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Cultura Negada: Reflecting on Racialised Urban Violence and Practices of Resistance in Salvador da Bahia, Brazil

FedericaRisi9 July 2018

Prominent academic debates around violence in the city most often seem to be concerned with how structural economic and political drivers codify violence into the urban space. To appropriate Harvey’s terminology, with how urbanisation by dispossession – in other words marginalisation – of urban groups contributes to increasing crime rates and gangs-related violence. It is only in recent decades that ‘institutional’ abuse  – perpetrated by police forces under the blind eye of the Hobbesian state – as well as more structural forms of selective and – most often –  race-based violence are confronted[1]. And yet as a category of analysis of the urban, violence emerges as a causally less linear and more nuanced construct.

Measurability of course is an issue and deserves being questioned. What indicators are taken into account when defining urban violence? What types of data are considered? Who collects them? How are they read and  disseminated? The action research conducted in Salvador, as part of the MSc Social Development Practice overseas field trip, has evidenced how municipal – and national – indexes reflecting increasing rates of homicides as related to organised-crime, robbery and drug trafficking overlook important aspects of the realities of violence lived everyday by vulnerable urban communities. Vulnerability on its end also warrant a discussion on methodology. Drawing from the Participatory Action Research (PAR) tradition in urban planning, vulnerability is here understood as socially (re)produced and as related to asset ownership (Moser, 1996; drawing on Sen, 1981) and the capacity to cope with shocks; whether environmental, economic, political or all of these combined.

In this blog series, I undress some reflections on how Salvador, the blackest city of Brazil, epitomises such a nuanced appreciation of how violence is urbanised, that is, how it becomes spatially codified in the city;  and in turn is itself an agent of urbanisation. Graffiti[2] is offered as an entry point for the analysis.

 

Aesthetics of inequality. View of Saramandaia, Salvador, Brazil.


In context..

The Bahian capital is a city of contrasts and embodies the clash between the gentrifying force of globalisation as it manifests in the built environment and locally grounded social action reclaiming identity as forgotten history. Identity as ethnicity. Identity as part of the rich African heritage of Brazil and its institutional neglecting. As Kwame Dixon (2016) aptly elucidates in his book Afro-Politics and Civil Society in Salvador da Bahia, Brazil, the country abolished legal slavery in 1888, but provided no institutional mechanism to free former slaves from racial discrimination. Almost a hundred years later, when Brazil returned to democracy in the 1980s, burgeoning blocos afros[3], black social and political movements revendicating Afro-Diasporic consciousness emerged to seek racial justice and equality, to claim their ‘right to the city’ as a right to live and exist in the city.

 

Despite having one of the oldest and largest black populations of the Americas, Salvador has never elected a black mayor nor has the Bahian State chosen a black governor to date (Dixon, 2016). And, if urban violence seems to follow the racial and spatially confined pattern of poverty in the city, with residents of majority black, poverty-stricken neighbourhoods being more likely to be killed than their better-off, white neighbours (Chaves Viana et al, 2011; Huggings, 2004); institutional memory as well as public opinion as shaped by the media exert more intangible, narrative forms of violence on these vulnerable groups. These narrative forms of dispossessions become activating agents of citizenship and identity revindication from within the city.

“Minha Vida” – My Life. Graffiti in Barra District, Salvador, Brazil.


I wanted to talk about cultural syncretism, I ended up taking about violence…

It would be amiss to document and account for the richness and multitude of cultural manifestations in Salvador without engaging with how these are shaped by violence in the city, and how, in turn, they impinge on it.

A graffiti tour of Ladeira da Preguiça, literally “Slope of Laziness” helped vividly retrace the institutionalisation of racialised violence in Salvador. In the 17th century, the road, which historically connected the port area[1] (cidade baixa) to the upper city[2] (cidade alta), was used by African slaves to carry goods on their shoulders while being shouted at “to move faster” (Moreira, 2018). With the development of more easily accessible routes in modern[3] Salvador, the Ladeira and its people were abandoned by public power. The area, as a result of its narrow streets and vacant warehouses, slowly lent itself to organised crime and, most recently, to drug-trafficking.

In recent years, the stigma[1] of violence and insecurity –which is almost as damaging as violence itself– eventually provided the perfect justification for the municipality to push forward a privatisation project that was meant to regenerate –and gentrify– the area. Local moradores (“residents”), however, joined forces and, in 2013, collectively mobilised to rehabilitate the Ladeira, reconstructing collapsed mansions and painting decaying façades with colourful graffiti referencing the African Diaspora; exposing Brazil’s institutionalised culture of exclusion as a means to call for the city to remember and for reclaiming their housing rights. A vibrant cultural centre was founded by residents themselves, Centro Cultural “Que Ladeira é Essa?”, to breath a culture of resistance through art. By calling attention to Brazil’s rich African heritage, the centre offers classes of  capoeira, afro-samba dance and percussions as well as painting and graffiti workshops. Cultural offerings then become an element of aggregation, an instrument for articulating a powerful counter-narrative to deconstruct stereotypes.

