In Brazil’s business capital, São Paulo, a small group of landscapers and enterprising residents have got together to make their city greener. Their collective takes advantage of the slightest unoccupied space to crack open tarmac and plant trees.

“It used not to be green… but now it is!” is the slogan tagged onto photos of São Paulo urban spaces transformed into little green spaces that appear on the Facebook page of the collective “Novas Árvores for Aí” (“New Trees over There”). On some pavements, the tarmac has given way to flowerbeds or trees.

Translation: “[…] The greenery has eaten away at the concrete… It may not be much, but isn’t it cheering to see tarmac vanish and give way to a flowerbed? It wasn’t green, but now it is!”
Translation: “Our trees on Antônio Bicudo street!”

Translation: “Life isn’t easy but it has got better. The young girl who sells coconut water now has some shade. Avenida do Estado has changed. It used not to be green, but now it is!”
The activists have also transformed squares or roundabouts into “rain gardens”, a system that allows rainwater to be collected, so that it doesn’t flow over onto the street. Another benefit is the plants can be tended to using rainwater alone.
Translation: “New ‘rain garden” on Beco de Batman. It used not to be green.”
Translation “It used to be tarmac... ‘Rain garden’ on largo das Araucárias. It used not to be green.”

“The landscape appears very bare in São Paulo these days, where there should be exuberant nature!”

The collective was formed by Nik Sabey, a former advertising professional. This 37-year-old São Paulo resident has moved over into landscaping green spaces, which he now makes a living from.

I worked for a long time in advertising but I ended up thinking that what I wanted to do was plant trees, to make the city greener. In 2012, I set up the “Novas Árvores por Aí” Facebook page to get people together for the project and to put the ideas into action.

In 2015, it became more concrete and we began to plant trees in various places around the city. Some of our work is financed: businesses commission the overhaul of green spaces, for example. But, most of the time, these are voluntary projects with sometimes a little bit of help. A partner might give us seeds or the municipality will help us with the works…

This has now become my job: I am a landscaper and I give lectures on the subject. There are just 10 of us working regularly on these jobs and we can also call on a core of around 20 volunteers.

“In São Paulo, urbanisation has always been at the expense of nature”

Before taking on a project, we need the authorisation from the municipality. And we also often go to them to submit proposals. There is then a negotiation stage, which can be fairly long, because I think environmental matters are not always given priority. But once the project is complete, we get thanked a lot by residents, who say it has improved their neighbourhoods. It is this sort of feedback that has pushed us on! We have also seen other projects similar to ours being set up, which shows there is an interest in these things.

We mainly build “rain gardens” because there are many advantages to them in cities: they help contain water but also humidify the air; they feed the groundwater table and help irrigate plants without having to water them.

I think these initiatives to plant trees and create gardens are important in São Paulo, which is a very grey city where urbanisation has always been at the expense of nature. The landscape appears very bare in São Paulo these days, when we should see some exuberant and slightly wild nature there! We don’t, unfortunately, currently have the means to move into other cities.

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This article was written by Maëva Poulet (@maevaplt).