Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Sao Paulo. Cidade Tirandentes & Mutiraoes

Cidade Tirandentes (source: wikipedia)
I had been really wanting see what was going on in the periphery. I could look at in Google Earth, but figuring out how to get out there and where to go was certainly not easy. I linked up with a great group, Uniao Nacional por Moradia Popular (UNMP) (www.unmp.org.br) and the leader of it spent a little speaking with me. She invited me to a signing ceremony of a new housing project to move people out of some favelas. It had taken them 6 years to get to a point of signing an agreement. The big party spilled out into the neighborhood street. She linked me up with a young architect doing work with mutiraos. These were housing projects run and managed (even constructed) by the future residents. I was interested in this model, because in Brazil, under Lula’s leadership and because of the active participation of so many people in the production of their city, progressive policy has given into new partnerships to effectively transfer some power and decision making to communities and social movements. And the mutirao is one such example. The state basically gives money to local groups and communities to develop the housing on their own.
Paulo Freire Mutirao
On a cool, gray, Saturday morning, we took a long subway ride, and then a long bus ride. We passed through Cidade Tiradentes, one of the largest public housing projects in the Latin America (almost 40,000 people live there). It is quite striking. Riding past them, I am reminded of jails in the US. Of course, it has to do with the fences, the monotony, but also the tall water towers that dot the landscape. At certain ridges, you can look along in the distance and all you see is such buildings. One after another, after another. But, it is an election year, so they are freshly painted.
In this case, the state asks developers to build them. Efficiency is the key and they work hard to maximize their profit. If they can more done for less, they then they will have more profit. The result is obvious, although I wouldn’t say the quality isn’t that bad. My friend told me that the process of the mutiraos can get 14 sq.m. more (56 sq. m. vs. 42 sq. m.) with about $5000 less, with the active participation of residents to be involved in the design and construction on their future homes. And more space is critical to people. Unfortunately, with the state housing, people have been brought from many places and communities around the city and this stuffing together without much consideration has generation extensive violence here as well. My guide felt strongly that moving all such people to periphery was intentional. It got people out of the central locations where it would free up for wealthier people, and it supported large construction companies, who have many close ties to the government.
State Housing
The mutirao was an interesting project. I can’t say it was the most engaging, beautiful or innovation architectural approach. They were trying to use steel instead of brick and concrete for the structure to allow for a quicker construction time, but in the end it had sacrificed aesthetic. But to most people who will soon have a new home and community, that is something of minimal importance. But it is to us architects. The cool thing was the first thing they built in the whole project was the public pavilion, where the community could gather. They used it as a stepping off point and office for the construction of the project. For the duration of the project, the residents have been coming every other Saturday to assist in the construction. Before that, they worked closely with the architects during the design process.

The whole process is fascinating and the idea of it is really engaging. It is truly a process supported by architecture to challenge the traditional modes of production that have often created the problems that many people are faced with. And while they have a great deal of decision making power, they still don’t have money and are dependent on it coming from the state.
Unfortunately, political squabbles, budget issues, etc. leave such groups very vulnerable to delays. Mad delays. This project had been going on for 5 years, and it still wasn’t finished. But, the people I met were just as spirited, optimistic and hopeful to see the day where it would be theirs. In the face of all the challenges and setback, it is extraordinary to see the grace and strength by which such average people fight just to live a basic life they all believe in .
The whole neighborhood offered interesting context. In addition to the mutiraos and state building housing, there was also a state financed project, almost like a sites and service project. My guide described it as an “embryonic” house. They state provided a minimal part of the house and the land (two or so rooms) and the people were left to finish it on its own. I actually found the urban condition quite wonderful with the variety that people had finished off their houses. My guide was critical of it, saying the original buildings were too small and minimal.

Finally, there were favelas all around, completely self built and designed. I wandered through them, watching all the engaging activity and marveling at the textures, but also the growth and aspirations they represented.
Yet, favelas are often precarious and face the threat of destruction. I wandered upon freshly demolished houses. While I was taking pictures, a man named Salvador came up and wanted to know who I was and why I was taking pictures. With charades and a bit of Spanish, he opened up and told me he used to live there, pointing to a pile of rubble nearby. He said,” My heart feels heavy coming through here. It is like a cemetery.” He works for the City of Sao Paulo. But, the police recently demolished about twenty houses in this area. I asked my friend about it, and she said that since they had been there longer than 5 years (they had been there 8 years), they were legally entitled to the land. And so it goes……

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