‘It’s our backyard’: Lovers of São Paulo’s concrete ‘beach’ | photo report | Brazil

PLaunched and built during the Brazilian dictatorship, the Elevado João Goulart, a two-mile viaduct mostly known as Minhocão, connects central São Paulo to its western zone. Due to its proximity to housing, many have complained of increased car noise in a city where the dominance of automobile transport was and still is in full swing. But, at more than 50 years old, the fate of Minhocão is still uncertain because it is invaded by pedestrians. It could be demolished; it could also become a park.

With a lack of public spaces in a crowded city, conquering new fun spots is mandatory to survive the concrete jungle. Nowadays, the viaduct is open to pedestrians at night and on weekends. With no cars rushing to the top, people can walk, run, cycle, skate or even sunbathe in bikinis, a little “closer to the sun” – maybe that’s why some call it Paulistana beach – their concrete beach.

I moved to São Paulo during the pandemic, just after the second wave. As I left the airport at night, I was greeted by dark skies covered in clouds mixed with smog, gray buildings towering over the sides of the road, and a dramatic stream of motorbikes, cars, and large trucks. . At first glance, you might think it’s a gray city. But gray defines more than just one color. And São Paulo has many shades of gray.

A man sunbathes on the Minhocão Viaduct

As a newbie cyclist in such a chaotic city, I started asking for recommendations of where I could ride, and Minhocão was a word I heard over and over. This is from Paulistano beach, someone said to me with a smile, so I decided to give it a try. I cycled there on a sunny summer day. The sun was hot, as were the streets too. When I finally got there, I was taken by the relationship people had with this huge mass of concrete surrounded by more concrete, which shone in direct sunlight. Almost every space was filled with tall buildings. What would we call their beach? But it started to become mine too. At the time, I wish I had my camera, but it wasn’t on me, so I planned to come back soon.

View of the Minhocão Viaduct

Photography has been a great tool for me not only to bring stories to life, but also to meet people in places I don’t know at all. Many people I have photographed have become friends today. This essay was my first approach to São Paulo, a city of strong contrasts that I don’t yet know or understand, where the trees grow taller and where violence coexists with love. And in places like these, it’s the people, not the places, that make us feel at home.

Vagner Nascimento and Leandro Pinho pose for a portrait at the Minhocão Viaduct in São Paulo, Brazil

Vagner Nascimento and Leandro Pinho

Vagner: “I was not born in the city of São Paulo; I come from the outskirts of town. So I had more contact with nature. And with that, I had more opportunities to meet people outside of the typical São Paulo rush. But here, I needed to create a space like the ones I had before in my city. I perceived that it was possible to meet people in São Paulo who built relationships that were neither mechanical, nor automatic, nor noisy, nor heavy. Here is a place where you can treat yourself to this little space of pleasure while contemplating the poetry of concrete. The space is dedicated to another type of interaction. To see people running but not behind the bus to go to work. I like coming here. São Paulo does not have many public spaces. Here in São Paulo, what is public and what is private merge. Generally, public spaces are invaded by private interests. I like to see this space as the possibility for people to be a little more free.

Nathalie Sudbrack Poses for a Portrait at the Minhocão Viaduct in São Paulo, Brazil

Nathalie Sudbrack

“The Minhocão Super Viaduct represents São Paulo. When I arrived in town, my dream was to live near here, precisely because I am a cyclist. Here I come and go several times and end up meeting a lot of people. Working from a home office, you don’t travel around town, so I end up coming here at night and on weekends. A few months ago I had broken my hand and this is where I was able to cycle again a few weeks ago because there are not many potholes and the street is in good condition .

Simone Evangelista and Sofia Fernandes with their dogs Manu and Laika

Simone Evangelista and Sofia Fernandes (with Manu and Laika)

Sofia: “It’s our beach because it’s the public place where we have to meet, sunbathe – we don’t have a beach nearby and sometimes not even a park, so it’s our beach, our Park. I think we need to make better use of public spaces in San Pablo. The Minhocão is an occupation of public space and I think it’s great. But it’s also complicated because there are people doing sports up here but there are also people starving down there.

