Planning Special Areas: Cortiços and Favelas

Remnant Areas The title of this article is the name of a course I followed at the Faculty of Architecture and Urbanism in São Paulo. It gave me the possibility to get closer to this other side of life in the metropolis.
A huge quantity of the São Paulo poor people live in territories, which are called ´remnant areas´ by the government. These are areas in the city that do not have a specific destination and are mostly not suitable for any function because of the inundation possibilities. In São Paulo 50% of the favelas are situated at corridors (drainage zones). Another settlement of the poor are the cortiços: mostly abandoned buildings in the city centre where people live under bad circumstances with an average density of 4 m2 a person. They often look like favelas, which are conglomerated into one building.

Origin The industrialization of the 50´s created a lot of work in São Paulo, which attracted people from Brazil´s poorer areas, especially from the north and northeast. They came in huge quantities and they still do. Full buses arrive everyday with hopeful people looking for work.
Before 1950 there merely existed separate living areas for the lower and higher classes in this city. When the industry sector began to grow, the first social housing appeared. In the 50's the Paulistans said proudly that São Paulo was the fastest growing city in the world. It also meant a growth of this poor population. Now it is the fourth city of the world, and the question is if this uncontrolled growth will continue. In 1970 the amount of favelas was 1% in São Paulo. Today it reaches the 20%. In the past the policy was to try to eliminate the favelas, later it became impossible because of their huge quantities. The policy now is legislation and reurbanization of the favelas.

Contradictions Favelas are a physical expression of urban contradictions. To see the contrast between rich and poor next to each other is painful, specially if you come from such a socialist country as Holland. São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro are cites with the highest grade of class distinction in the world.
In both cities the amount of favelas and the crime involved with it is a big problem. "Traficantes" (favela´s drug dealers) rule the area and they are even able to control the city. A few months ago a group of traficantes passed through all the main areas of Rio de Janeiro, threathening the owners to close their shops; otherwise they would be dead men. The Town Hall and the police tried everything to stop the owners from closing but it didn´t work. Everybody obeyed.
Favelas exist in large numbers in São Paulo, almost hidden and disperse throughout the periphery, while in Rio there are fewer but larger favelas, very close to wealthy living areas and due to the mountainous geography they can be seen by the entire city. Favela Jaguaré and Favela do Gato are the only ones inside São Paulo city borders; the rest are settled in the periphery. If you don't leave the inner city you don't see any. In Rio this is impossible, you are constantly confronted with them.

Rich Life Life in a favela is extremely heterogeneous, as well in their urban and living conditions as in their economic and social situation. The streets are lifely, music is everywhere, culture is very present. A large amount of samba is born there and the rehearsals of samba schools for the carnaval also take place there. Danger is always present but traficantes often feel responsible for the safety of the inhabitants and they also protect them.
This description seems peaceful. But, on the contrary, many settlements are urban chaos. In demographic matters many suffer from erosion, heavy inundations and contamination of the rivers. The precarious constructions cannot hold the amount of tropical rain which falls in São Paulo and the lack of hygiene causes much illness.
Many people living in cortiços in the city center experienced living in a favela, and none of them wanted to go back. I always asked why and the main reasons where: criminality and hygiene. ´´We don´t have rats everywhere and we sleep at night´´.
The worst thing of all is the social degradation that is linked to the fact of living in a favela. Many problems derive from homelessness, unemployment, informal work, drug dealing and violence.

Social Housing Political institutions with enough force to guaranty the inhabitants basic rights do not exist in Brazil. The capitalist society excludes them; something that everybody is hoping is going to change with the new president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who started from the bottom, as street vendor, and ended as president of the country.
Since the 90´s the production of social housing became more significant. This was made possible by the introduction of higher taxes. Projects that help favelized people such as Cingapura and COHAB have delivered a large amount of social housing but the quantity of projects is far too small for the amount of faveliçados. COHAB is the state´s largest producer of social housing, with 22 million m2 of constructed area. They are villages by themselves located at the periphery of São Paulo. These are cheaper areas but they are difficult to reach, far away from the centre, with insufficient public transport. People have to wake up extremely early, take a bus, and then a train or metro to get to their jobs. Once I arrived at a bus station at 5 o clock, the time the metro opens, and I was surprised of the amount of people I saw.
Of course it is great this projects exist, but they could do much more if they where better planned and administrated. COHAB is a pilot project, which is actually too expensive and is repeated disregarding the situation. They always construct the houses on an expensive concrete plateau, even if the soil does not need this. Cingapura projects house 9000 apartments and the realization of each apartment costs 18.000 dollars, not counting the land cost. The unnecessary presence of elevators rises even more the project costs.

Helping What? Taking a closer view at Cingapura projects looks like as if they only want to eliminate the favela, constructing verticalised social housing on top or in front of it, without taking the inhabitants into consideration; improving the favela but not the 'faveliçados' (favela inhabitants). The projects do not start with a good research of their lives and their needs, resulting into inadequate spaces. Kitchens are far too small for what people are used to, actually it is the living area in the Brazilian culture. The laundry area is minimal so the inhabitants improvise outdoor lavanderies. It may seem surprising but the average area of the dwellings is 40 m². Another example of lack of research exists in one COHAB project which has such a steep road that the busses cannot trespass.
Some inhabitants never got used to their new life in these projects and went back to their old homes. The general policy is to sell the apartments instead of giving the possibility to hire, resulting into high expenses, sometimes impossible to keep up, forcing them to return to the favela. These new neighbourhoods (COHAB 1, 2, 3, etc.) have one principle road with commerce and the rest is living area. There are no more functions planned and the commerce road is far too small. The consequence is that remnant areas of the COHAB projects are also illegally occupied. Public space is made by the inhabitants themselves.

Cortiços The city centre is a very accessible area with the quality of in numerous transport. This is the main reason for people to live there. Nevertheless, the centre suffered from degradation and has been abandoned by the large companies. This resulted into a large amount of abandoned buildings, which gave many poor people the possibility to inhabit them. These buildings where once offices, hotels, old houses from rich people, houses of industry workers, etc. Some cortiços are in a reasonable condition but others are worse than housing a favela. I visited many and mostly the lack of ventilation, light and open space makes them annoying to live in. Humid subterranean rooms, each housing a large family, were the worse cortiço I saw. Many move every 3 month to another cortiço looking for a better place. Still the convenience of living close to their jobs and transport keeps them there.
Many of these buildings have a `new owner´ that let one room a family. The average rent is around 50 euro. Other buildings have no owner so the costs only consist of water and electricity. There are around 40.000 inhabitants living in cortiços at the moment and still 30% of the buildings in the city centre are unoccupied.

What Next? Three million people, forming 20% of the population of São Paulo, are living in favelas. Because of the extremely cheap labour, poor people are, in a way, incorporated in the society. There are more workers than buyers in the shops, the elevators are still attended by a liftboy, every home has a servant or a maid, and in all the buses there is an extra worker who collects the fare: the ´cobrador´.
Many have work but suffer with the socio-cultural scenery of the favelas. ´´Poor people are always the roots of violence and crime.´´ These are everyday thoughts of the metropolis.
Still rich people living in gated communities can be as aggressive as criminals from the favela. I could not believe my eyes when I saw the processions of workers passing through Alphavilles (the biggest gated communities in São Paulo, that are cities in themselves) walking kilometres to get to their jobs just because busses are not allowed to trespass the security gates.
Looking at all these together, one cannot escape the conclusion that much more care (love) and respect are needed to improve the lives of marginalized people.

Aura Luz Melis