The Costa e Silva elevated expressway was built in the late 1960s and early 1970s to alleviate traffic congestion in central Sao Paulo, Brazil. According to a recent Washington Post article, the city’s planners (with support from both citizens and developers) would like to bury the expressway in a tunnel underground and turn the land it currently sits on into something akin to the street it replaced : a mixed-use boulevard of shops, parks, and residences [a]. Called the “Big Worm” locally, the expressway cuts through central Sao Paulo and turned a once vibrant neighborhood into an area known for crime and drug use.

Central Sao Paulo, Brazil. The Purple Line is the Big Worm.

The idea of turning the Worm into a tunnel sounds much like Boston’s “Big Dig” a project now famous for its high cost and delay. Yet the Big Dig converted an area of Boston that was once only accessible for cars into something else entirely, a place for people. Other cities, such as Paris and San Francisco, have also converted expressways into places again.

What did the expressways (raised or otherwise) within cities in the United States do for people anyhow? They got drivers downtown quickly, but also cut cities up and destroyed neighborhoods. They made sprawl cheap and allowed classism (and racism) space to grow. Many Latin American and Caribbean cities do not have such huge central expressways as the Big Worm. Yet when they do, they seem to leave the same conditions as those in the United States in terms of crime and pollution, etc. Cities are for people after all, if an idea is detrimental for people then perhaps that idea is incompatible with cities.

The Costa e Silva elevated expressway (The Big Worm)


Washington Post video on the Big Worm:

Official site of the movie entitled Elevado 3.5 about the Worm (in Portuguese):

Clips from Elevado 3.5 (in Portuguese):

Congress for the New Urbanism on U.S. government efforts to replace elevated expressways with surface streets:

APA’s special 2011 issue of Planning Magazine on Boston (and the Big Dig):

The Boston Globe’s Beyond the Big Dig website:


  1. Forero, J. (2011, October 16). Hit that highway, Sao Paulo is told. The Washington Post, p. A12. ^