Blog Article

The city in your hands

The city in your hands

June 17 2014

By Holly Winman
  • Community Engagement
  • Education

A closer look at 2013 NT100 project, Catraca Livre

By Lia Roitburd, General Manager of Catraca Livre - a journalistic project created to help cities become better educated, social and creative.

I have known the award-winning journalist, Gilberto Dimenstein since 1999.  After I graduated I had the opportunity to be part of the Learner School City Association, one of the several projects created by him.  The Learner School City Association aims to enhance connections among people, educational institutions, public and private areas in order to make city life more pleasant.  During the years that followed, we discovered through our experiences that education and cultural events were essential in the development of any community.

In 2008, Gilberto created Catraca Livre (Free Ratchet), a website that gathers together and lists free social and cultural events in the city of Sao Paulo. Drawing on his own family experiences and from his own great journalistic experience with students at the public and private schools in the city, he realized that students did not socialize in their own neighborhoods.  As a result they did not know about the free tools and activities available to them across the city that could contribute to their own learning and development.

With a small team behind him, located in a house inside one of the most bohemian neighborhoods of Sao Paulo, the website was born.  It quickly started to promote low-cost social and cultural activities, a range of health services in the area, news about jobs, sports updates, education opportunities, entrepreneurship, gastronomy, and much more.
In just four years the site had expanded to include the city of Rio de Janeiro and by 2013 it had broaden its coverage to include twelve other cities across Brazil.  In 2012, Catraca Livre was recognized for its role in facilitating the cohabitation and the well being of young people in cities across Brazil by the BOBs, when it was awarded the best blog in Portuguese by the Deustche Welle competition. In the same year, the site was also awarded the “Comunique-se” Award one of the most important journalistic prizes to be awarded in Brazil.
In 2013, the project was analyzed by the Professor Rosabeth Kanter at Harvard Business School, regarding the innovative use of digital media to extend citizenship. 

Through the website it is possible to view a schedule of events taking place across the 12 cities we cover.  Visitors can also read stories about events that are happening in different cities and countries across the world.  Such a site amplifies the access people have to knowledge and inspires them by sharing inclusive and innovative communitarian solutions.

Today the site attracts more than eight million visits per month and we have more than 3.5 million fans on Facebook, who receive daily news aimed at inspiring them to help transform the cities they live in, into more educational, sociable and creative spaces.

Alexandre Hahagen, responsible for Facebook in Latin America said of Catraca Livre: “It is an example of how digital media can reinforce citizenship by promoting educational and cultural activities. One of the most important values of Catraca Livre is that as a social technology, it can be replicated worldwide.”

The project became a social company in 2011. It encourages all staff to contribute ideas and improvements in order to help them achieve their mission. Employees are given a share of the profits and have the opportunity of becoming partners in the company. In 2014, besides its founder Gilberto Dimenstein, six of the original team became partners.

Catraca Livre truly believes in the potential of the internet to transform cities into learning communities. Our intention is to support our cities; in becoming more accessible; to improve people´s abilities; and to engage with residents through local universities, squares, movie theaters, entertainment centers to demonstrate how they can develop their creative potential.

The most important role of any community is to bring its people together and nurture their talents. Once you awaken the spirit in a community you can create a collective interest among people who take pride in their environment and look out for those around them.

How the site has grown

Since the launch of the Catraca Livre site, we have been through four major phases of development. We started with a simple site, developed on Dreamweaver.

After approx. four months the site was moved over to the WordPress platform.  This platform allowed us to improve the data feeds and provided better navigation for the reader.

In January 2010 we launched the third iteration of the site.  Still on the WordPress platform but this version saw improvements made to the structure and organization of the news content.

The latest version of the site was launched in March 2013. We introduced a Geo Locator which allows the user can find cultural activities, spaces and services of interest to him or her. The site is also more responsive allowing visitors to search for activities on their mobile or computer.

Recent developments
We see the city as a great talent incubator. Which is why, since 2013, Catraca Livre has offered a new service that helps to promote free events in Sao Paulo (Rua Livre – i.e. Free Street).  One such example is a series of free concerts that took place on the side of subway stations around Catraca Station in April 2014. During what is typically the busiest period for public transport, it offered commuters an opportunity to enjoy live music and culture on their way home.