"Citizen-Led Pedestrian Enablers in São Paulo: Actuating and Symbolic Infrastructures" as part of the session "Social Infrastructures and the Public Life of Cities: materialities, institutions, and practices (Session 1)"

Walking infrastructure in most places in São Paulo is suboptimal, particularly given omnipresent and unyielding automobility, the undulating landscape, and an ambient sense of personal insecurity. The apparent apathy of the complex of authorities responsible for pedestrian infrastructure has driven some citizens and citizen-led organizations to intervene with creative projects, frugally employing materials such as paint, pallets, and capes to create more inviting urban spaces for walkers. For example, some re-appropriate the raison d’etre of more durable infrastructures through transitory physical occupation, such as self-styled superheroes who take back the space of existing zebra crossings for pedestrians. Others render the bleak and interpersonally risky city staircases in marginalized neighbourhoods welcoming for more vulnerable residents. This paper explores these citizen-led pedestrian infrastructure initiatives in São Paulo. We discover that the supplementation of existing infrastructure is not the only purpose of these interventions. Rather, their broader symbolic purchase is seen by the citizen-leaders as equally important, particularly in the way they make rights and (ir)responsibilities visible and communicate a narrative of empowerment through do-it-yourself and do-it-together community action. In addition to these representational dimensions, and following on recent work calling for more relational understanding of infrastructures, we also characterize these as ‘actuating’ infrastructures, in the way they revive, or call for the revival, of neglected pre-existing infrastructures. We argue that ignoring the important role played by these ‘civigenic infrastructures’ in achieving just and sustainable infrastructures, on account of their smaller scale or ephemerality, is folly, as their symbolic impact may be significant.