PARCOUR heads to São Paulo

Dr David Williams | Image: The view from my hotel window on my first day in São Paulo.

With the result of the Brexit vote still ringing in our ears the UK PARCOUR team travelled to São Paulo, which provided the perfect opportunity to clear our heads and adjust to the possibility of a ‘new normal’ for the UK academic sector’s future without many of our closest partners. My day of travel started early, with a taxi booked for 4am and a 1-year old who decided to stay awake until 3am. So after just 45 minutes sleep I embarked on the trip from home to Schiphol, via Bristol Airport to take my first flight to South America.

The flight itself was largely uneventful, but the combination of both my size and that of KLMs economy class seats meant that sleep remained elusive. I did however have the opportunity to meet my first non-UK PARCOUR team member, Tuna who was sitting several rows away, on one of my many strolls around the aeroplane. Tuna had wisely elected to bring her Brazilian PhD student Igor with her, so on arrival, with the aid of a Portuguese speaker, we made our way easily into the mega-metropolis that is São Paulo for a hearty steak dinner before I finally made it to my much needed hotel bed.

In the UK we are constantly bombarded with images of Brazil, the long sandy beaches of Rio, or the lush verdant colours of the Amazon rainforest. So upon waking I quickly rushed over and opened my curtains to see Brazil for the first time in daylight. As you will see from the photo at first I felt I’d been lied to, but then out of the gloom, the city’s urban form began to emerge and I was excited. This is what we’d come for.

That day we met with our Brazilian partners, Malu, Alvaro and Camila, who made us feel incredibly welcome. For me it was a chance to put names to faces and understand how incredibly exciting it was to be working as part of an international research project. We were taken on a tour of both the historic city centre and the new central business district of the city, where the favelas have been replaced with gleaming high rise buildings. In some places (as shown in the pictures below) both still sit next to each other.

The mega-metropolis that is São Paulo

The mega-metropolis that is São Paulo.

The favelas are being replaced by São Paulo’s new CBD.

From here we got down to the serious work of setting the parameters for the project. This included presenting the baseline for each of our case studies and identifying the next steps in terms of data collection and setting out the dissemination plan. With the hard work completed on the Friday and after another excellent meal we were left to fend for ourselves in the city until we flew home on the Sunday evening. As with the trip to Brazil, the journey home was uneventful, although again KLM’s economy class seats meant that once again sleep was elusive.

The trip demonstrated to me the importance of working with other countries, as you have your eyes opened to other theories, approaches and opportunities that simply do not exist within inward focused countries. This was something that we could not take for granted anymore as we returned to the uncertainty of Brexit Island.


The PARCOUR team – São Paulo July 2016.