São Paulo

Farewell, Favela!

TÜV SÜD employees in São Paulo are supporting the transformation of slums and illegal settlements into livable residential districtschallenging and occasionally dangerous work.

 

leg 2  ■  Johannesburg ➡ São Paulo  ■  7,650 Km  ■  Arrival 06.11.2015, 8:00 a.m.  ■  travel time 33 hrs  ■  19°C  ■  total distance 18,450 km

Just moments ago the street was paved, but now there’s a mass of slippery red clay in its place. We’re in Pimentas, a poor hilly neighborhood in the northeast of São Paulo, Brazil. It has rained, and now we’re getting nowhere quickly in the car. Helio da Silva and Monica Garrido park their company car at the foot of a hill and walk along a narrow street barely 1.5 meters wide. After a few steps it branches off to the left, while to the right it leads steeply upward. The two of them know their way around the confusing tangle of alleyways.

The two employees work for Bureau, a member of the TÜV SÜD Group, in São Paulo. Garrido is an architect, da Silva an engineer. Their assignment in Pimentas is to support the transformation of this favela— as the slums and shantytowns are called in Brazil—into a livable residential district. The São Paulo Public Agents have hired TÜV SÜD to plan several of these so-called “integrated urbanization projects” and to oversee the activities. Pimentas is one of the intervention zones. In several decades the favela will have disappeared, but there is still a very long way to go until then.

 

Cramped Quarters

Photo: mauritius images/Florian Kopp

Cramped Quarters

A young mother with her two children in the Pimentas favela. Around 4 million people live in the shantytowns of São Paulo.

 

 

 

São Paulo, a megacity with more than twenty million inhabitants, is the largest city in the Southern Hemisphere and also the richest city in the developing world. Glittering skyscrapers jut skyward from the city’s downtown. The mega rich take helicopter rides from their mansions at the seaside or from the cooler mountainsides to the landing pads above their offices. Traffic jams permanently clog the streets and abject poverty dominates at the city’s outskirts. One in ten Paulistanos lives in illegal settlements, the majority of which have no running water or sewage system. Yet electricity, televisions and cell phones are ubiquitous—favela residents simply tap into the transmission lines.

 

An Invasion of Privacy

The two TÜV SÜD employees never enter the favelas when it’s dark and, if possible, never on the weekends, when the police pull out of the area—it would be much too dangerous. Even today, in broad daylight, strong men with watchful eyes escort the TÜV SÜD employees. “Security,” Helio da Silva says.

Urbanization projects such as the one in Pimentas are highly complex interventions in a quarter’s infrastructure, in the social fabric of the residents and their private lives. The process can cause tension. In Pimentas, for instance, it’s affecting some fifteen thousand people who have built sheds or homes with their own hands and hard work, albeit illegally. The TÜV SÜD employees have counted 3,269 households: including many rudimentary wooden shacks, but also almost luxurious houses made of stone. Only about half of these buildings can remain, while more than 1,600 will have to be demolished to make space for paved streets, a sewage system, water mains and a park, which will serve as the quarter’s green lung and recreational area. The park will include playgrounds and playing fields, half-pipes for skateboarders, biking trails and areas for barbecuing as well as an observation platform.

“It’s difficult for people to accept that their houses are to be demolished, even though we of course offer them a replacement,” Garrido says. “Even if life in the favelas is difficult and dangerous, they’re still passionate about their property.” Years of discussions had to take place before the project was even begun. “We met with the people from every single street,” da Silva explains, “and attempted to persuade them about the necessity of the changes. But change frightens people—it’s no different in the favelas than it is in the gated communities of the rich.”

 

 

 

 

A Move into the Future

Emine lives with her husband Antonio and son Michael in the heart of the favela. In Monica Garrido’s development plan, Emine’s home is designated as C64. It is old, but spacious. The washing machine is located in the small courtyard, and the kitchen is well-equipped and filled with the aroma of feijoada, the popular stew of beans and meat. The bathroom has elegant black tiles. A stairway in front of the master bedroom leads to the first floor, with two kids’ bedrooms and another bath. Considering the conditions in the favela of Pimentas, this is a good middle-class home.

There’s a flurry of activi-ty outside their front door. A backhoe is digging pits for the sewer system. Concrete is being poured along the loamy pathway up the steep slope to Emine’s home. Until now, the clay washed away whenever it rained and the buildings threatened to slide down the hill. Monica Garrido and Helio da Silva speak with the construction workers, double-check the plans, see if safety guidelines are being upheld: is everyone wearing a helmet and gloves? Is the excavation pit cordoned off and the warning sign placed properly? TÜV SÜD is responsible for ensuring that the project is being executed safely, is running to plan and stays within its 100-million-euro budget.

 

Change

Monica Garrido and Helio da Silva working in the favela

 

 

 Emine greets Monica Garrido with a beijinho, the little kiss Brazilians use to greet one another, indicating trust and affection. Emine will be losing four meters of her yard so that utility lines can be laid. But she can keep her house, which is the good news. And there’s even better news: from now on, she is the legal owner of her property, although she’ll have to pay for water and electricity, which she’s been drawing illegally up until now. “That’s okay for us,” Emine says. 

Below on the unpaved main street, the corner store below the Didas Bar is putting up a heavy grating made of rectangular steel in front of the door. Inside there are canned goods, candies, soap, sandals. A sign says that credit cards can only be accepted for purchases greater than 10 reals, which is equal to about 3 euros.

Didas Bar is still closed. From its rooftop terrace, there is a good view over Pimentas. In the foreground are the houses of the favela. Densely packed, they run down to the valley. An airplane rumbles overhead every couple of minutes; São Paulo’s international airport is just around the corner.

 

The Pros Beat the Cons

In the background you can see the brand-new apartment blocks of Guarulhos Z. Their construction was also overseen by TÜV SÜD— at least when construction was in full swing. Whenever the city and country ran out of money the project came to a grinding halt.But several of the new buildings were finished two years ago, and the favela residents who were forced to give up their houses in Pimentas have moved. It’s a dramatic change for them. On the one hand, they’ve lost their property in the slum, but there they lived illegally and always in fear of crime, drugs and violence. Now their dwellings have suddenly been legalized, with all the attendant rights and obligations: such as the requirement to pay for rent, electricity and water, which cost around 60 euros per month altogether. But for this sum, the renters not only live there, but are also gradually purchasing ownership of their apartments, bit by bit.

Thus the advantages outweigh the costs for the majority of the residents. It’s safe in the new development. Tenants’ associations are forming, there are playgrounds for the children, as well as schools, shops and a bus station, from which residents can ride into the city to their workplaces. Previously they often spent four hours in transit every day to get to work. Now, with the express bus, it takes just thirty minutes to get downtown.

Upon our return, we see a man attempting to drive his car up the muddy path to his home. It’s an uphill battle. The driver leans out the window and calls out, “Hey, friends, get this crap cleaned up first. You’ve got a lot to do!”