Transforming a City, one story at a time [Podcast]

If you are doing social change work, the gap between where we are and where we need to go can feel overwhelming.  In these situations, it can be tempting to tell yourself and others negative stories about what isn’t working.  It is tempting to stay angry.

But what really works is holding your big vision; sharing little stories of what is possible; working with others who can share your vision; and adjusting strategies as the landscape changes.

This is what worked for biking in São Paulo. 

A short ten years ago there were more signs forbidding bikes than allowing them and the mindset of the majority of the population was that biking was impossible.

Today, São Paulo has over 74 miles of bike lanes, a bike sharing program with over 1,000 bikes and a large and growing population of people who embrace cycling in the city.

Stories Make Change

My guest on the podcast, This Beautiful Shot is Not an Accident, is JP Amaral, who has been on the ground floor of this movement, initially biking with the activist rides in 2007 and in 2010 helping found Bike Anjo, an organization that pairs people who want to ride with people who can show them the ropes.

JP is now a full time bike advocate.  We met while he was in Berlin on a fellowship studying biking advocacy and infrastructure in Europe. 

In today’s podcast he shares the story strategies he and others in the movement have used over the years to help gain acceptance for biking in São Paulo, the biggest city in South America. 

Strategies include partnering up with other movements to share the message and gain broader support, to using video to share personal stories of cyclists on the streets of São Paulo to demonstrate that biking is possible and who that many people from different backgrounds are biking.

The Importance of Updating Our Stories

While they have made tremendous progress, with their new mayor, that progress is under threat. Mayor João Doria has tried to remove some of the bike lanes.  But as a result of years of using storytelling to normalize biking in the city, the public will not allow this.   Mayor Doria even rode a bike for Bike to Work day.

If you are working on a movement that requires a change in perceptions check out this episode. 

JP’s Biggest Lessons Learned

  1. Join Forces:  Connect your cause with other causes
  2. Strategize:  Act with strategy, not just with the heart
  3. Think Beyond Conflict:  Think of ways of furthering the dialogue beyond protest
  4. Innovation is Key:  As things the political landscape changes, you need to think of new ways of communicating


Listen to this week’s podcast to learn more.


Also, if you speak Portuguese check out JP Amaral’s TEDx Talk.

And follow the podcast, This Beautiful Shot is Not an Accident on iTunes or Stitcher.