To say that civic action is a reaction to violence would be simplistic and necessarily reductionist. Nevertheless, the tradition of survivalism through art and symbolism[2] has permeated the urbanisation of Salvador as emerging from the oppression and structural exclusion of black populations within the city (for a comprehensive analysis of the evolution of Brazilian popular culture read: Assunção, 2003).

 

Reflecting on causality

On the one hand, local practices of resistance rooted in the syncretism of Salvador’s condemned[3] neighbourhoods are an unapologetic expression of resistance to the stereotyping narrative of the city. A violent narrative of violence; one that lexically and imaginatively reduces majority black-afro-descendant communities to urban realities of degradation, crime, and carencias (“deprivations”) . A narrative that is reminiscent of colonial oppression and a revivified vehicle of neoliberal domination.

Capoeira dancer. Graffiti in Pelourinho.

 

On the other, it is precisely because of this concatenated cycle of oppression-marginalisation that non-white urban communities find themselves more exposed to violence stemming from their surrounding, built as well as non-built, environments.

 

In this direction, there is room for critical urban theory to expand its scope to explore how violence – and even more so the fear of it – shapes city making. In fact, if market forces and political discourses are key determining factors in the urbanisation of violence, in its physical as well as narrative manifestations, violence too influences how people (re-)claim the city, how they move inside the city, use collective spaces, build or adapt their houses.

 

Our co-investigation with local urban collectives and social movements in Salvador has revealed how urban violence and fear thereof shape the social production of urban habitats and community practices around culture, housing, use and production of collective space and mobility. Further considerations and findings from our field trip will be collated in a report produced with our partner, the research group Lugar Comum, and published in the coming autumn.

 

References

Assunção, M.R. (2003). “From Slave to Popular Culture: The Formation of Afro-Brazilian Art Forms in Nineteenth-Century Bahia and Rio de Janeiro”. Iberoamericana, Vol.3, No.12, pp.159-176.

Dixon, K. (2016). Afro-Politics and Civil Society in Salvador da Bahia, Brazil. University Press of Florida.

Huggings, M.K. (2000). “Urban Violence and Police Privatization in Brazil: Blended Invisibility”, Social Justice, Vol.27, No.2, Issue 80, Criminal Justice and Globalization at the New Millennium (Summer 2000), pp. 113-134.

Manco, T., Lost Art, and Neelon, C. (2005). Graffiti Brasil .Thames & Hudson: London.

Moreira, W (2018). Graffiti Tour, Ladeira da Preguiça. 09/05/2018.

Moser, C.O.N. (1996). “The asset vulnerability framework: Reassessing urban poverty reduction strategies”. World Development, Vol.26, No.1, January 1998, pp.1-19.

Moser, C.O.N. (2004). “Urban Violence and Insecurity: an Introductory Roadmap”. Environment and Urbanization, Vol.16, No.2, October 2004.

Resident. (2018). Interview. Graffiti Tour, Ladeira da Preguiça. 09/05/2018.

Sen, A. (1981). Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation. Clarendon Press, Oxford.

 

Federica Risi is the Graduate Teaching Assistant of the MSc Social Development Practice. Herself a DPU graduate from the MSc Environment and Sustainable Development, Federica has experience in participatory action research focused on urban risks. She is also a Research Associate at the Pastoral Environmental Network in the Horn of Africa (PENHA), where she is conducting an investigation on South-South Cooperation between Peru, Brazil and the Horn region.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

[1] Residents reported that identifying as black and “saying you are from the Ladeira, it’s like admitting you are a criminal”, which “[…] stops you to get a job and continue education” (Resident, 09/05/2018).

[2] Capoeira  and Candomblé rituals for example, emerged as practice for African slaves to compensate for the loss of identity (Assunção, 2003, p.160).

[3] Carnival Blocks.

[4] In the sense of being publicly perceived as unsafe and rife with violence.

[5] Where Portuguese ships would arrive to deliver materials and goods, historically, the part of the city dedicated to commercial activities.

[6] Here, were established the main government offices and churches; also where the aristocracy resided.

[7] Referring to the end of Portuguese colonial domination and Brazil’s independence in 1822.

[8] In the October 2004 No.2 Issue Vol.16 of Environment and Urbanization, with the article ‘Urban Violence and Insecurity: an Introductory Roadmap’,  Caroline O.N. Moser draws on Galtung to extend the notion of violence as going “beyond situations of overt brutality to include more implicit forms such as exploitation, exclusion, inequality and injustice” (p.6). In this sense “…violence [can be] built into the structure [of society,] …show[ing] up as unequal power and consequently as unequal life chances” (Galtung, 1969 cited in Moser, 2004, p.6).

[9] Drawings and writings scribbled or painted through a variety of techniques on public walls; “a vehicle for [the excluded] of the city to assert their existence and self-worth, and to do it loudly” (Manco et al., 2005).

