Page 135

favelas: the solution of last resort The Portugese word ‘favela’ refers to the slums or shantytowns situated around and within many Brazilian cities. According to Brazilian geographer Mauricio de Abreu, the favela is a typical shrub of the caatinga family, found in the northeast of Brazil.The name was first applied to a housing settlement in 1897, when military survivors of the Guerra dos Canudos in Rio de Janiero occupied the Morro da Providencia and started to call it ‘Morro da Favela’ in reference to the plant. After slavery was abolished in 1888, poverty-stricken former slaves without land or employment formed settlements called bairros Africanos and quilombos around major towns. These were the precursors to the modern favelas, which grew from the early part of the 20th century and boomed during the economic recession in the 1980s. The first favelas appeared in São Paulo in the 1940s. Favela communities are established through illegal occupation or land invasion and are the solution of last resort for the poor. As such, favelas have not emerged as a result of market forces, but are rather evidence of the failure of private and public entities to provide sufficient housing alternatives for workers at the bottom of the socioeconomic pyramid. Favelas are areas of extra-legal, irregular self-constructed housing built without permits in areas lacking the amenities of urbanization. They are typically overcrowded, with the highest levels of population growth and density in São Paulo, and they tend to lack adequate or legal connections to municipal water, sanitation, garbage disposal, electricity, telephone services, health and educational facilities and transport services. In recent years, drug gangs and other criminal elements have started to characterise the favelas in São Paulo, plaguing the settlements with gang warfare and police raids. Favelas are home to approximately 20 per cent of the city’s population — up from approximately 5 per cent in 1985. Favelas are often formed by people displaced from other parts of a city as a result of being bought out, or priced out, as land values rise, or people who have been evicted or removed from other areas. Many of those living in favelas are economic migrants trying to cope in situations of constrained household income; many others are victims of environmental disasters, such as landslides or flooding elsewhere. The bulk of São Paulo’s favelas took shape after the widespread rural exodus in the 1970s. They continue to grow as economic migrants are lured by the hope of a better life in the city. Although São Paulo’s numerous and populous favelas are predominantly situated in the periphery, they have traditionally mushroomed where land is vacant or unprotected, no matter how undesirable, precarious or risky the environment may be. Favelas have often been established along railways and riverbanks, straddling streams or climbing steep hillsides. More than half of São Paulo’s favelados live around or near Billings and Guarapiranga water reservoirs. (See Special Feature 9 for details.) São Paulo’s favelas are physical expressions of sharp urban contradictions, but they are rarely seen by residents of the city centre or visitors from outside, unlike in in Rio de Janeiro, where favelas are situated close to the formal city and the wealthy districts and are clearly visible in the mountainous geography that makes up the old capital’s landscape. In São Paulo, residents are more frequently confronted by the poor who inhabit rented cortiços (see Special Feature 3). Few significant favelas exist in consolidated parts of the municipality itself. Two exceptions are the Heliopolis and Paraisopolis settlements, which originally developed outside of the city but have been surrounded by it as it has grown. According to one analysis, these two large favelas are exceptional insofar as they have remained in wellserved urbanised parts of São Paulo despite ‘the public authorities’ constant actions in repressing and removing favelas in the areas valued by the market, and the action of private property owners in regaining possession’ of the land, thereby driving favelas ‘to the poorest, most peripheral and environmentally fragile regions’. São Paulo’s favelas epitomize the inequality, social exclusion and spatial separation inherent in the divided city. According to the official municipal housing authority – SEHAB, the 1,599 official favelas house approximately 1.6 million people, while a further 1.7 million live in illegal settlements in the periphery, and another 38,000 people live in cortiços in the city centre. Of these marginalised groups, 70 per cent of households live on up to three minimum salaries, below the official poverty threshold; 44 per cent of heads of household have only a primary school education. Poor, marginalized Paulistanos experience the greatest exposure to crime and have the worst health outcomes, educational opportunities and job attainments. They are also more likely to work in the informal economy than others. Nevertheless, as other sections of this publication describe, the quality of life in favelas is dramatically changing for many. Ensuring adequate water, sanitation and electricity, and providing paved and lighted roads, household legal titles, open spaces, local schools and health centres are all part of wide-scale slum upgrading programmes in São Paulo. This process is part of the inclusive city approach — a policy that strong civil society groups and political parties have fought for over the decades, and enshrined in the 2001 City Statute and

Profile for UN-Habitat

Sao Paulo; A tale of two cities  

UN-HABITAT’s new Cities and Citizens series examines urban inequality in the developing world through in-depth analysis of intracity data de...

Sao Paulo; A tale of two cities  

UN-HABITAT’s new Cities and Citizens series examines urban inequality in the developing world through in-depth analysis of intracity data de...

Profile for unhabitat
Advertisement