Social and environmental exclusion at the edge of Sa˜o ... · Social and environmental exclusion...

Social and environmental exclusion at the edge of Sa ˜o Paulo, Brazil Jutta Gutberlet* and Angela Hunter Department of Geography, University of Victoria, PO Box 3050, STN CSC, V8W 3P5 Victoria, BC, Canada Urban poverty and social exclusion are overwhelming concerns with more than 32% of the world’s urban population living under precarious housing conditions. The paper presents findings from three studies documenting the evolution of a squatter community on the southern edge of Sa ˜o Paulo city. The qualitative data collected between the late 1990s and 2007 will highlight critical socio-environmental living conditions in the periphery. Benefits and limits of water supply and sanitation upgrading projects will also be identified. Recent directions in public policy addressing these social issues are reviewed. The paper underlines the pressing demand for more inclusive decision-making processes in the planning and implementation of sustainable community development. URBAN DESIGN International (2008) 13, 3–20. doi:10.1057/udi.2008.2 Keywords: urban poverty; community development; squatter; quality of life; Brazil Introduction: Unbalanced urban development In developing countries there are obvious geo- graphic disparities in the distribution of basic infrastructure, public services and the offering of opportunities for social development between poor neighbourhoods in the periphery and central high-income areas. The expansion of precarious housing is growing worldwide with the rapid population increase in cities. Particularly in marginal areas, people and land are becoming excluded from qualitative development (UN-HABITAT, 2007). It is a central matter to address these inequities and deficiencies that affect the quality of life of significant parts of the urban population (Harris, 1992; Potter et al, 2003; Mitlin, 2005). This paper analyses the living conditions in a squatter settlement in the periph- ery of Sa ˜o Paulo and reviews root causes for lifelong exclusion. The fringe of Sa ˜o Paulo is also excluded from environmental protection and has received industrial waste and sewage for decades despite serious environmental health issues. Finally, the paper addresses possible changes in governance to solve these problems. Accelerated urban growth has been a dominant trend over the past few decades in South America where currently more than 75% of the population lives in cities, compared to 38% in Africa and 36% in Asia (UNPOP, 2000). Brazil is one of the most urbanized countries in Latin America with ap- proximately 81% urban population (IBGE, 2000). With the rapid rural–urban population shift since the 1970s, poverty in absolute terms is increas- ingly becoming an urban problem, particularly visible in large agglomerations. The UN-Habitat Report estimated that 32% of the world’s total urban population, or nearly 924 million people, were living in slums in 2001. Approximately 43% of the urban population of all developing regions together and 78% of the least developed countries lived in poor neighbourhoods. Projections show a further increase of precarious and risk-prone living conditions for additional millions of people and vulnerability particularly of the urban poor segment of the populations with accelerated climate change factors in place (UN-HABITAT, 2007, 2003). *Correspondence: Tel: þ 1-250-472-4537, Fax: þ 1-250-7216216, E-mail: [email protected] URBAN DESIGN International (2008) 13, 3–20 r 2008 Palgrave Macmillan Ltd. 1357-5317/08 $30.00

Transcript of Social and environmental exclusion at the edge of Sa˜o ... · Social and environmental exclusion...

Social and environmental exclusion at the edge ofSao Paulo, Brazil

Jutta Gutberlet* and Angela Hunter

Department of Geography, University of Victoria, PO Box 3050, STN CSC, V8W 3P5 Victoria, BC, Canada

Urban poverty and social exclusion are overwhelming concerns with more than 32% of the world’s urbanpopulation living under precarious housing conditions. The paper presents findings from three studiesdocumenting the evolution of a squatter community on the southern edge of Sao Paulo city. The qualitativedata collected between the late 1990s and 2007 will highlight critical socio-environmental living conditionsin the periphery. Benefits and limits of water supply and sanitation upgrading projects will also beidentified. Recent directions in public policy addressing these social issues are reviewed. The paperunderlines the pressing demand for more inclusive decision-making processes in the planning andimplementation of sustainable community development.URBAN DESIGN International (2008) 13, 3–20. doi:10.1057/udi.2008.2

Keywords: urban poverty; community development; squatter; quality of life; Brazil

