The Fluvial Metropolis

The Metropolitan Waterway Ring of São Paulo

Rafael Marengoni (MAUD ‘20)


“Hidroanel Metropolitano” Metropolitan Waterway Ring, GMF, FAU USP, 2010

The fluvial metropolis is a vision for the city of São Paulo – one in which the metropolis is transformed through the exploration of a series of infrastructural interventions in and around the city’s rivers. The Metropolitan Waterway Ring (MWR) is a project led by Professor Alexandre Delijaicov through the Fluvial Metropolis Group (GMF) a research group at the Faculty of Architecture and Urbanism of the University of São Paulo. Delijaicov has been putting forward this vision since 1998 when he defended his master’s dissertation at USP. São Paulo. The vision wrestles with issues of water management, pollution, congestion, waste management and more. The Fluvial Metropolis addresses and responds to these issues with design, policy and management strategies at the metropolitan level. It is in no way a silver bullet solution to the overarching problems facing São Paulo, but it tackles urgent issues of mobility and environmental recovery.

The project can be broken down into 3 main aspects:

First, the rivers become paths. They are transformed into a network of navigable canals that can transport people and cargo along 170 km of waterways (GMF, 2010). This increased mobility alone is a substantial asset for a city overflowing with cars and trucks. In 2017 São Paulo ranked 6th in a study that evaluated traffic in over 1,000 cities worldwide. The results showed that the average São Paulo driving commuter spends 86 hours in traffic annually (INRIX, 2018). The creation of a mobility alternative unaffected by cars would significantly alleviate traffic in a city that has almost 9 million registered vehicles (Detran, 2018). The ability to transport larger cargo without the use of the avenues would also allow the widths of the avenues to be reduced, creating usable areas along the waterfront. These new usable areas facilitate the second part of the project.

Second, the rivers become linear parks. The areas made available after the rescaling of the canals and avenues would be transformed into recreational spaces. Delijaicov envisions a series of parks safeguarding the wetlands of the river and offering leisure space to the city. They would vary in width and would occupy areas that today are either urban highway lanes or residual buffer areas for flooding. Traffic would be redirected to the rivers, and flooding would be mitigated by the park design. Certain areas would be designated for drainage, ponds and lakes. It is an environmental strategy that also supports civic use through the network of public spaces along the waterfront. This multifunctionality is one of the project’s greatest strengths. Yet, Delijaicov goes further and states that transportation and recreation will not suffice; preservation is fundamental.

Delijaicov’s preservation strategy is to introduce housing complexes within this scheme so people are living directly adjacent to the newly created landscape. This creates a new type of stakeholder for the project; the citizen of the fluvial metropolis. He imagines the fluvial metropolis as an interconnected armature framing the public parks along the river’s margins. The waterfront would be inhabited, and the project complete.

The combination of all three elements creates a mixed used infrastructural system that operates on different scales throughout the city. Beyond the numerous technical improvements, I would argue the most provocative potential is the creation of a new type of citizen. This fluvial citizen takes a ferry to work, enjoys the weekends biking along the waterfront parks and boasts a view of the water from their apartment that has become home. The fluvial citizen is, perhaps, who the São Paulo citizen would rather be; an aspiration that can only be achieved through the transformation of the city. This is a city with less traffic and fewer floods, with more homes, more parks and more transportation options. If by transforming our environment we can hope to transform ourselves, we ought to have a clear vision for the city we wish to live in.

The Fluvial Metropolis and the Metropolitan Waterway Ring are currently in discussion at a governmental level. In 2009 the State Government of São Paulo commissioned an official study to investigate the implementation viability of the MWR. In 2011, FAU USP articulated the urbanistic and architectural studies with viability reports through the GMF. These studies have shifted the discussion from rivers as problems to rivers as solutions. One of the main reasons this discourse is gaining momentum is that traffic is getting worse and the environmental crisis caused by poor water management is intensifying. This creates a new context in which the agenda of the State aligns with Metropolitan Waterway Ring advocates. Within this context, Delijaicov has been creating more awareness of the fluvial metropolis vision, though it is unclear how long it will take for implementation. It took Prestes Maia about 25 years to begin implementing the Avenues plan and it has already been 20 years since Delijaicov first presented his dissertation. Could we be on the verge of action? The political scenario suggests this is unlikely, but not impossible.

During the 2018 elections for governor in São Paulo, candidates brought up the fluvial metropolis. The elected Governor, João Dória, stated in his government’s plan that he will implement the MWR in the Tiete, Pinheiros, Guarapiranga and Billings sections (Doria, p.17, 2018). However, he also stated that he would not leave his position as mayor to pursue the state governments’ office, so progress remains uncertain (G1, 2016).

The MWR is a project that challenges the urban development framework for São Paulo and subverts the current logic in place. It fundamentally reframes the rivers as crucial assets for promoting a more humane city. It addresses issues of mobility, ecology and society by promoting a network of ports, a system of parks, and the creation of urban fabric on sites currently dominated by 7 lanes of congested traffic. It is a scheme that has been studied both at a comprehensive scale and as an incrementally phased process, while challenging the modernist utilitarianism of São Paulo’s rivers as a destination for waste and a corridor for high-speed automobile circulation. The inspiring work that Delijaicov puts forward has recently shown enormous momentum and showcases one of theory’s greatest urban contributions: the ability to question and illustrate how our cities could be different and allow us to reimagine ourselves in those cities.


  1. Delijaicov, Alexandre. “Os Rios e o Desenho da Cidade”. Masters Dissertation from the Environmental Urban Structures program, University of São Paulo. 1998

  2. INRIX. “Global Traffic Scorecard” published in , December 2018  

  3. Detran. “Frota de Veículos em SP - por tipo de veículo” in, 2018.

  4. Cohen, Otavio. “O fundo do poço da crise hídrica em São Paulo”. In Exame: 2018. São Paulo

  5. Globo G1 (2018) “Marcelo Candido quer criar hidroanel metropolitano e admite que plano de governo é um 'sumário' ” in  2018

  6. Doria, J. (2018) “Programa Acelera São Paulo” in Electoral Superior Court (TSE) , 2018

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