Ataide lives in Sao Paulo, in a neighbourhood to the south of the city called Paraisópolis, which he helped build. Ataide is a mason, and hundreds of the homes in Paraisópolis are made with his tiles, his mortar and by his hands.
Ataide’s neighborhood looks different from the others in Sao Paolo, where white high-rises of steel and stucco look down from narrow balconies onto neat gridded streets. In his neighbourhood, there are no high-rises. Here, rooflines of corrugated steel hang low over winding, narrow roads. Brick houses patched with tarp twist at odd angles into the slope of a hill, their walls flush with nothing. Near to Ataide’s house, a pipe burst, and the unpleasant smell attracts a crowd of neighbours, demanding it be fixed.
The Brazilian government is anxious to get rid of neighbourhoods like Paraisópolis. A view of the favela inspires fear in the middle-class and disgust in the foreigner. To them, the outsider, the favela is, in the words of Elizabeth Bishop, a ‘fearful stain’ of poorness that clings and spreads up green Brazilian hills. Sensitive to these impressions, the government has invested in many, many programs to rehabilitate Ataide’s neighbourhood and others like it. Each iteration of these programs begins the same way–with its demolition– and ends the same way–with a high-rise. The success of these programs is limited.
The high-rise, it turns out, doesn’t meet the social and economic needs of its residents because space in a high-rise can’t do the same work as space in a horizontal neighbourhood. In Paraisópolis, the ground floor of a home that opens to the street can be used as a restaurant, or a shop, or a bar. A spare room appended to the back of the house can be let to a tenant. These homes aren’t just places to live—they’re income-generators.
They’re also income-enablers. People who live in Paraisópolis work in service industries inside the neighbourhood and in the wealthier neighbourhoods around it, where they find jobs as maids, plumbers, contractors, shop assistants, or white collar jobs in the city. Some government programs relocate residents to apartment buildings on the periphery of the city, depriving people of employment by distancing them from the markets for their services.
We see similar limitations in the rehabilitation programs of Sao Paolo and the rehabilitation programs of Mumbai: their outcomes fail because their processes are flawed. In imagining new housing solutions, municipal governments in India and in Brazil do not seek the inspiration, expertise, and knowledge of local residents, contractors, and designers.