Introduction: Unbalanced urbandevelopment

In developing countries there are obvious geo-graphic disparities in the distribution of basicinfrastructure, public services and the offering ofopportunities for social development betweenpoor neighbourhoods in the periphery and centralhigh-income areas. The expansion of precarioushousing is growing worldwide with the rapidpopulation increase in cities. Particularly inmarginal areas, people and land are becomingexcluded from qualitative development(UN-HABITAT, 2007). It is a central matter toaddress these inequities and deficiencies thataffect the quality of life of significant parts ofthe urban population (Harris, 1992; Potter et al,2003; Mitlin, 2005). This paper analyses the livingconditions in a squatter settlement in the periph-ery of Sao Paulo and reviews root causes forlifelong exclusion. The fringe of Sao Paulo is alsoexcluded from environmental protection and hasreceived industrial waste and sewage for decades

despite serious environmental health issues.Finally, the paper addresses possible changes ingovernance to solve these problems.

Accelerated urban growth has been a dominanttrend over the past few decades in South Americawhere currently more than 75% of the populationlives in cities, compared to 38% in Africa and 36%in Asia (UNPOP, 2000). Brazil is one of the mosturbanized countries in Latin America with ap-proximately 81% urban population (IBGE, 2000).With the rapid rural–urban population shift sincethe 1970s, poverty in absolute terms is increas-ingly becoming an urban problem, particularlyvisible in large agglomerations. The UN-HabitatReport estimated that 32% of the world’s totalurban population, or nearly 924 million people,were living in slums in 2001. Approximately 43%of the urban population of all developing regionstogether and 78% of the least developed countrieslived in poor neighbourhoods. Projections show afurther increase of precarious and risk-proneliving conditions for additional millions of peopleand vulnerability particularly of the urban poorsegment of the populations with acceleratedclimate change factors in place (UN-HABITAT,2007, 2003).

*Correspondence: Tel: þ 1-250-472-4537, Fax: þ 1-250-7216216,E-mail: [email protected]

URBAN DESIGN International (2008) 13, 3–20r 2008 Palgrave Macmillan Ltd. 1357-5317/08 $30.00

Over 68 million inhabitants, almost 40% of thetotal population in Brazil, live in the largest urbanagglomerations (IBGE, 2000). Traditionally thesoutheast of the country (Sao Paulo, Minas Gerais,and Rio de Janeiro) is considered to be theeconomic heart of Brazil. This region is also themost urbanized with about 90% of its populationliving in cities. However, recent census data showthat most of the very large cities are losingpopulation due to agglomeration diseconomies,whereas municipalities with more than 20 000inhabitants continue to grow by a rate of 3%annually. Growth is most evident in citiesbetween 100 000 and 500 000 people (IBGE, 2000).

One of the most populous metropolitan regions inthe world is the Greater Sao Paulo MetropolitanRegion, which includes 39 municipalities cover-ing an area of 7947 km2. In 2006 it was home to19.7 million inhabitants, 10% of the total Brazilianpopulation (EMPLASA, 2007). Over 40 years, theurban area in this region had expanded from 874to 2209 km2 in 2002. The pace of populationgrowth has slowed down from 1.9% between1980 and 1991 to 1.6% between 1991 and 2000.Today the city of Sao Paulo has approximately 11million inhabitants and grows at a rate of 0.4% peryear. Between 1980 and 1991 the overall annualgrowth rate for the city was approximately 1%,whereas the rate for informal settlements was6.2% (Taschner, 1995; Taschner and Bogus, 2001).Almost 20% of the population lives in favelas,precarious housing next to rivers, roads, or onsteep slopes, compared to 1% during the 1970s(Grostein, 2001). Many of the newer settlements atthe urban fringe are the result of intra-urbanmigration due to the removal of poor neighbour-hoods in inner-city areas for the expansion of newinfrastructure, commercial, and housing projects(Prefeitura do Municıpio de Sao Paulo, 2000, pp.14, 95). When urban growth happens withoutplanning and infrastructure expansion, it oftengenerates severe social and environmental pro-blems. These are particularly visible in poorneighbourhoods, so-called squatter settlements,at the periphery of Sao Paulo.