 

New Practices in Urban Transformation: Towards Inclusionary Heritage 27/11/2017

LilianSchofield4 December 2017

Contemporary urban studies, especially those in global cities often acknowledge the challenges in city planning and a variety of urban development problems that are associated with rapid urban growth. The city of São Paulo, Brazil, which is one of Latin America’s most developed urban agglomerations, is no exception. The lecture by Nadia Somekh draws on 40 years of theory and practice, using the case of São Paulo’s Bixiga neighbourhood as an entry point to explore how a critical approach to urban planning practices can help city planners move towards a more inclusionary understanding of heritage management.

Nadia Somekh is an Emeritus Professor of Architecture and Urban Planning at Mackenzie University whose current research focuses on heritage and urban projects in the contemporary city as well as the vertical growth of Brazilian cities.  Amongst other roles, Nadia is the author of “A Cidade Vertical e o Urbanismo Modernizador” (“The Vertical City and Modernist Urbanism”). Outside of academia, between 2013 and 2016 Nadia served as President of CONPRESP (São Paulo City Heritage Council) and director of DPH (Heritage Department of São Paulo City).  Nadia has also held the position of President of EMURB (Municipal Urbanisation Company) as well as Economic Development Secretary in Santo André City.

One of the many thought-provoking questions posed by Nadia to the audience during her presentation was; how do we deal with social issues in urban planning? I believe Nadia’s challenging question reflects the ethical crossroads that the 21st-century city planner is confronted with. More so, it raises the complex question; how does a planner reconcile issues relating to spatial justice with preservation of heritage? This question is rightly posed within the context of the case study of São Paulo, which is Brazil’s largest conurbation, with a high proportion of its residents living in a sub-standard housing (Budds, and Teixeira, 2005). Since the 1950s, Brazilian cities have experienced rapid urbanisation and this conurbation is moving into neighbouring vicinities and the outskirts of the city, bringing with it a myriad of social, economic and planning challenges (Sperandelli et al, 2013). In terms of perceived space, São Paulo is a vertical city but not a dense one and this verticalization is now extending to the outskirts of the city to neighbourhoods such as Bixiga. Historic buildings are gradually demolished in favour of high rise apartments. Housing remains a pertinent issue in the city even with the introduction and implementation of master planning and zoning. This is a regulatory and urban policy, which was established in the 1980s in a number of Brazil’s large cities to address inequality and dwellings (Caldeira and Holston, 2015).

Reflecting on the narratives around Heritage and preservation, Nadia posed another critical question, “how do we deal with the tensions between high-rise building and heritage”? As highlighted by Nadia, there exists a number of listed buildings with very little being done in terms of preservation. The protection of Bixiga’s heritage buildings is not just about preserving the buildings but also, the social relationships as well as dealing with gentrification. In discussing the evolution and urban morphology of the city, it is pertinent to examine the disembeddedness of social practices in defining and owning the space. Nadia highlighted the issue of identity and how the residents perceive heritage buildings. Social practices and the way identity is perceived also play a crucial role in preserving heritage sites. Previously, the perception of these heritage sites was not imbued in ‘identity’ and the praxis of developers was to erase history and build high-rise building, however, recent findings illustrate that people are beginning to value history and now want to preserve and protect the heritage buildings and sites.

One theme emanating from the discussions was that different countries view and understand heritage in diverse ways. For example, the United Kingdom has different streams of funding for heritage projects, one being the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF). The HLF uses money raised through the National Lottery to provide grants for conservation activities or projects. A project would need to meet several criteria for funding, one of which is that the building must have some economic use as well as being beneficial to the community. One great example that comes to mind is Manchester’s Victoria Baths, a Grade II* listed building, which in 2003, won the first BBC Restoration programme and with it, £3m of Heritage Lottery funding (BBC).

The concluding part of the seminar was an intellectual discussion centred on preservation and heritage. I took from the engaging and enlightening debate that heritage is understood and perceived in different ways, and in different parts of the world. Another important observation that I made, is that for an inclusionary understanding of heritage management to take place, it is necessary to identify the importance of heritage both in economic terms and its contribution to the community and then seeking for different streams of funding. There is also the need for participation from all, including planners, architects and the community. A good example mentioned by Barbara Lipietz, of the Development Planning Unit (DPU), is her reference to the case of Medellin, Colombia, where planners, community members, architects and different actor groups come together in a city level to tackle problems associated with urban planning.

In conclusion, heritage management must not only focus on the preservation of heritage but also at the same time ensure the economic and community benefit.

 

References

 

BBC:http://www.bbc.co.uk/manchester/content/articles/2008/09/17/victoria_baths_history_feature.shtml. Accessed 28/11/2017.

Budds, J. and Teixeira, P. (2005) Ensuring the right to the city: pro-poor housing, urban development and tenure legalization in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Environment and Urbanization, 17(1), pp.89-114.

Caldeira, T. and Holston, J. (2015) Participatory urban planning in Brazil. Special issue article: Urban revolutions in an age of global urbanism. Urban Studies. Vol. 52(11).

Godfrey, B.J. (1991) Modernizing the Brazilian city. Geographical Review, pp.18-34.

Irazábal, C. (2009) Revisiting urban planning in Latin America and the Caribbean. Unpublished regional study prepared for the Global Report on Human Settlements.

