Why do the people of Belo Horizonte walk so slow but never stand still?

This week on my design walkabout, I discovered a couple of reasons why people in Belo Horizonte walk so slow. The first is because the weather is so lovely and warm, and they don’t want to sweat (similar to the people of Amsterdam who ride their bikes slowly to avoid sweating so they can wear lightweight clothes).

But there’s another reason, which is specific to the people of Belo Horizonte (as I’ve been told the people of Sao Paolo walk extremely fast!). Here is my explanation:

I’m really not sure how safe the place I’m living is, I only know that the mindsets of the locals who I talk to are always switched on to security. I haven’t seen any violence or robberies anywhere while I’ve been in Belo Horizonte, and I’ve been told it’s okay to walk the ten minute journey to and from my Pilates class at night, although I do sometimes see homeless people on the streets searching for food and I have to use 5 separate keys to get into the place I’m staying!

Something last week made me question the security mindset of the locals. It was nighttime and I was waiting on the street outside the main security bars of my ‘casa’, just standing still waiting for a lift from one of the Voël team. Some people started shouting at me through the bars from inside, they were on their way out to get into a waiting car and told me ‘Get back inside it’s not safe’. I asked myself ‘How is it okay for me to walk to class at this time of day, but not okay to stand outside on the street?’ This is my street:

The next day in the design studio I told my Voël colleagues what had happened and asked them, ‘Should I really be walking to Pilates by myself?’ They explained to me that if you stand still outside your home you are seen as ‘a target’ for robberies, but if you are moving then you’re not a target. I asked them to tell me more about their security mindset – I’d noticed that they walk slow, and they told me this was ‘mindfulness’ to allow them to take in the context around them. If they see something on the road they’re not happy with they’ll switch roadsides and then come back. They also told me that if you walk too fast you don’t take in the context around you, and you stand out when everyone else is walking slow.

I think the reverse of this is true in Britain – we’re always rushing to get to the next place and don’t take in the context around us, and it’s the slow walkers who appear suspicious!

After this conversation I saw another example of the security mindset when the design team insisted that I setup a username and password on my Mac, as I hadn’t set this up. I’ve also noticed that people don’t take too much money out with them in the evenings, so that if they are mugged there is less to be taken. The Voël team will also put my bag on a chair or somewhere raised up after I leave it on the floor, because it’s considered safer for things to be more visible.

So far, this is what I have seen of the Brazilian/Belo Horizonte security mindset. When I was mugged in London it made me take my personal security more seriously, and I would say that people’s sense of security heightens when they have bad experiences. But sometimes I think this security mindset can stop people from exploring new spaces – when I arrived in Belo Horizonte I was advised not to visit a whole half of the city, that’s a city of two and a half million people, four times the size of my home town of Newcastle.

So: the reason the people of Belo Horizonte walk slow and don’t stand still is because of their security mindset. I think that, as things are changing here, people are starting to question this security mindset, and they don’t know if their perception of their security is the actual reality. Last weekend in our Mozaiko workshop I asked the participants to go out and talk to ‘extreme users’. Julius from Voël visited an area that is considered potentially unsafe, and spoke with a person who had been involved in a lot of violence during their life – but this person described their local area as ‘tranquil’. This is an example of how different people’s perceptions can be, and I think there is a lot of learning to be had from the people who live in these areas. It’s only when people have conversations about these issues that things might change.

3 comments

  1. Reading these two posts this morning made me miss BH a whole lot.

  2. Emma Jefferies

    Hey

    yep I find that it is a great place with great people, where are you at the moment Renato? Emma

  3. Hi Emma,

    I am in Connecticut US, boarder with NY. I am not going to lie, but reading your posts this morning on my way to work, it just made me miss BH so much, because it’s very rare to see someone else’s prospective on where I grew up, specially coming from someone of other culture. I am friends with Geovane and we grew up a couple miles away from each other.

    Renato