The term squatter refers to ‘uncontrolled, low-income residential area with ambiguous legalstatus regarding land occupationy. [The] usualimage of a squatter settlement is of a poor,underserviced, overcrowded and dilapidated set-tlement’ (HABITAT, 1982, p. 15). These are thespaces where access to drinking water, sewage,

waste collection, and other basic public serviceshave to be improvised, where housing is risk-prone, where green and cultural spaces are absentor rare, and where the environment is unpro-tected. Here public and environmental health is atstake since public services and infrastructure arein such precarious conditions or are missing.

The paper discusses results from an assessmentconducted in the squatter settlement Pedra sobrePedra, initiated in 1999, complemented in 2003and in 2007. Indicators such as housing, publicinfrastructure, access to public services, recrea-tional and educational facilities, risks and hazardswere identified and mapped to evaluate thequality of life in this neighbourhood. The assess-ment was conducted together with communitymembers of the local neighbourhood association.The research also aimed to empower the localcommunity members by providing opportunitiesfor interactive learning and by increasing thevisibility of excluded urban communities.

Consequences of social exclusion

Social exclusion (Room, 1995) provides a usefultheoretical framework to analyse the factors andprocesses involved in the marginalization ofurban population in developing countries. TheInternational Labour Organisation (ILO) refers tosocial exclusion as a ‘process of social disintegra-tion, a progressive rupture of the relationshipsbetween the individual and society’ (1996, p. 9).Exclusion surfaces either as marginalization fromthe rest of society through economic deprivationand social disadvantage or as social and culturalsegregation by fragmentation of social relations.The increased risk of a breakdown of socialcohesion due to growing exclusion is recognizedin the literature for industrialized countries(Room, 1995). In the developing world exclusionworks as a way of controlling and subduingpeople (Young, 1990) and hence becomes astrategy to maintain hegemonic structures andpower distribution.

The concept derives from the idea of ‘society asa status hierarchy, comprising people boundtogether by rights and obligations’ (Walker, 1995,p. 103). Exclusion defines a state of detachment,where individuals are restrained from or notenabled to access public services, goods, activ-ities, or resources, which are essential for a life

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with dignity. Hence, there is a central concernfocusing on dominant institutions and rules thatenable or restrict social interaction. Social exclu-sion is recognized as a state of ill being thatdisempowers and disables people from being fullcitizens, isolating them from the rest of society(ILO, 1996).

The stigmatization of certain groups as being‘underclass’ who are worth less is another aspectthat reiterates social exclusion and providesexcuses for the rest of society and, particularly,for politicians in power to not do enough (Gans,1996). Strong prejudices against people frommarginal settlements are related to race, educa-tion, and income, and ultimately these peopleare interpreted as having a lower social statuswithin society. A notable example of racialsegregation in Brazil is the resentment againstmigrants from the northeast. Historically disad-vantaged by poverty and reduced access toeducational and professional training, they alsosuffer from racial barriers based on their Africancultural background, which makes them third-class citizens.

Gender-related prejudices force women into dis-advantaged employment patterns and socialroles. However, the most affected are margin-alized children and young people, since they aredeprived of future opportunities. In not havingaccess to a regular and healthy diet and primary/secondary education, as well as professionaltraining, they usually become unemployed orunderemployed and end up in the informalsector. With an increase in the number of house-holds having to cope with insufficient income, thenumber of children living in the streets is growingin Brazil. A study revealed that 1.25% of childrenbelow age 6 and 4.6% between ages 7 and 17 wereliving in the streets at night in Sao Paulo(Prefeitura do Municıpio de Sao Paulo, 2000,p. 61). Often these children consume drugs(alcohol, tobacco, and illicit drugs) and becomeinvolved in drug trafficking, drug consumption,prostitution, and crime. Since they often have tocontribute to the family budget, or have tomake a living for themselves, they undertakeinformal activities (delivery, guarding services,collecting recyclables, street sales, washing cars,polishing shoes, and other street services includ-ing prostitution and drug dealing) or begging(Zaluar, 2001).

Economics and social exclusion

Economic recession and structural adjustmentprogrammes have a strong impact on publicspending, particularly on the public health,education, and housing sectors (SAPRIN, 2002).This situation reinforces the already existingsocial and economic disparities and disadvan-tages highlighted early on by Bello (1993) orDrakakis-Smith (1996). Institutionalized corrup-tion, political clientelism, and short-term mea-sures of populist political nature are alsoresponsible for the permanence of chronic andwidespread social and economic inequalities andgrowing regional disparities. These circumstancesreinforce the inability of the excluded to overcomethis state. ‘Material deprivations experienced bythe poor are socially constructed at every node ofthe nexus of production relations’ (Yapa, 1998, p.95). The existing political, economic, and socialstructures need to be challenged so that theproblems of exclusion are addressed.

