South America has been a special part of my life for four decades. I have lived many years in Brasil and Peru. I am married to an incredible lady from Argentina. I want to share South America with you.
THE phrase “concrete jungle” might have been coined for São Paulo. Brazil’s megalopolis has 2.6 square metres (28 square feet) of green space for each of its 11m inhabitants, a tenth as much as New York and a fifth of what the World Health Organisation recommends. As with wealth, greenery is unequally distributed. Rich central districts, many with jardim (garden) in their names, have more trees than residents. In Itaim Paulista, on the poor eastern periphery, there is one for every 17 people.
João Doria, the mayor since January, wants more foliage. In March he inaugurated the first section of what will become the world’s biggest “green corridor”. The “vertical gardens”, sprouting from wall-mounted pockets made from felt, will stretch for 3.5km (2.2 miles) down Avenida 23 de Maio, a congested ten-lane road in the city’s centre. They are expected to absorb as much carbon dioxide as 3,300 trees.
In elections last year Mr Doria, a marketing tycoon, defeated a left-wing mayor, Fernando Haddad, who was fond of cycle lanes but did little to make the city greener. Under his administration, spending on the environment fell from 1.4% of the budget to 0.3%. Public parks and nurseries fell into disrepair after Mr Haddad allowed maintenance contracts to expire last August. His mayoralty was “depressing”, says Ricardo Cardim, a landscape architect who runs a blog called “São Paulo Trees”.
He is optimistic about Mr Doria. The centre-right mayor named Gilberto Natalini, a member of the Green Party, as the city’s environment secretary and boosted his budget by a third, to 200m reais ($62m). Mr Doria revived moribund partnerships with the state government to clean storm drains and line them with vegetation.
With money tight because of Brazil’s recession, Mr Doria is enlisting his fellow businessmen to spread the vegetation. One group promised to give 1m saplings, which would more than double the number of trees on the streets. Mr Doria is badgering two developers to allow a plot they own in a rundown part of the city centre to become a park in return for land elsewhere. He wants private firms to maintain the city’s 107 parks, perhaps in exchange for displaying their corporate logos. On April 24th he invited Arnold Schwarzenegger to São Paulo to arm-twist American companies into backing green projects. Mr Doria may be hoping that paulistanos will someday hail him as the Germinator.