The favelas have doubled in 36 years: what does that say about Brazil?


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Recently a number of articles circulated in brazilian media report, with a mixture of wonder and reproach, the to double the scale of the country’s favelas over the past 36 years.

Amid the multiple crises that have rocked Brazil in recent years, a scenario exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, we have witnessed the systematic deterioration of the living conditions of Brazilians, with a impact on low-income populations which have already been made vulnerable, historically, by a social structure of exclusion and prejudice. In this context, the growth of favelas and informal settlements appears as a visible – and, for many, uncomfortable – consequence of the situation in our country.

Despite this, the narrative is frequently based on the misconception that the favelas are problematic. This view blurs the perspectives of readers and prevents them from realizing that the real problem lies in the lack of public policies that promote access to housing. So, rather than a problem, favelas and other informal settlements present itself as a solution: the only solution for millions of Brazilians who need shelter, who need to protect their bodies against the elements and against violence and, above all, who need dignity.

It is also important to say that in addition to being the only possible housing solution for millions of Brazilians, the favelas consolidated over time are becoming unique and powerful spaces creativity, with the collective construction of common goods that are crucial for the survival and development of the inhabitants. The favelas and the informal settlements must therefore be considered with more nuance, beyond the dominant vision of their precariousness, of something that must be repaired, even exterminated. These are territories that must be respected for the qualities they produce-for the memories and culture they hold in every narrow street and building.

Another erroneous assumption frequently found in the media account of the growth of favelas and informal settlements is the alleged opposition between their existence and the conservation of the environment, which is so relevant to our country. There is an attempt to construct an argument that favelas are the main culprits of deforestation processes, invading protected areas without public authorities being able to prevent it.

Without entering into a discussion of the real culprits of the significant deforestation occurring in Brazil, it is important to consider that the environment is not only made up of flora and fauna. The environment concerns all living things that inhabit it and their needs, including humans. Favelas, like all human environments, are part of the environment. However, they often interact with the natural elements of the city. in a healthier way than the rest of our cities.

And this happens because, through the common assets and the creative solutions developed historically in the consolidated favelas, there are examples of sustainable alternatives this engage healthily with the natural elements of our environment. Examples of these alternatives are their popular town planning which favors pedestrians over cars and community garden projects, solar energy, sustainable sewage systems, green roofs, and more, inventing social technologies that start in the favelas and seek to build a sustainable reality in our cities from the favelas and not in spite of them. An example of such networks is the Network of sustainable favelas* which, since 2017, has brought together hundreds of favela initiatives across the Grand Rio.

Beyond the perspective of protagonism in the environmental field, the favelas and other informal neighborhoods also present themselves as powerful territories for innovative devices of formalization and territorial management capable of breaking with the logic of individual land ownership, allowing a society more compassionate and empathetic. blossom.

An example of such arrangements is the Favela-Community Land Trust* which aims to guarantee land tenure security, access to housing and the strengthening of vulnerable urban communities since 2018.

CLTs are a collective land management model recently expanding worldwide, with more than five decades of history and great potential for favelas and informal settlements, as evidenced by The favelas of Caño Martín Peña in Puerto Rico.

Through CLT, the favelas can, once again, become the protagonists of a model that promotes a type of territorial development that is both broad and self-managed, stimulating more precise and effective responses to the environmental, social and economic challenges imposed on these territories, through formalization by a CLT now recognized and authorized to fulfill this role.

It is crucial to change our perspective on the growth of favelas in order to understand this phenomenon for what it really represents: a consequence of ill-advised social and housing policies in one of the most unequal countries on the planet. At the same time, we must recognize the potential of solutions and assets present in the consolidated favelas so that, based on the protagonism of the inhabitants, environmental, social and territorial solutions can be scaled not only for the favelas and informal settlements, but also for all our neighborhoods. For this, we need an integrated vision of our cities and their various territories.

* The Sustainable Favela Network, Favela Community Land Trust (F-CLT) and RioOnWatch are all NGO initiatives Catalytic Communities (CatComm).


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