Favelas of São Paulo: how they differ from Rio and is it possible to walk there


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More than two million people live in the favelas of São Paulo, that is, approximately every sixth citizen of the city or every tenth citizen of the metropolitan area.

These are the largest and most populated favelas in Brazil, but they are not so famous as the favelas of Rio. How did it happen?

It’s just not so dangerous here. Rio de Janeiro is the main tourist center of Brazil, all foreigners strive exactly there and naturally become a fodder base for local punks. The image of a pale-faced tourist, from whom a gang of youngsters takes away an expensive camera, backpack or wallet, appears to everyone who thinks about a trip to Brazil. And in the case of Rio, these are not just stereotypes, but the real state of affairs.

But São Paulo, despite its size and number of favelas, is not at all a “city of God”. It’s relatively safe here. As my Brazilian friends told me, until 10 pm there you can do whatever you want and walk wherever you want, and no one will cling to you. Naturally, I wanted to check, and everything turned out to be not so simple …

  1. The favelas of São Paulo have significantly fewer people relative to the city’s population than Rio, not to mention troubled cities such as Belém, Salvador, and Recife.
sao paulo - favela

2. At the same time, on average in Brazil, the number of favela residence is gradually decreasing (for example, from 2000 to 2010 it fell by 16%), but in Sao Paulo, it is growing. Local favelas are growing mainly not in breadth, but “in-depth”, the population density is increasing.

3. There are different types of favelas. There are houses made using shit and sticks – usually, newcomers settle in this way. Those who have lived in the favela for a long time are building a house using bricks and concrete. On such streets, there may be shops, cafes, various services, and even public transport passes through the widest of them. Life there flows calmly and measuredly, there are no bandits with guns, as in Rio (although it should be noted that Rio has such “socialized” favelas too). Here are the men sitting and quietly selling bags and chicken wings at 17 reais per kg. Whether they pay taxes to the state or a percentage of the mafia, I don’t know.

favela - sao paulo

4. Of course, the Brazilians remain Brazilians in the favelas. Here, in the middle of the favela, they built a beautiful football field. On one of the houses is a portrait of Manchester City striker Gaby Jesus, who grew up in the Jardin Peri favela in northern São Paulo.

favela sao paulo

People not only play football but also just hang out.

Children occupied the exercise machines for the same purpose.

favela sao paulo

5. This is a real shitty river. In the sense that this is an open collector – a common thing for favelas. The smell is appropriate here.

favela sao paulo

6. A homeless person lives in a tent on the other side of the favelas and collects garbage.

favela sao paulo

7. But in general, a dump can be arranged right under the windows …

favela sao paulo

8. White plastic pipes are local sewers. All the shit, naturally, merges into the river. This is a great contrast to the neat gabion embankment.

favela sao paulo

9. In general, It looks almost like Venice!

favela sao paulo

10. Pedestrian environment

favela sao paulo

11. The case when houses on the first line are cheaper

favela sao paulo

12. One of the favorite pastimes of the favelas is flying kites. There are plenty of them both in Rio and São Paulo. Sometimes the kite owners hold battles among themselves.

favela sao paulo

13. Contrast. In general, the residences of modern Brazil lack about 6.3 million apartments, and 640,000 of them – in São Paulo. So there are simply no prerequisites for favelas to disappear in the coming years.

favela sao paulo

14. The peculiarity of local favelas is that they are often small in size. Yes, their total area is even larger than in Rio, but often they are small scattered clusters of 30 to 60 houses.

favela sao paulo

15. As in Rio, favelas in São Paulo can easily exist even in the prestigious areas of the city. For example, in 2011 there were 22 of these, and the history of some of them has been around for about 60 years. Obviously, the state cannot or does not want to get rid of them, since the favelas continue to plague the eyes of the richest residents of the city.

favela sao paulo

16. It is believed that the first favelas appeared in São Paulo in the 1940s. This was due to the large influx of migrants from other regions of the country, as well as to the housing crisis: they all had nowhere to settle.

As a result, like in Rio, they simply took over the hillsides and built houses there. The first settlers gravitated towards natural “amenities” such as water sources, but first of all, they took into account the ownership of the land. If it was conditionally nobody’s, then it could be staked out.

17. In 1957, the favelas of São Paulo were home to 50,000 people, and in 1962 – for 150,000. Since then, the population of the favelas has continued to grow.

18. By the way, it turned out that you can’t walk everywhere in Sao Paulo either. When we walked around the favela, the local drug dealers were very worried coz we would do something wrong and asked our volunteer guides not to lead us far. So we left and didn’t not upset people! As you can see, in this respect the situation is the same as in Rio

19. Favela residents have faced additional difficulties during the coronavirus crisis.

favela sao paulo

First, many Brazilians have lost their jobs, and they were unable to pay their rent. As the result – the population of the favelas has continued to grow.

Second, many of those who already lived in the favelas also lost their main source of income. Some literally had nothing to eat; in the spring and summer, they were rescued by volunteers who handed out meals and food stamps in the favelas. The situation is complicated by the fact that for the majority of Favela residents access to clean water and sanitation is difficult or simply not available, not to mention quality medical care. Under these conditions, there is no need to talk about normal hygiene necessary to combat COVID-19.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, like Trump, initially behaved like a covid dissident, which did not make life easier for Brazilians. From the coronavirus, 163,000 people have already died in the country, of which more than 39,000 are in Sao Paulo. Residents of the favelas from the very beginning of the epidemic were left to their own, the government simply didn’t care about them. The mafia began to save the situation. On the one hand, the bandits are helping the poor people with food, on the other, they can impose a curfew in the favela, threatening to shoot anyone who breaks it.

Since ordinary doctors prefer not to work in the favelas, local communities are hiring ambulances and doctors so that at least someone can help. This happened, for example, in the Paraisopolis favela in São Paulo. People opened the production of medical masks. And two local schools were converted into hostels for self-isolation of patients with suspected coronavirus. In addition, each street chose a “mayor” to monitor the spread of the epidemic. This is how, in the absence of any attention from the state, people begin to organize themselves.

20. Local cafe. Curiously, even the favelas have promotional umbrellas. This Skol is folk beer in Brazil.

favela sao paulo

25. Local flea market. I think some of this stuff is even working.


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