Thursday, December 11, 2008

Sao Paulo. Paraisopolis.


One day, I got lost in a city of walls. It was pretty extraordinary how fortified and different the affluent neighborhoods are. I went wandering trying to find a favela. I found Paraisopolis, only through some images on from the internet. I was interested in the juxtaposition. It was one of the most extraordinary I had seen. Private swimming pools on balconies cantilevered over a favela. I was on foot. I followed a google map I had. It showed clearly streets running through the suburban type rich neighborhood into the densely packed favela right next to it. The google map was wrong, and it was impossible to move between the two zones. In fact, there were walls, barbed wire and security guards. Not surprising at all, stark and amazing on the ground and in person. The guards were everywhere. On the entrance to the substreets. On the actual streets, on foot, cars, and on bikes, and then in the doorways below the electrified fences on the houses. Why didn’t they stop me? White? Who do they stop then? How many layers are really needed? Does this create violence or is the proximity? Both zones are fighting for access and location in the city. One wanted to get away from it, and the other wanted to get to it. Now they are right next to each other, and the consequences are drastic. A professor at Berkeley has written a book called City of Walls about Sao Paulo. In many cases when security and isolation has increased between neighborhoods, violence has increased. A very worthy topic of much more exploration.
All these experiences have left me a little sour, partly because how striking the differences are in Sao Paulo and it reminded me a lot of the other cities in the world. And while Brazil has a lot of new and progressive policies, this place is fucked up, and so is most of the world. I began to look at incrementality a little differently. In reality, incrementality represents injustice, lack of resources, lack of investment, anbandonement, etc. The reason people have to build that way is because they have no other choice. Where it looks like they have choice on the outside, do they really have choice on the inside? And what choice are we talking about here? Location, aspirations, improvement, development, etc? It’s all there. incrementality needs to be seen in a much more critical light. Many houses (even wealthy) ones are incremental. So, what is the point? Often, the middle and upper class can work closely with the architect, they feel empowered, they have ownership in the process. But, they are not challenging anything else beyond the existing reality, or perceptions. Incrementality works because allows people to exist and play in the consumer market and global consumption game. It allows them to improve, but on a more individualistic scale. And that is where the world is going. And look at the result of it. It ain’t pretty. Or is it?
Based on a lot of more famous images of Paraisopolis, you would think there was extreme wealth next to extreme poverty. Wandering on the ground and talking to some folks in the municipality, it is clear that Paraisopolis is a highly developed favela with tons of work, economic activity, and social structures very well in place. The city has had an active role in upgrading a lot of it. Does it have to do with its proximity to the wealth right around it? At least they are not trying to redevelop it like Dharavi.

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