Sperandelli, D.I., Dupas, F.A. and Dias Pons, N.A. (2013) Dynamics of urban sprawl, vacant land, and green spaces on the metropolitan fringe of São Paulo, Brazil. Journal of Urban Planning and Development139(4), pp.274-279.

 

Dr Lilian Schofield is the Graduate Teaching Assistant for the MSc Development Administration and Planning (DAP). She has over five years experience working in Higher Education Institutions in the UK as well as experience in the development field having worked with development consultancies and NGOs in Nigeria. Lilian Schofield has a PhD in Construction and Property Management and investigated the role of stakeholders in housing development projects in poor communities in Nigeria.

From heroes to villains: Brazil at risk of moving away from the New Urban Agenda

AlexandreApsan Frediani16 February 2017

By Julia Moretti and Alexandre Apsan Frediani

Call to support the mobilisation against a new presidential act that intends to dismantle the regulations for land regularization in Brazil.

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A network of Brazilian civil society organisations is calling the international community to support their mobilisations against a new presidential act that intends to dismantle the regulations for land regularization in Brazil. Since the introduction of the City Statute in 2001, Brazilian urban policy has been setting a series of innovative precedents in the implementation of principles of Right to the City. The Statute involves the recognition of the social function of property, setting the framework for participatory urban planning as well as linking land tenure regularization with urbanization of settlements.

Since then, this law has been consolidated as a legal guide for the Brazilian land regularization policy and several other statutes were enacted guided by its principles in order to regulate instruments and procedures (Law n.11977/09 about urban settlements regularization; Law n. 11481/07 about regularization on public owned land; Law 11952/09 about regularization on land owned by the Federal Government in the Amazon Region). This legal framework became an international example of progressive urban policy, prioritizing justice over profit, and informing the development of the United Nations’ New Urban Agenda agreed in 2016

The Provisional Presidential Act (PPA) no. 759/16 enacted at the very end of 2016 attempts to amend the existing legislation regarding land regularization with an act that promises to reduce bureaucracy and increase efficiency. However, its underlying motivation is to reposition land as a financial asset, rather than a right. Apart from dismantling an entire legal body that represents the result of a long term public debate and consolidated collective understanding and agreement of multiple stake-holders, the PPA marks a step backwards in terms of assuring access to land for the poor and implementing the principle of social function of property. Below are some of the problems with the PPA.

Changing basic principles: legal definition of land regularization established by the PPA suppresses the aim to assure housing rights and environmentally sustainable by observing the social function of property. According to the new law, policies on land regularization are to be economically sustainable and developed based on principles of competitiveness and efficiency.

Lack of participation: participation is no longer a principle of land regularization. Furthermore, the PPA revokes a consolidated and democratic legal framework replacing it with a not self-operating law enacted without any public debate.

Massive privatization of land owned by the Federal Government: the new law creates an instrument that gives property rights indiscriminately, without meeting any criteria regarding social and collective interest. The PPA makes possible and easier to regularize high-income settlements and gated communities in public land without any compensation at a loss of social and environmental function of public property.

Amnesty to deforestation and land appropriation: the PPA allows regularization of large parcels of public land all over the country even to those who already own land. It accepts deforestation as proof of possession,substantially changing the program “Legal land in the Amazon Region” originally conceived to settle conflicts over landbetween small-scale agriculture and traditional population against agribusiness, preventing deforestation.

Policy on Rural Reform weakened: according to this new law,land titles resulting from rural reform can be sold in the market,increasing the risk toreturn to a situation of land concentration. Furthermore, the governmental agency on rural reform is released from its obligations regarding the wellbeing of settled families and looses competencies to a Secretary that answers directly to the President.

Land regularization for social interest weakened: in the PPA, special social interest zones no longer exist.This results in the loss of an important zoning instrument that for a long time was used to demarcate urban territory occupied by the poor, setting priority fortenure regularization. This and other tools and procedures that made it easier to regularize informal settlements occupied by the poor are no longer in place.

In brief, the PPA focuses on property titles not in assuring basic human rights to those more in need. This new law deconstructs an innovative legal framework based on pillars of participatory urban planning socio-environmental function of the city and property and land regularization as a key element for attaining social inclusion. It represents the triumph of the concept of abstract entitlements held on individual bases, prioritizing the exchange rather than social value of property.

 

The Open Letter attached is meant to summon social movements and all those who believe in Urban and Rural Reform to demand Brazilian Federal Government to withdraw Provisional Presidential Act No.759/2016 from Congress; therefore stopping the voting process and promoting a large scale debate about land ownership, property and possession, guided by constitutional principles of social function of property and individual and collective human rights.

To show your support, please sign the on-line petition:

https://contramp759.wixsite.com/cartaaobrasil


Alexandre Apsan Frediani is a lecturer at the DPU, and is the co-director of the MSc Social Development Practice programme.