Poverty and socio-economic marginalization arethe most prominent characteristics of exclusionin developing countries (Figueroa et al, 1996;Douglass, 1998; Auyero, 1999; Daniere andTakahashi, 1999; Mitlin, 2005). In Brazil, socialexclusion has been a facet of economic develop-ment since the colonial period and has particu-larly expanded since the 1970s. Today exclusionaffects more elderly people, more children, andmore white people with a non-migrant back-ground than ever before (Prefeitura do Municıpiode Sao Paulo, 2002). The phenomenon of exclu-sion is widely recognized in the literature indeveloping countries and has also enteredpolicy levels, with governments often creatingspecific agencies and programmes to counteractits development.

Over the past decade concepts linked to povertyalleviation have changed from income-orientedeconomic approaches (promoted by the WorldBank and the International Monetary Fund) toAmartya Sen’s capability approach (Frediani, 2007),from multi-faceted approaches focused on dis-tributive issues, such as access to adequate healthcare, education or food (Satterthwaite, 2001) to amore recently extended framework including thedimensions of vulnerability, powerlessness, andinclusion (Hjorth, 2003, p. 383). Today the dividebetween the all-encompassing concept of socialexclusion and the current complex framework

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analysing the causes responsible for poverty hasdiminished (Frediani, 2007). Linkages betweenpoverty and the environment have become widelyacknowledged with the development of the sus-tainable livelihood concept (DFID et al, 2002;Rakodi and Lloyd-Jones, 2002; Mitlin, 2003; Bury,2004). Social exclusion theory seeks to understandhow livelihoods can be threatened and trans-formed under particular circumstances of exclu-sion. It takes the activities that people perform onthe household level and that sustain their liveli-hood to a broader and international scale. Variouslevels of analysis are touched in this approach,engaging wider questions of political economy.

Social exclusion and the environment

Poverty and social exclusion often generate envir-onmental degradation. Illegal occupation producesdeforestation, water contamination, and air pollu-tion. Being socially excluded also means beingmore vulnerable to environmental risks. The lackof access to economic resources, education, andinformation exposes these groups to diseasevectors, risks, and hazards, which could beavoided. Exclusion stimulates and increases crimeagainst the people and the environment in theperiphery. Environmental injustice comes to lightin Sao Paulo as environmental hazards are placedright next to low-income neighbourhoods. At theperiphery, exclusion is reflected in lawlessness,lack of enforcement of human rights, and lack ofenvironmental protection legislation.

The concept of justice has been present in theanalysis of urban spatial patterns since the 1960s,focusing on variations in the spatial distributionof goods and services (Kirby and Pinch, 1983;Bullard, 1990a b; Bullard and Wright, 1990; Bryantand Mohai, 1992; Heiman, 1996; Bullard andJohnson, 2000). In other words, distributive justiceis about how fairly the cake is divided among itsmembers (CSJ, 1998). In the past, a utilitarianapproach to measuring distributional outcomesgave rise to the notion of ‘territorial justice’, ameasure of fairness in the distribution of acces-sible public services that is also related to theproximity to undesirable land uses. Importantdebates on fairness with respect to the distribu-tion of environmental quality and risks emergedin the USA during the 1980s (Braham and Janes,2002). Low and Gleeson reveal that ‘the distribu-tions, which are highly variegated in socio-

cultural and spatial terms, interact to produce adiverse and shifting landscape of ecologicalpolitics’ (2001, p. 104). Plotkin (1987), for example,documented that institutional mechanisms, suchas planning regulations, keep noxious land usesaway from high-income neighbourhoods andconcentrate them in poor and working-classcommunities. Since then, environmental justicehas become a key component in national debatesand policy-making (Been, 1993, 1994; Pulido, 1996).

