Stormwater politics: Flooding, infrastructure, and urban political ecology in São Paulo, Brazil.

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Abstract

This paper analyses an ongoing paradigm shift in how engineers have responded to the persistent
problem of flooding in São Paulo, Brazil. Until recently, civil engineers largely attempted to expel water from the
landscape as fast as possible. Over the past three decades, however, engineers have begun to articulate new
mechanisms for responding to flooding that store stormwater in the urban landscape. In this paper, I analyse the
construction of what are commonly referred to as piscinões, large-scale detention ponds that pool stormwater in
the event of heavy rain events. Drawing from literature in urban political ecology, I argue that piscinões attempt to
correct for a complex and unequal landscape, but that they do so in a way that mainly prioritises large-scale
engineering solutions to the problem of flooding. As such, in spite of being hailed as indicative of a paradigm shift
in flood management, piscinões are instead a continuation of the city’s broader hydraulic and urban paradigms. In
response, I consider alternative approaches to the development of multifunctional piscinões that could serve both
social and ecological aims. Ultimately, however, I draw from urban political ecology to argue that flooding is
fundamentally a political problem that requires a political solution.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)866-885
JournalWater Alternatives
Volume14
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 5 Oct 2021

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