Julia Moretti is a lawyer at Escritório Modelo Dom Paulo Evaristo Arns

Rio 2016: Games of Exclusion

MarianaDias Simpson18 August 2016

Two weeks before the Rio 2016 Olympic Games opening on August 5th, a poll confirmed the vibe felt on the streets[1]: 50% of Brazilians were against the mega event and 63% believed it would bring more harm than good to the city. Against a backdrop of political and economic crises, Brazilians were comprehending that hosting such a party was going to cost a lot. And that they weren’t really invited to join.

 

Protests gained force as the torch travelled throughout the country. Demonstrators managed to extinguish the Olympic flame several times. More often than not, the parade happened alongside protests against poor living conditions. Many of Rio’s public schools have been closed and on strike since March. Hospitals haven’t got the basic materials to function. In July, the governor declared a ‘state of emergency’ due to the state of Rio’s bankrupt situation. In a decree, he established that it was up to authorities to take ‘exceptional measures’ for the ‘rationalisation of all public services’ (i.e. cuts) in order to ensure that the Olympics happened smoothly, as the event has ‘international repercussions’ and any damage to the country’s image would be of ‘very difficult recovery’[2].

Video of attempts to extinguish the torch in protest in the periphery of Rio available on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=70q_FOICM-Y

 

Pretty much the opposite of what the world watched in the beautiful opening ceremony on August 5th, in the ‘preparation’ for the Games citizens watched favelas being bulldozes; Pacifying Police Units trying to silence funk music; the genocide of black youths sponsored by the state; the destruction of a natural reserve for the construction of a golf course; the closing of sports equipment where unsponsored athletes trained; imposed interventions; violence against protesters; corruption; and the absence of a social or environmental legacy for the city.

Jogos da Exclusão

Jogos da Exclusão

 

Resistance

 

The World Cup and Olympics Popular Committee of Rio de Janeiro is an articulation that has since 2010 gathered popular organisations, trade unions, non-governmental organisations, researchers, students and those affected by interventions related to the World Cup and the Olympics for the construction of a critical view of these mega events. Committed to the struggle for social justice and the right to the city, the Committee promotes public meetings and debates, produces documents and dossiers on human rights violations, organises public demonstrations and spreads information.

 

In the first week of August, the Committee organised a series of events in Rio de Janeiro under the title “Games of Exclusion” for the promotion of dialogue, cultural activities and protests (met with violence by the ‘National Force’ currently occupying the streets).

 

As part of the Games of Exclusion, the Brazilian Institute for Social and Economic Analyses (Ibase, in Portuguese) took forward a partnership started with the DPU last year to discuss the Olympic social legacy – or lack thereof – for Rio de Janeiro. Ibase aims to influence public debate for the development of the Rio we want: an inclusive, diverse and democratic city.

 

For the dialogue ‘Housing and Mobility: Connections with the city and impacts in favelas’, Ibase partnered up with community-based organisations from the favelas of Rocinha, Complexo do Alemão, Borel and Providência[3] to debate themes related to transport and mobility within favelas and the latest initiatives, such as the construction of cable cars, funiculars, and the legalisation of alternative modes of transport like vans and moto-taxis. Alan Brum, from the CBO Raízes em Movimento, questioned the priorities chosen by the government when investing over £200,000 in Complexo do Alemão: “Public policies and intervertions without dialogue are for whom? Our priorities are housing and basic sanitation, not a cable car”. The discussion, of course, went beyond favelas’ borders to explore dwellers’ access to the mobility interventions taking place in the city in light of the Games, such as a new metro line, BRTs, VLTs, among other actions.

 

White Elephant

The graffitti “The White Elephant and the Trojan Horse”, by Davi Amen from Complexo do Alemão, illustrated the dialogue promoted by Ibase Photo: Mariana Dias Simpson

 

 

These interventions have a direct impact in housing and public security, continuous sources of concern for those living in favelas. Since 2009, year in which the city was chosen to host the Games, more than 77,000 people were evicted and lost their homes in Rio[4], mainly under the excuse that these communities had to give room to expressways and Olympic equipment. In Complexo do Alemão alone, over 1,700 families are still being paid a ‘social rent’ whilst waiting for the delivery of new housing units. Their expectation, as Camila Santos pointed out during the dialogue, is that the benefit will stop being paid as soon as the Games end and that these family are going to be left empty handed with the state’s empty promises.

 

Since 2009, police forces have also killed more than 2,600 people in the city[5]. According to figures published by Amnesty International, there was a shocking 103% percent increase in police killings in Rio de Janeiro between April and June of 2016 in comparison to the same period in 2015, shattering any chance of a positive legacy to the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games. “Security cannot come at the expense of human rights and the fundamental principles of democracy”, defended Atila Roque, AI’s executive-diretor.

 

In the morning of August 12th, blood puddles were still visible in the favela Bandeira 2. A 14 year-old died and three people were hurt in a conflict between the police and drug dealers Photo: Carlos Cout

In the morning of August 12th, blood puddles were still visible in the favela Bandeira 2. A 14 year-old died and three people were hurt in a conflict between the police and drug dealers
Photo: Carlos Cout

 

In fact, the urbanisation of all of Rio’s favelas by 2020 was supposed to be the Olympic’s biggest legacy to the city and the most ambitious slum upgrading programme ever implemented. When launching the the Morar Carioca[6] programme in 2010, the city government promised to upgrade all of Rio’s favelas and to promote accessibility, waste management, public spaces and services, environmental protection and eco-efficiency, reduction of density, resettlements and housing improvements – “all with transparency and popular participation”[7]. However, the programme was cast aside by the government in 2013 as if it had never been proposed (and the fact was also completely overlooked by the mainstream media).