Sustainable urban livelihoods

Sustainability is defined as ‘long term cultural,economic and environmental health and vitality’(City of Seattle, 1993, p. 2). Sustainable develop-ment requires the balance between economic,environmental, and social needs. The Local Agenda21 was proposed at the United Nations Con-ference on Environment and Development(UNCED) in 1992, to generate this balance. It isan agenda to promote actions for sustainabledevelopment at the local level (ICLEI, 2005).Sustainability refers to requirements, demands,and obligations towards future generations and itunderlines the responsibility to improve thequality of life of currently deprived and excludedpopulations. Exclusion is unsustainable and iterodes environmental and social capital. Socialcapital is defined as ‘the relational structures(horizontal and vertical) that facilitate action andas the elements of civil society that have fosteredeconomic development and good governance’(Bury, 2004, p. 79). Exclusion therefore jeopardizessocial and environmental capital and ultimatelyaffects sustainability.

Liveability expresses the quality of life for apopulation in a certain space. It refers to entitle-ments and goods and services every personshould be able to access equally, based ondemocratic institutions and legislation. It is amultifarious concept based on objective as well assubjective indicators (Kemp et al, 1997). Amin andThrift (2002, p. 140) propose a transformationtowards radical democracy, where ‘democracyrequires the democratization of institutions andthe empowerment of subaltern voices in a politicsof vigorous but fair contest between diverseinterests’. A direct connection exists betweenlivelihoods and citizenship rights. Under somecircumstances, people can become excluded fromconsuming what are considered to be basic publicgoods and services (Sen, 1992)

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Researchers, communities, and governments haveapplied a wide range of indicators to evaluate thelong-term quality of urban communities andenvironments (City of Seattle, 1993; Mitchellet al, 1995; Maclaren, 1996; Huang et al, 1998).The Local Agenda 21 has been one of the mile-stones to translate the results obtained from theseindicators into actions and strategies to improvethe quality of life (Parker, 1995). The InternationalCouncil for Local Environmental Initiatives(ICLEI, 2005) supports the enhancement of localgovernments dedicated to the Agenda 21 princi-ples for liveability and sustainability. Table 1summarizes major indicators for sustainabilityand liveability. Some of these factors will be

addressed in the present case study. The indica-tors can also be applied in the context of thesustainable livelihood framework (see DFID,1999; Arce, 2003; Hinshelwood, 2003), which takesinto account the different scales of interaction(local to global), the vulnerability context underwhich individuals or communities operate, andthe specific assets individuals or communities have.

Urban expansion into Sao Paulo’s waterprotected areas

There is a sharp contrast between spaces for thebetter off and spaces for the excluded. Govern-

Table 1 Assessment of urban sustainability and liveability

Key areas of concern Quality indicators (sustainability) Accessibility (liveability)


Air and water quality, soil degradation, erosion,density and diversity of vegetation cover andanimal life.

Clean air and clean streams, slope stability,availability of green public spaces, trees.

Urban form and function Architecture and quality of urban form, functionalityof public spaces and buildings, protected culturalheritage.Quality (diversity and use of native plants) anddegree of landscaping and open spaces in the city.

Availability, access and efficiency of urbanfunctions. Location of public spaces andbuildings (transport accessibility).Preservation and maintenance of localcultural heritage.Leisure and recreational areas.

Housing Building materials (efficiency, costs, use of recycledmaterials), durability and degree of adaptation tothe natural environment.

Adequacy and availability of housing. Qualityof housing (density, risk exposure, buildingmaterials). Location (transportconvenience), distance to the centre, toworkplace and other urban functions.Land tenure.

Basic infrastructure Appropriate and efficient technology regardingK energy source and efficiency (degree of

renewable/non-renewable energy sources)K quality of drinking waterK sewage collection network and treatment

systemK waste management (forms of disposal,

recycling)K transport efficiency and impacts.

K Electricity, clean water, sewage/greywater collection, garbage collection,recycling. Incentives for alternativeenergy generation and waste recycling.

K Accessibility of drinking water, regularityof access and quality.

K Availability, efficiency and quality ofpublic transport, local road system andillumination of public spaces.

Health and education Availability and quality ofK public health system (preventive, holistic

medicine)K pollution prevention measuresK public schools, universities, professional

training facilities.

Accessibility and quality of health care,health-related infrastructure and educationalfacilities (child care, pre-school, primaryschool, university, professional training).Environmental education/awarenessprogrammes. Community activities(horticulture, communal work).

