One of Sao Paulo’s largest favelas celebrates its centenary – a sign of the permanence and resilience of poor communities that were once considered temporary
SAO PAULO (AP) – Dozens of children lined up at a community center in Sao Paulo for a slice of creamy blue cake. None were celebrating a birthday; their poor neighborhood, the favela of Paraisopolis, commemorated 100 years of existence.
“People started coming (to town) for construction jobs and settled down,” said community leader Gilson Rodrigues. “There was no planning, not even streets. People started to cultivate. Everything was disorganized. The authorities didn’t do much, so we learned to organize ourselves.
The favela’s centenary, which was celebrated on Thursday, underscores the permanence of its roots and other similar communities, even though Brazilians in the city’s wealthiest neighborhoods often view them as temporary and precarious. The favelas struggle to get rid of this stigma because they defy any simple definition, not least because they have evolved over the decades.
Once isolated agricultural land from the city, Paraisopolis is now nestled in the heart of urban sprawl. Its population began to increase after a 1942 law froze rental prices, putting an end to private construction. With no action from the authorities to provide housing, people looked for affordable alternatives, according to Nabil Bonduki, professor at the School of Architecture and Urbanism at the University of Sao Paulo.
The community grew with the arrival of people to build the Morumbi stadium nearby. Today, it’s the city’s largest soccer arena, home to the popular Sao Paulo Soccer Club, though fans of the team are largely unaware of who built it. And Paraisopolis is the second largest favela in Sao Paulo, with 43,000 inhabitants, according to the last census in 2010. Recent and unofficial counts put its population at around 100,000.
Unpainted brick houses densely occupy the 10 square kilometers (3.9 square miles) of Paraisopolis, an area lined with winding lanes where young people can play football or listen to loud music on weekends.
Most of the streets are now paved and internet connections work well, but newer areas of the favela lack infrastructure like sewage systems. Some do not have postal codes.
In Rio de Janeiro, the inhabitants of the favela are said to be “from the hill”, whose emblematic vision is a slope covered with brick buildings; painters sell such landscapes to tourists at the Sunday Art Fair in upscale Ipanema. Many of Rio’s favelas have indeed been built on the hillside, but others are on flat land, such as the now famous City of God favela which began as a social housing project.
In Brazil, 11.4 million people live in low-income neighborhoods that the National Statistical Institute classifies as “subnormal agglomerations,” according to the census, of which around 40% are in the states of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Janeiro. This includes not only favelas, but also invasions, caves, plains, stilt houses and the like, according to the institute. They share stories of irregular occupation and poor public services.
While the favelas began as informal squatter settlements in the second half of the 19th century, today some have deeds, water and sewage systems. Their residents generate $ 7 billion in economic activity annually and many of them are technically middle class, according to Catalytic Communities, a Rio-based advocacy group.
The differences from one favela to another also confuse the catch-all labels. UN-Habitat defines “slums” as areas without improved water, sewage, living space, sustainable housing or property rights. Favelas may have one or more of these descriptions, but proponents of the word “slum” are pejorative, claiming that it expresses poverty, misery, drugs and violence rather than assets like resourcefulness and resilience.
While activists and academics use the “favela”, some residents prefer the “community”.
“I understand the movement that has come from some of the rulers and people of the favelas themselves to use the ‘community’ to break free from stigma,” said Adauto Cardoso, professor at the Institute of Town Planning at the Federal University. from Rio de Janeiro. “The stigma is rather complicated in a society which is very prejudiced.”
Still, Cardoso uses the “favela”, saying people shouldn’t ignore the story; The residents of the favela built the city’s buildings and cultural heritage, including the famous Rio Carnival schools.
Over the past 15 years, the term has collected positive connotations, said Rafael Gonçalves, historian of the favelas and professor at the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro.
“Many favelas have museums today,” he said. “The locals say, ‘We want to tell our story; we mean that this is not a spontaneous accommodation that was born out of nowhere.
Authorities who have long tried to contain, obscure or demolish favelas now accept neighborhoods as a must-see, Gonçalves added. Yet many suffer from neglect, despite decades. This includes Paraisopolis.
Dressed in a costume reserved for special occasions, the leader of the Paraisopolis community, Rodrigues, had tears in his eyes as he cut the 100th anniversary cake.
He said he had always regarded Paraisopolis as his neighborhood, despite the open sewers in some areas and other difficulties. “But for 100 years, we have taken on these challenges and turned them into opportunities. We will do it for another 100 years, if necessary.
AP journalist Diane Jeantet reported from Rio. AP video journalist Tatiana Pollastri contributed from Sao Paulo.