 

“What’s Rio’s post-Olympic agenda? We don’t want any more white elephants to show-off policies for favelas. We want to think about the city from the perspective of favelas. Favelas are a constituent part of the city. They present a different paradigm and show that diverse urban spaces may coexist, provided inequities are overcome and adequate living standards are universalised”,  concluded Ibase’s director Itamar Silva.

 

 

“What's Rio's post-Olympic agenda? We don't want any more white elephants and show-off policies for favelas”, questioned Ibase's director Itamar Silva at the end of the dialogue. Photo: Pedro Martins

“What’s Rio’s post-Olympic agenda? We don’t want any more white elephants and show-off policies for favelas”, questioned Ibase’s director Itamar Silva at the end of the dialogue.
Photo: Pedro Martins

[1]    Dafolha, July 2016: http://media.folha.uol.com.br/datafolha/2016/07/18/olimpiada.pdf

[2]    Quotes from the decree.

[3]    Raízes em Movimento (Complexo do Alemão), Rocinha sem Fronteiras (Rocinha), Comissão de Moradores da Providência (Providência) and Agência Internacional de Favelas (Borel).

[4]    Rio 2016: Jogos da Exclusão, Jornada de Lutas, Rio de Janeiro.

[5]    Instituto de Segurança Pública do Rio de Janeiro (ISP/ RJ).

[6]    Morar means “to live”; carioca is an adjective relating to someone or something that comes from the city of Rio de Janeiro.

[7]    SMH, 2011.

 


Mariana Dias Simpson is a DPU MSc Urban Development Planning alumni. She works as a researcher at the Brazilian Institute for Social and Economic Analyses (Ibase) in Rio de Janeiro and has worked with urban issues related to favelas, housing, public policies, poverty and inequality for several years.

What is going on in Brazil?

AlexandreApsan Frediani23 June 2013

Together with my Brazilian friends and family living in London, we cannot stop following the posts, videos, tweets and news about what is going on in Brazil since the demonstrations in the streets of São Paulo on June the 6th and spreading to the main urban centres of the country. We cannot also help starting most conversations we have at the moment by commenting on the latest news. Even after spending hours talking and reading about it, it is still hard to answer the question: what is going on in Brazil? While hopeful and excited about the level of social mobilisation around equitable access to urban infrastructure and services, we are also extremely worried about the more recent turn of the events towards a conservative agenda.

Picture 1: Demonstrations in London

Source: Alex Frediani

Source: Alex Frediani

 

The Excitement

Since the demonstrations that impeached the president Fernando Collor de Mello in 1992 we probably have not seen the public sphere so much dominated by political debates, rather than football or soap opera. Everybody is talking about it, everybody is having to position themselves in one way or another. This is also the result of a long-term mobilisation story around universal access to transport through free fares. After a series of decentralised actions (including the demonstrations in Salvador in 2003 in Florianopolis in 2004[1]), in the 2005 World Social Forum the Movimento Passe Livre, MPL (Free Fare – but also translated as Free Pass – Movement) was formed. A charter with basic principles was developed, which included independence, non-partisanship, horizontality and decision-by-consensus. National meetings were conducted to generate strategic plans. Local groups consolidated and political pressure was successfully exerted through studies and street demonstrations. During August and September of last year the MPL organised demonstrations in Natal (Rio Grande do Norte), March this year the movement took thousands to the street of Porto Alegre (Rio Grande do Sul). Then in the beginning of this month, the movement responded to the plans of increasing the price of bus fare in São Paulo by organising the demonstrations on the 6th of June, which brought 5,000 people to the streets.

For me, these activities provide examples of how social movements are contesting the commodification of city services. One of the major references of the movement is the engineer Lúcio Gregori (municipal secretary of transport of São Paulo between 1990-1992). Lúcio designed during his mandate the Project Free Fare, never implemented but which aimed at subsidising the cost of public transport through a reform of the progressive property tax. His argument is based on the idea that the high costs of the tariffs is prioritising the support towards automobile industry and bus companies over the movement towards sustainable and equitable cities.  By subsidising public transport and reducing tariffs, citizens would opt for collective transport services rather than individual cars, minimizing traffic and maintenance costs of roads. Importantly, Lúcio argues that financially the project free fare is viable, however it needs the political willingness that is not in place, hence the need for social mobilisation and pressure by civil society organisations.

Picture 2: Illustration used by MPL

Translation: A city only exists for those that can move through it. Source: http://tarifazero.org/

Translation: A city only exists for those that can move through it. Source: http://tarifazero.org/

 

However, since the initial stages, protests increased in amount of supporters but also concerns. Apart from transport tariffs, the various signs seen in the demonstrations have condemned a series of issues, including the costs caused by the forthcoming world cup[2], as well as the controversial constitutional amendment number 37, which would prohibit public agencies from carrying out criminal investigations. Such claims are important demands to keep Brazilian government under scrutiny and deepening public debates and democratic practices.

