Favela centennial shows Brazil communities' endurance

For a slice of blueberry, creamy cake, dozens of children gathered at a Sao Paulo community center. They were not celebrating a birthday, but their poor neighborhood of Paraisopolis was celebrating 100 years of existence.

Favela centennial shows Brazil communities' endurance

Gilson Rodrigues, a community leader, stated that people started to move into the city for work in construction and then settled down. "There was no planning. Not even streets. People began to grow crops. It was chaotic. We learned how to organize ourselves, even though the authorities didn't help.

Brazil's wealthier areas often consider favelas temporary and precarious, and the centennial of the favela was celebrated on Thursday. Favelas are unable to be defined because they have evolved over many decades.

Paraisopolis, once a farmland that was isolated from the city's center, is now surrounded by urban sprawl. After a 1942 law that frozen rent prices effectively stopped private construction, Paraisopolis' population grew. Nabil Bonduki, a professor at University of Sao Paulo's School of Architecture and Urban Planning, said that people looked for affordable housing alternatives after the authorities failed to act to provide it.

With the construction of nearby Morumbi Stadium, the community grew. It is now the city's largest soccer arena and home to the Sao Paulo football club. However, most of the fans don't know who built it. Paraisopolis, which is home to 43,000 people according to the most recent census in 2010, is Sao Paulo’s second-largest favela. According to unofficial estimates, the population is around 100,000.

Paraisopolis' 10 kilometer (3.9 mile) square is populated with unpainted brick homes. This area is dotted with serpentine alleys, where young people can play soccer and listen to loud music on weekends.

The majority of streets are now paved. Internet connections work well. However, infrastructure is lacking in favelas that have newer areas. Some areas don't even have postal codes.

from the hill, Rio de Janeiro's favela residents are said be. The iconic image of the favela is a slope with brick buildings. Tourists can buy such landscapes at the Sunday art fair in Ipanema. While many Rio favelas were built on the hillside of the city, others are on flatland such as the City of God favela, which was originally built as a public housing project.

According to the census, Brazil has 11.4 million residents who live in low-income areas, which the national statistics institute calls "subnormal agglomerates." About 40% of these people are located in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo states. According to the institute, this includes favelas as well as invasions, grottoes and lowlands, as well stilted homes and the like. They have a history of irregular occupation and poor public services.

Although favelas were originally informal settlements of squatters in the second half of the 19th Century, many have today deeds, water distribution, and sewage networks. According to Catalytic Communities (a Rio-based advocacy organization), their residents generate $7 billion annually in economic activity, and many of them are technically middle class.

Catchall labels can also be confused by the differences between favelas. UN-Habitat defines "slums” as areas without improved water, sanitation, living space, housing durability, property rights, or land rights. Favelas may include one or more of these descriptions. Yet, advocates tend to be adamant about the term "slum" being a derogatory, saying it connotes poverty, squalor and violence, rather than assets such as resourcefulness and resilience.

While activists and academics may use "favela," others prefer "community".

Adauto Cardoso is a professor at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro’s urban planning institute. "I understand the movement from some favelas’ leaders and residents to use 'community’ to free themselves of the stigma," he said. "The stigma is quite complicated in a society that is extremely prejudiced."

Cardoso still uses "favela," which means people should not ignore history. Rio's favela residents built many of the city's buildings, cultural heritage and landmarks - including its famous Carnival schools

Rafael Goncalves is a professor at the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro and a favela historian.

He said that many favelas today have museums. "Residents said: "We want to tell the story of our community; we want people to understand that this isn't some random housing project."

Goncalves said that authorities who had long attempted to demolish, conceal, or contain favelas are now accepting the neighborhood as a fixture. Still, many suffer neglect, despite enduring for decades. Paraisopolis is included in this group.

Paraisopolis community leader Rodrigues was dressed in a suit meant for special occasions as he cut the 100th anniversary cake.

He stated that he has always considered Paraisopolis his neighborhood, despite some problems like open sewerage. "But, for 100 years we've turned these challenges into opportunities. If necessary, we'll continue to do so for 100 more years."

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