here I present the three main truths we need to know if we want to rescue urban rivers.
First truth: to be aware of the reasons for the urban rivers pollution
We need to focus on the present.
Rivers are polluted because we pollute them now, not in the past.
We don't have to clean rivers.
Rivers have the capacity to regenerate themselves.
We just have to stop polluting them.
It is about me and also about you.
Everybody is responsible for polluting rivers: people, companies and government.
Second truth: to understand the current model, with two systems flowing underneath the city
There is the natural system, designed of creeks and rivers. Sometimes rivers are buried, flowing below the city. Sometimes rivers are flowing on the surface. The fact is that water is always flowing in rivers. When rivers are channeled (and sometimes buried) they become the city drainage system.
And there is the sanitation system, made of tubes, pipes and sewage treatment plants. It's usually built by the Municipality that is also responsible for collecting and treating the sewage of houses and buildings before pouring it into rivers.
Third truth: to understand how pollution reaches urban rivers
There are three main ways through which polluted water is reaching rivers:
Through diffuse pollution. Rainwater flows over the surface of the city carrying trash that urban lifestyle produces. Sometimes rainwater flows straight to rivers and other times it reaches the underground drainage system (buried rivers). In São Paulo, for example, 30% of the pollution of the main city rivers is due to diffuse pollution. Municipality and citizens have to work together to stop trashing cities.
Due to poor structure. In some neighborhoods or cities, there is no sewage collection system, so citizens dump their sewage straight to creeks and rivers. In other cases, Municipality collects the sewage, but it pours it straight into rivers (by the lack of sewage treatment plants). In São Paulo, for example, 70% of the pollution of the main city rivers is due to wastewater pollution.
Due to clandestine connections. Some people choose to connect their sewage pipes straight to creeks and rivers, instead of making the connection in the municipal collection system, even knowing it is an illegal practice.
When I started to think about a master plan to rescue urban rivers and I began to look for answers to what causes their pollution, I realized that there is no other path than review our relationship with water in cities. Water became a consumer good in most cities and that's a sign of our disconnection with nature. We need to reconnect to nature in order to find the right solutions. I believe that this reconnection happens first of all through water, because among all elements, water is the one that best define us. It reminds us of our most instinctive emotions and deepest memories.
Care for water and rivers teaches us how to take care of the planet.
Here we present three actions that we need to take to rescue urban rivers.
First action: to change our relationship with water in cities
How: first of all, understanding the water cycle, which means to know where the water we consume comes from and where it goes after we use it.
Second, being aware that we are channels of water and that we belong to the water cycle. Water flows through our body cleaning it the same way it does on the rest of the planet.
Ant third, but not least, putting rivers in the leading role. Rivers are the best path for our reconnection with nature. They act as mirrors of our choices. Clean rivers are a sign of urban health.
Second action: to reveal the current sanitation system
How: discovering the natural system of buried rivers. Just because rivers are buried in cities, it doesn't mean they don't exist. They are flowing underground, and it becomes more evident when it rains, because of floods. Discover hidden rivers helps bring awareness about the system.
Also, bringing transparency to the current structure made of pipes, tubes and treatment plants. Nowadays, we are not able to check if the system works properly. System transparency will help us have more control over the whole process and ask for changes, when necessary.
Third action: to boost a new design for water sanitation with a more distributed approach
How: promoting education addressing diffuse pollution. Both citizens and municipalitiy are responsible to stop polluting rivers with all kind of trash we produce in urban lifestyle.
Becoming more self-contained in finding solutions for water treatment. The greatest benefit in having distributed systems is that they enables sewage treatment to be done near the place it is produced. The result is less sewer flowing underneath the city, reducing chances of leakage and ground water pollution. It also allows customized solutions for different situations and local control.
Promoting education addressing clandestine connections. Both citizens and Municipality are responsible to stop polluting rivers with sewage. For example, usually people don't know how to check if houses or buildings are connected to the municipal sewer collection grid.
How I believe I can accomplish my goals
After all the research, I started to understand that I could use my knowledge as a designer and as a new screenwriter to create a plan that would meet and cover the three goals I had established. And I finished designing three products that are financially independent, but boost each other.
All this said, this is my plan to accomplish the goals, listed below.
First goal: to change our relationship with water in cities
How: creating a fantastic, exciting and full of hope story
Solution: Blue City Mission Series
Description: to reveal city rivers in people’s hearts. The fictional series Blue City Mission tells the story of Oby, a eleven years old girl that receives from elemental forces of nature a special mission: to discover a hidden river. Guided by supernatural characters originated from native cultures, she and her friends embark in a ancient wisdom rescue and reconnection to nature. The series is mixes live action and animation.
Second goal: to reveal the current sanitation system
How: designing a tool that enables people understand and map the reality and a possibility to help change it.
Solution: Blue City Mission Mobile Game
Description: Blue City Mission is a watch-and-play mobile game that enables players to map cities flows of water in both private and public spaces. The game also promotes calls-to-action to change behaviors in terms of urban water consumption and wastewater discharge. Blue City Mission is narrative-driven based on stories of ancestral cultures. It is designed using technologies such as geolocation and augmented reality.
Third goal: to boost a new design for water sanitation with a more distributed approach (becoming more self-contained)
How: creating an event that will gather all kind of innovation related to water and sanitation.
Solution: Blue City Festival
Description: under the topic "we are channels of water", The Blue City Festival will gather visual arts, sensorial experiences, dance workshops, shows, maker workshops, talks and innovation. The festival will happen in 2019, at Red Bull Station, in São Paulo downtown.
Support and mentorship I need to accomplish my goals
I am right now focused on four tasks: the Blue City Mission first season script, the Blue City mobile game design document, an edict for Blue City Festival and the Blue City pitch deck. I am also looking for partnerships to develop the solutions, talking to producers and game studios. What I need the most in this stage of the project is business mentorship. It is essential for a sustainable growth to build healthy partnerships and learn more about finances, strategy and funding. One of the Blue City Mission’s goals is to expand the mission to Latin America cities and perhaps other countries around the world.
By 2050, 70 percent of the world's human population will be living in cities, with the greatest urban growth to occur in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
And the most rapid growth is happening in megacities.
The implications of this change are clear.
Our struggle for global sustainability will be won or lost in cities.