Perspectives to innovate urban planning and develop local solutions for the FWE nexus by using an Urban Living Lab approach in the megacity of São Paulo: case Billings Reservoir Watershed


São Paulo | Brazil


With more than 12 million inhabitants, São Paulo is the largest urban conglomeration in South America with 15% of its residents living in precarious settlements. It is also the largest urban economy in Brazil (GDP – US$ 175 billion) and the center of a metropolitan region comprising 39 municipalities and 20 million people. Cities, and in particularly megacities like São Paulo that are characterized by high population density, large inequalities, and lack of modern infrastructure, face
similar changes: they are bigger than mid-20th century cities, more complex and currently undergoing large-scale changes. Nonetheless, they can also be sources of innovation and transformation, and transdisciplinary Urban Living Lab experiments appear to be a particularly promising form of governance to address complex urban challenges in the megacity of São Paulo.
These challenges will be aggravated by climate change, as climate projections for this region indicate changes in the distribution, intensity and frequency of risks related to climate events.

São Paulo has initiated a series of actions motivated by its Local Agenda 21 and, more recently, by its Master Plan. These initiatives include improvements of urban green infrastructure (urban parks and gardens, vertical gardens, urban food production) that provide and protect ecosystem services and help the city to deal with increased temperature, extreme climate events, food security and water scarcity, by reducing soil sealing, mitigating heat island effect, enhancing water storage capacity in urban watersheds, and enabling local food production. Of particular interest is the integrated approach of the local government to the Billings Reservoir watershed, which is important for water supply to the São Paulo region, energy production by Henry Border Hydropower and tourism. The approach includes: increasing local sustainable agriculture production to protect the landscape, promotion of local social and economic development, and maintenance of a system of green areas to protect the Atlantic Rainforests and avoid urban sprawl. It is expected that these initiatives deliver
multiple economic, social and environmental co-benefits.

We aim to conduct transdisciplinary action-research to assess how these initiatives impact on the FWE nexus, using Urban Living Lab methodologies and a sustainability indicators system. Thereby we seek to address three questions: 1. Do these initiatives maximize synergies between food-waterenergy supply and urban ecosystem services? 2. What are the possibilities and limitations of an Urban Living Lab approach to innovate urban planning and management as well as developing local solutions for the FWE nexus in São Paulo? 3. To what extent is this approach helpful to the city implement innovative urban policies and improve its sustainability, both locally and globally?

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