Francielle Santos with a rental bike at the Minhocão Viaduct

Francielle Santos

“São Paulo is huge, from north to south. Spaces like these end up being spaces of great concentration of culture. Here you can find everything, do everything. It is a cultural hub for Paulistanos who are used to living in the stone jungle, always working, always running. Occupying this space in this way is a conquest in a city lacking in public spaces. During the pandemic it was closed for a long time and we really needed it. »

Cendira Carvalho and Hugo Azevedo Pose for a Portrait at the Minhocão Viaduct in São Paulo

Cendira Carvalho and Hugo Azevedo

Cendira: “It’s our backyard. We come here every week. Really, this is our recreation space. We come to see the moon, have breakfast, take a shower with bottled water when it’s too hot. It’s a matter of knowing how to use what you have. I just wish the homeless people sleeping under the overpass had the same chance of enjoying it.

How they take showers with plastic bottles with water at the Minhocão Viaduct
Ketsia Sales and Tatiane Henrique, accustomed to the sun of the concrete beach of São Paulo

Ketsia Sales and Tatiane Henrique

Ketsia: “The first time I came here, I felt a bit uncomfortable. Tatiane invited me to sunbathe and I usually sunbathe at the beach. I come from Salvador, and Salvador is a city with a coast. When I got here and saw everyone in bikinis sunbathing and others having drinks, it was my chance to feel the sun a little closer. São Paulo is colder than Salvador, and also very cloudy, with a lot of pollution. I am in love with the sun and here I can stay a little closer to it. Because of this feeling, I now see this as my beach.

Ketsia Sales and Tatiane Henrique showing her braids

Tatiane: “I used to live on the beach and I missed it a lot there. What people do in this town is not that common, people in bikinis sunbathing. When I started seeing people living this way, I wondered why should I hold back? It’s something that makes me feel comfortable. I used to look forward to a trip to Rio de Janeiro to enjoy that cool breeze and a fancy tan, then I found this place here which is closer to home.

Tiago Miranda and Mário Miranda posing for a portrait with their dogs

Tiago Miranda and Mário Miranda (with Larah and Margot)

Tiago: “The Minhocão is for us a place of expansion. We love going there to sunbathe, play sports and walk our dogs. It is a place to breathe and enjoy. It’s really interesting the relationship Paulistanos have with concrete.

Giulia Binotti and Laura Parente sunbathing on the Minhocão Viaduct

Giulia Binotti and Laura Parente

Laura: “I miss the beach a lot – being closer to nature, breathing fresh air, exercising outdoors. Since this place is right downtown, it ends up being an easy place to get to. I live nearby, I love it.

Giulia Binotti

Giulia: “It’s nice to come here. You skate, then you sunbathe, then you walk a bit and drink coconut water. Fortunately, new green parks are opening, such as Augusta Park, but we don’t have many options.

Gabriela Ribas reading on the Minhocão Viaduct

Gabriela Ribas

“I like to come here to be in the fresh air and to have contact with the sun. I live alone in a small apartment here in the center. I come here to use this space. Here is a safe place. I like being here and looking at the horizon. Given the size of São Paulo, there is a lack of open parks and places to enjoy them.

Julia Asenjo reads on the Minhocão Viaduct in São Paulo

Julia Asenjo

“The sun hits my apartment in the morning but only until noon. So when possible, I come here to seek the sun to read. Same thing I do at home. I found this place very characteristic of São Paulo, a beautiful translation of the people who live there because it is very difficult to find moments of calm and joy in such a big city that crosses everything. It’s a contrast that has a lot to do with the city – people come to this huge piece of concrete that’s not heavenly or appealing like that.

Cleber Rene Alves Poses for a Portrait at the Minhocão Viaduct in São Paulo, Brazil

Cleber Rene Alves

“Here, it’s a blessing. For a Sunday, for a Saturday. We don’t have a lot of places, a lot of places to practice physical exercise. We occupy public space. Minhocão is part of this conglomerate called São Paulo and we have the freedom to occupy it.

About Julius Southworth

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