Livelihood Incentives for environmentally ’clean’ production,sustainable production/consumption. Fullemployment

Employment (diversity and vitality ofemployment).Purchasing power.Access to local food production(bioregionalism and urban agriculture).

Social environment Local safety and health. Cultural and recreationalactivities

Security (no crime, no violence). Access torecreational and cultural opportunities.Community empowerment (participation indemocratic decision processes, localrepresentation). Sense of place.

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ment and privately funded, luxurious urbandevelopment in privileged areas starkly contrastswith deprivation in the periphery of majorBrazilian cities. According to the 2000 censusdata, 10.2% of the population in the municipalityof Sao Paulo lives in precarious and risk-proneconditions (IBGE, 2000). In 2000, 4600 illegalsettlements, often with inadequate sanitary con-ditions, were identified by IBGE (2000).

Institutionalized corruption, political clientelism,and short-term measures of a populist politicalnature are responsible for chronic and wide-spread social and economic inequalities and

growing intra-urban and regional disparities.Gilbert (1994) and Rocha (1997), for example,have discussed these implications as a conse-quence of neo-patrimonial power structures.Reports on corruption scandals are everyday inthe news in Brazil and have created a sense ofwidespread resignation when it comes to politics.At the same time the deficiencies in housing,education, and health continue to increase.

There was a noticeable rise in squatting, particu-larly in the outskirts next to the drinking watercatchments of Lake Billings and Lake Guarapirangain the south of the city, since the early 1990s

Figure 1. Localization of the metropolitan region of Sao Paulo and the case study site. Source: Jutta Gutberlet (2008).

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(see Figure 1). This spread directly reflects thegrowing demand for cheap housing due toincreased poverty and unemployment. The crisiswas accelerated by a set of federal economicpolicies that led to a rise in rental property andrestrictions to access savings, these measureswere hitting particularly low- and also themiddle-income people. In large cities, a rushbegan towards the fringe to buy or occupy landand to improvise dwellings, to avoid highlyinflated rental costs in more central locations(Taschner, 1995). The expansion into the twowatersheds was a result of the local and stategovernment’s inability to enforce the watershedprotection legislation, thus creating a situation oflawlessness and lack of environmental protection.As a result, a strong intra-urban migration flowbegan towards this part of the city.

Irregular occupations are often coordinated byreligious or political leaders. In exchange for theirsupport or vote, the settlers receive temporaryprotection from eventual eviction. Frequently realestate agents also illegally claim and sell land andwith the transaction completed they disappear.Sometimes social movements like the ‘rooflessmovement’ (Movimento Sem Teto) organize squat-ting. The process of land taking happens quickly,and when government officials in charge finallytake notice, it is already a fait accompli.

The implementation of watershed protectionlegislation from 1975/76 (state law no. 898/75and 1.172/76) was meant to preserve the environ-ment by restricting population density around theBillings and Guarapiranga reservoirs. Instead, thelegislation reduced land values in the area (Buddset al, 2005). Without enforcement of the legislationlow-income families were attracted to the areaand illegal high-density settlements ensued. Be-tween 1955 and 1992, untreated sewage andwastewater from the main rivers Tiete andPinheiros were pumped into the lake, while thelake’s overflow was used to generate hydroelectricpower at the bottom of the 700 m high Serra doMar mountain range, in Cubatao. The input oftoxic industrial contaminants and biologicalpathogens over decades resulted in a dead watersystem. The government’s inability to enforce theenvironmental protection laws and the lack ofintegration between public agencies and theirpolicies further contributed to the uncontrolledspread of informal settlements and environmentaldegradation.

A revision of the law was made in 1997 (statelaw no. 9866/97) and specific instruments andmechanisms for more decentralized land usemanagement and protection were introduced.An important innovation of this new piece oflegislation is the introduction of land-use andprotection measures adapted to the specificsituation of each watershed, allowing interventionfor environmental rehabilitation. The process alsopermits greater participation of the local commu-nity and grassroots organizations in the discus-sion on land use and resource managementthrough public hearings, the establishment ofpartnerships between the government and NGOs,and through other instruments included in theCity Act and the city’s Master Plan, to be discussedlater in this paper (Alfonsin, 1997, pp. 199–219;Estado de Sao Paulo, 1998, p. 13). There arecurrently 700 000 settlers in the Billings watershed,of which over 121 000 live in precarious favelas(Capobianco and Whately, 2002, p. 17).

