I've returned home from after a brilliant journey to Brazil. It was a full programme and every moment was rewarding. Last year, in July 2011, I was invited by the City of Sao Paulo to speak about Copenhagenize Consulting's Four Goals for Promoting Urban Cycling. On that visit I had the opportunity to meet with the Secretary of Education for the city - Alexandre Schneider and his advisor Daniel Guth, who is the coordinator for the project. The Education Secretariat is responsible for the education of 1.2 million children in Sao Paulo. A mindboggling number.
I pitched them the idea of placing bicycles in their schools as a way for the Education Secretariat to be the 'missing link' for childrens relationship to the bicycle. Most of them still learn to ride but their options for continuing to do so are limited because of lack of safe infrastructure and the explosive and continuing growth of car culture. I explained that bicycles have been on the curriculum in Danish schools since 1947 and that there is a wealth of Best Practice and experience that we could help them draw upon.
Boy, little did I know what I was heading into. Or what kind of people I was dealing with. Upon my return last week I was witness to their enormous drive and passion for this project. We're moving full steam ahead towards planting the fertile seeds of bicycle culture in the hearts and minds of not only the children but the communities around the schools.
If other cities only had a fraction of the passion and drive that Schneider and Guth have, our task of reestablishing the bicycle on the urban landscape would be a great deal easier.
The Education Secretariat is collaborating with the NGO Parada Vital, who have a team that will run the project. Copenhagenize Consulting, based on our original proposal, are senior consultants.
The unique architecture of the CEUs in Sao Paulo.
The project - Escolas de Bicicleta or 'Bicycle Schools' - is huge. It revolves around the 46 CEUs in the city. These CEUs - Centros de Educação Unificados - are extraordinary in their own right. Schools for 0-14 year olds but also comprehensive community centres for the surrounding neighbourhoods with amazing facilities for the children and everyone else. Swimming pools, theatres, sports facilities, computer facilties for the locals, you name it. They are the centre of cultural activity in the communities and draw people from all classes to gather under one umbrella, as it were. They are often impressive architecturally and rise up proudly at the heart of the communities in which they are placed.
Starting in 2002, each CEU has an Early Childhood Center, a Municipal School of Early Childhood Education and an Elementary School and hosts a couple of thousand children in all, in some cases more.
Now each CEU will recieve 100 bicycles - 4600 in all - and there will be two aspects to the Escolas de Bicicleta programme. One will be simply providing the students from 10-14 years with bicycles for use in bicycle games and activities. All aspects of bicycle culture will be taught in comprehensive courses lasting one month and covering history, culture, nutrition, etc.
The other aspect is that after the course, the children will start riding to school in 'bicycle busses' or 'convoys' each morning and back again in the afternoon. They will have pre-arranged meeting points and escorts to ride with them. In the long run, local youths will be empowered to act as escorts. The routes are carefully planned. None are more than 3 km and they avoid busy streets wherever possible. Every effort is being made to ensure the safety of the children cycling to school.
Here is a translated article from a Brazilian newspaper about the project. The budget for this project is €540,000 a year. 92 monitors have been hired to run the project in the 46 CEUs.
The bamboo bicycle for the Bicycle Schools, designed by Flavio Deslandes.
The bicycles are unique as well. Brazilian designer Flavio Deslandes is well-known in bicycle circles for his bamboo bicycles - Bambucicleta. Flavio has lived and worked in Copenhagen, co-producing a bamboo bicycle for upscale Danish bike brand, Biomega and he has specialised in bamboo bicycle construction for many years. Here's a film clip in Portugese with Flavio about his bamboo bicycles.
Mikael speaking to students at CEU Paulistano.
While in Sao Paulo we visited three CEUs to see their facilities and to meet some of the children who will be participating in the programme. I've been all around this world with my bicycle-related activities but I have to admit that visiting these CEUs and meeting the kids and the teachers - not to mention the people at both the Education Secretariat and Parada Vital - was an incredibly powerful experience. It sums up in many ways everything I hope for in our work towards placing the bicycle back on its pedestral in our cities. While I aspire to empower in every aspect of our work at Copenhagenize Consulting I am humbled by the feeling of empowerment that all these people give me.
I also had the opportunity to give my Bicycle Culture by Design talk to the leaders of the cities 46 CEUs, as well as Sao Paulo's traffic department - CET. Regarding the latter, I'm always wondering how my talk will go down. I basically say that 75 years of traffic engineering has failed miserably, that the mentality of traffic engineers is unchanged in almost a century and that we should consider the concept of City Design instead. But it went well. The CET is a key partner in the project. It is their responsibility to keep the children safe on the routes to school.
I went out of my way to underline the fact that what we are building in Sao Paulo is not merely a school project with some bikes. It is a monument. A powerful, symbolic human monument and that every effort should be made to make it a success. If a city the size of Sao Paulo can pull it off - and it will - the rings in the water will spread around the world.
The first CEU, in the Héliopolis neighbourhood, will start the programme in mid-April, after which it will roll out to the rest of the CEUs.
I'll be returning to Sao Paulo regularly to follow the progress and am looking forward to seeing the project blossom and grow. Copenhagenize Consulting is thrilled to be a part of this and to be working with such visionary people in Sao Paulo.