Picture 3: Protests in London with demands beyond bus tariffs

Translation: Brazil, let’s wake up! A teacher is worth more than Neymar (Brazilian footballer). Source: Alex Frediani

Translation: Brazil, let’s wake up! A teacher is worth more than Neymar (Brazilian footballer). Source: Alex Frediani

 

The Brazilian government responded to the voices of those in the street. In a televised announcement on the 21st of June, the president Dilma Rousseff called for meeting with activists, mayors and state governors to discuss about the demands of protesters. In particularly, urban mobility would be a major theme of deliberation. Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo mayors also responded by scraping their plans to increase prices of bus tariffs in the short term

The Worry

Apart from those exciting citizenship claims through debates of transport and urban mobility, we have also seen a series of worrying elements that we perceive to be counter productive to such claims. Firstly ‘violence’ has been unfortunately dominating a lot of the discussions. Just after the first protests since the 6th of June, the major media corporations did not hesitate to focus their news around the violence generated by a few protesters, therefore criminalising the activities in the streets. In the meantime, on-line various videos were shared by protesters and journalists showing the outrageous reactions of the police force using rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse the peaceful crowds shouting: sem violencia – without violence. Videos also show police shooting people recording the events in the streets and in buildings.

When the activities in the streets of the country started getting momentum, the position from the major media corporations, especially Globo, changed radically. From criminalising uprising, they started to provide ‘reasoned’ arguments, mostly associated to corruption of current government, to legitimize activities. Many comments on-line have accused such shift to demonstrate an opportunistic attitude of the right-wing/conservative elite in Brazil, tapping into and co-opting events, shifting the agenda from urban mobility towards a debate on corruption with the intention to destabilise the PT (workers party) government[3].

Also worrying is how the mood of the crowd in the streets started to shift. As numbers increased and causes for mobilisation started to multiply, the national anthem has become a key shouting bringing protestors to a united voice. The article by journalists Camila Petroni and Debora Lessa of the journal Brasil de Fato[4] outline the dangers of the emergence of this problematic nationalistic mood, which often is associated to militarization and reminds us of worrying times of our history during the 60s and 70s military government. Therefore, many have argued that the demonstrations have become compromised, losing coherence, depth and clarity due to this attempt of the right to sabotage and co-opt activities. Others have argued that this is the nature of current uprisings: multiple, decentralised, unpredictable, difficult to explain as a whole, and evidence of a new form of networked society.

However profoundly worrying has been the reaction in the streets of São Paulo in the celebration following the announcement of the mayor saying that the bus tariff would not go up. Those who went to celebrate using their party or organization’s banners and shirts (i.e. PSOL – Partido Socialismo e Liberdade, Socialism and Freedom Party – that thas been involved with the MPL since its first steps) were kicked out from the marches. Protesters argued that they would not like such groups and organisations to profit from what has been the ‘people’s demonstration’[5]. This rejection to the role of such groups in the organisation, mobilisation and future dialogue with government officials is naïve and limits the potential of protests to move beyond an outburst of grievances and influence concrete policy and practices of governance. Furthermore, and even more worrying, those claiming to be of no-association and no-party have also been accused of belonging to organised right-wing and military groups[6].

As a result of such recent events, the MPL has said that it would not be involved in the organisation of future demonstrations. Journalists and bloggers are calling protestors to localise their discussions. As it happened also in Spain, the call is to consolidate the debate and critical thinking in neighbourhoods and hubs of dialogue. The editorial piece of the magazine Forum (which was created during the World Social Forum of 2001 in Porto Alegre) asked activists to replace in the short-term demonstrations with meetings to deepen the debate, work out differences and share perspectives before going again to the streets[7].

Next steps

The above description is one of the many readings of the situation. It is quite surprising that the media in the UK is not engaging with such reading and has not been trying to capture complexities and the contradictions of the schizophrenic nature of the uprisings in Brazil. It is impossible to attempt to make any analysis of what could happen, but I see exciting and worrying scenarios: if the progressive activists move out from the demonstrations by prioritising localised discussions, the conflict in the streets might end up dominated by right-wing groups, with dangerous prospects of militarization and confrontation with the current government. But on the other hand the confrontations with fuzzy purposes might phase out with time, and what is going to be left are the seeds for a much more constructive and profound mode of civil engagement. What is going on in Brazil? I am not sure, but definitely it is uncertain, exciting and worrying all at the same time…

Alexandre Apsan Frediani is a lecturer at the Bartlett Development Planning Unit and co-director of Masters in Social Development Practice.


[1] See documentary Impasse on-line about the movement in Florianopolis: http://impasse.com.br/documentario/impasse

[2] See videos that went viral on-line outlining the major arguments against the World Cup: ‘No, I am not going to the world cup’: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZApBgNQgKPU and Brazilian ex-footballer and now politician Romario arguing that FIFA has established a estate within the Brazilian estate: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QMhL-K2kBxQ.