There have been several attempts to upgradesquatter settlements in these two watersheds.During the 1990s, the Guarapiranga Project, fundedby the Inter-American Development Bank,tackled urban development and environmentaleducation in the Guarapiranga watershed, withsome visible improvements in housing, basicinfrastructure, and risk minimization. The pro-gramme contributed to an overall urban andenvironmental revitalization of the region. Morerecently the ProSanear project, funded by thefederal government through a World Bank loanand executed by the state hydro agency SABESP,began to address some of the local environmentalproblems in the Billings watershed. In 2002, theprogramme expanded the supply of drinkingwater into some squatter settlements and infra-structure was put in place to begin collectingsewage in parts of the Billings watersheds toimprove the local drinking water quality, underthe Projeto Tiete (SABESP, 1996).

In order to decrease pressure on the housingsector, squatting in the periphery was promotedor at least tolerated under past governments.Insufficient alternative housing programmes andsocial policies, in addition to lack of political willand absence of environmental law enforcementby local governments, have been major drivingforces for irregular urban sprawl. In some cases,favelas that gave way to new developments in the

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centre were relocated into the Billings watershed(Fix, 1996).

A first milestone addressing land tenure ininformal settlements was set with the incorpora-tion of a chapter on urban policy in the FederalConstitution of 1988 (Fernandes and Rolnik, 1998,p. 141), which requires cities with more than20 000 inhabitants to elaborate a Master Plan. InArticle 183, this Constitution further approved theright to ‘ypossession in private urban land-holdings up to a maximum of 250 m2 after onlyfive years of peaceful, uninterrupted possessionof the property’, a condition termed Usocapiao(Fernandes and Rolnik, 1998, p. 147; see alsoBrazil, 2001, p. 167). Although these measureswere created to slow down urban mobility bysecuring land tenure, without law enforcementand without providing housing alternatives, itprovoked the opposite: a rush towards illegaloccupation and a drive to land speculation in theperiphery.

Living at the metropolitan edge: a casestudy to assess facets of the quality oflife in squatter settlements

Until the early 1970s, the Billings watershedremained primarily rural, with mining (granite,gravel, and sand) and a few – though polluting –back-yard industrial activities, horticulture, cattleranching, and low-density exclusive housingadjacent to the lake (Balneario Mar Paulista, SetePraias, Praia Vermelha in Eldorado). Low-incomesettlements began to expand during the 1970salong the margins of the lake, primarily on landowned by the public electricity company Eletro-paulo. In 1980, one of the two remaining quarriesin the region was closed and the site became arecreation and leisure place for the locals. In thelate 1980s, the municipality first used the site fordumping inert waste and later household wasteand the location became known as the Itatingalandfill. By then about 100 families had alreadyoccupied the surrounding areas. Despite obviousenvironmental conflicts and resulting health risks,the government tolerated this development.

In the early 1990s, swellings rapidly expandedand thousands occupied the unconsolidated steepslopes and lower areas of the quarry. At the sametime, adjacent private land was illegally subdi-vided and sold as small plots (20–50 m2). The

proximity to the municipal boundaries of Diade-ma explains the negligence with which thegovernment of Sao Paulo treated the area. Itfrequently happens that the local governmentabandons frontier regions since none of the cityadministrators wants to take responsibility andinvest in upgrading the fringe. Voters at theperiphery are still easily persuaded with paterna-listic measures, discourse, and gifts.

The settlement Pedra sobre Pedra

Through the need to mobilize residents andjointly initiate community improvement projects,unofficial community associations developed inthe squatter settlement surrounding the Itatingalandfill. As a result, the large squatter settlementis made up of several self-designated neighbour-hoods. This study focuses on the Pedra Sobre Pedraneighbourhood situated in the Cidade Juliasquatter community located on the northern halfof the landfill (Figure 2). Three independentresearch projects were conducted in 1999, 2003,and 2007 in collaboration with the local neigh-bourhood association, Associacao Pedra sobre Pedra.Each study used a combination of qualitativemethods and quantitative surveys to assessphysical and social conditions of the communityat each time period. The research methodswere not standardized between each project. Theresults of the three studies, however, were able todocument clear stages of evolution in the com-munity as a result of the ProSanear water supplyand sanitation project that began in 2000 andended in 2003.