[4] http://www.brasildefato.com.br/node/13269

[5] See post by a demonstrator that got kicked out from the celebrations: http://socialistamorena.cartacapital.com.br/querem-desestabilizar-o-brasil-nao-vou-compactuar-com-isso/

[6] See list disseminated through facebook: https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=538407982884717&id=149047141820805

[7] http://revistaforum.com.br/blog/2013/06/editorial-contra-os-fascistas-a-forca-das-redes-e-dos-processos-democraticos/

Caprichando a Morada, engaging communities for systemic change

DingLiu14 December 2010

Post written by: Nawale Abdous, DPU alumna 2009

I read a lot about the 2009 World Habitat Award laureate Caprichando a Morada before visiting and facilitating the International Study Visit on the various sites of the project. Nothing I read about family agriculture made me understand what its stands for as strongly as when I met the young social project planners of the COOPERHAF team in Chapecó. Young and idealistic –yes. But also strongly grounded to their land and background.

↑ Dia na Propriedade, celebrating Family Siebert’s new house (self-built)

Exploring the South of Brazil is a very different experience to visiting the luxuriously green Rio de Janeiro or the wild urban Saõ Paulo. Santa Catarina is a rough jewel in its own rights. Florianopolis is the wealthy model of colonial architecture crowned in the paradisiacal landscape that once was home of the noble savage and now the very sought after undiscovered vacation and surfing location. It is also the last bastion of the original Portuguese colonisation as fortresses stand elevated, previously preventing invasions by the Spanish and the Dutch. An hour by plane away from Florianopolis is Chapecó. The scene is more authentic and simple although the contrast between the European looking population is striking with the lavish abundance of sun and vegetation. Most dwellers are indeed direct descendants of Polish, Dutch and Italian settlers and since the creation of the town in the early 1900s, the historic bond is still palpable. Agricultural landscapes have also the same European geography in Santa Catarina, Parana and Rio Grande do Sul, drawn with the same hedges you would find in Germany.

One major difference though is the dilapidated state of the family farmers’ houses scattered in the green and prosperous scenery, often erected on a rudimentary wooden structure permeable to the winds and rains. Rural housing is not considered a priority anywhere in Latin America, anywhere at all –I shall say. Yet it is difficult to imagine a business doing well if the family lives in insalubrious conditions and vice versa. Family agriculture (agricultura familiar) is the predominant scheme of production in this Southern region but also in the North and North East of Brazil, the latest two being lands of the Agrarian Reform settlers and of fishermen. The family nucleon is the unit of production, both very solid as it lies on mutual aid and very vulnerable economically. Challenges for this production model are diverse according to the region. Whilst in the North, families are faced with huge distances to market their goods and rarefaction of available land to expand their production, in the South, commercialisation of products is undermined by the concurrence allowed through MERCOSUR. This is a hard context for families to retain their youth and prevent rural exodus.This is the context in which emerged COOPERHAF(Cooperative of Habitat for Family Farmers).  Their monstrous mobilisation work through which –unlike other Latin American cooperatives, they promoted legislatively and commercially a socially just model of house provision struck me. Mistrust, obstructive land policies, lack of funds, limited interaction between leadership and cooperative members are some of the many obstacles that prevent cooperatives to scale up innovative practices. The strength of COOPERHAF lies in its birth from the union movement FETRAF-SUL allowing its practice to be adopted to scale throughout the country in 13 states in the North East, North and South of Brazil. This alliance proved to be an alternative to urbanisation and retain the dynamism of the rural areas whilst employing various state designed tools from the federal programme Minha Casa Minha Vida. The passion and fellowship animating the movement come hand in hand with a strong, intelligent and very proactive leadership, bringing forward proposals to the government and bringing small but real changes in the lives of millions such as Hence, families join the programme for more than a house. Food security and self-consumption, access to credit and competitive and sustainable development of their properties are also part of COOPERHAF training to enhance their capability. But this is a movement and an approach that also faces difficulties in its scaling up perhaps less on the mobilisation side but more on the design that its technicians propose in terms of housing, particularly with indigenous populations in the North. Technical assistants are exploring various solutions in bio-construction and affordable passive housing elements that could be integrated to house designs offered to families but a consensus is hard to establish with private sector partners (especially local Caixa banks) willing to lend to families that only employ certified models. Providing housing solutions for indigenous populations is an equal challenge on which COOPERHAF is currently learning, having failed to accommodate viable solutions. Its technical arm COOPERTEC is leading on the sustainability of the models, trying to push forward the use of local materials and ancestral techniques.

COOPERHAF did not invent any design or material, but a social technology that organise and catalyses various sparks of energy into a very loud political machinery. It facilitates the relations between the state, the private banks, the syndicates and the farmer. It translates information and brings suitable packages to specific income levels. More than that, it keeps the stamina in the movement through a permanent dialogue and a constant innovation in how to use demagogic state programmes into real propositions and in such, changes the system from within. This is rural planning.

↑ The old and the new house, meters away from each other, a home made and home grown change for a new life