Before the ProSanear project

A socio-economic survey was conducted by thelocal neighbourhood association Associacao Pedrasobre Pedra, in 1998, before our research projectsbegan. Their survey of 361 households providesfirst insights into the level of formal education,average household income, employment situa-tion, housing density, as well as about the locals’perception of risks. This survey revealed that 15%of all households (54) reported financial difficul-ties and that 7% (25) could not access enoughfood. In 7% (24) of all households the head wasunemployed, and in 4% (13) he or she wasilliterate. Five of the respondents were aware ofthe fact that they had built on a risk area. The

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most striking finding indicated that the majorityof the households (63%) were female headed.When asked whether they would buy the landthey had occupied, only nine answered with yesand they were willing to pay between 20 and 50$Reais (equivalent to 17–42 US$) for their plot. Therest did not answer this question, probablybecause it did not seem a realistic option forthem, given the prevailing level of poverty.

A study was conducted in 1999 in collaborationwith the Associacao Pedra sobre Pedra to assess thequality of life in Pedra Sobre Pedra. The researchinvolved mapping, conducting semi-structuredinterviews, group discussions and participantobservation. Several members of the associationhelped with the organization of communitymeetings to inform and receive feedback fromthe locals and with the planning of a generalassembly. Two schoolteachers from neighbouringcommunities also assisted with the project. Giventhe widespread resignation and apathy as a resultof exclusion, only a few community membersvolunteered to participate in the research. Studyparticipants identified five main indicators thatwere used to assess quality of life in thecommunity: risks and hazards; basic infrastruc-ture, public services, housing and green spaces.Mapping of these indicators was carried out overseveral days while talking to the local residents.

During the mapping we counted 1276 stonehouses, 1038 dwellings built of mixed or impro-vised building materials, and 56 houses that werestill under construction. In all, 114 houses werealready up for sale. There were only six vacantplots in the entire neighbourhood and virtually noopen land or green space. At the time of thesurvey, we counted 64 grocery and hardwarestores, 26 pubs, 11 churches, and several othermostly informal businesses, such as recycling,hairdressers, car repairs, and electrical repairs.

While mapping the community, heavy summerrainfalls destabilized one of the slopes and alandslide had pulled several houses downhill,killing one child. The dwellings situated lower inthe community were inundated for several hoursby water and sewage, displacing families anddamaging their belongings. These events alwaysbear the risk of spreading infectious diseases suchas Leptospirosis. This kind of hazard is commonin marginalized neighbourhoods in Sao Paulo,particularly during the summer rainfalls.

The final community map (Figure 3) points outareas under risk from landslides and flooding,localized environmental impacts (such as irregu-lar garbage deposits, sewage discharge, stormwater emission, leaking fluids coming out of thelandfill), as well as areas lacking basic infrastruc-ture, and public facilities. It also shows drainage

Figure 2. Pedra sobre Pedra squatter development. Source: Jutta Gutberlet (2008).

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flows, following slope orientation and it indicatesthe likeliness of soil erosion along the unpavedpathways.

Until 1999, the majority of the dwellers in Pedrasobre Pedra accessed drinking water (94.7%) andelectricity (95.5%) illegally through neighbouringsettlements, and most of the sewage was directedinto drainage and streams, discharging finallyinto Lake Billings (Grupo Tecnico de Apoio, 1999).There was no waste collection and householdwaste was dumped on open land, into creeks, orwas deposited at the exit of the settlement, whereit would be collected regularly through theserviced neighbourhoods. As a consequence,garbage piled up at the intersections betweensquatter settlement and the outside world.

Shortly after the ProSanear project

In 2001 the squatter settlements surrounding theItatinga landfill were included in the ProSanearwater supply and sanitation project (GrupoTecnico de Apoio, 1999). The project aimed tobring formal water supply and sewage collectionto each household and to collect rainwater inorder to control flooding of the creeks. Inconsultation with the local residents, select houses

were removed in order to widen alleys and allowinstallation of sewage and storm water drains. Allof the alleys were cemented to prevent erosionand the main creek that ran through the commu-nity was canalized. The location of the creek wasturned into the community’s main access road(see area 3 in Figure 3). Finally, a portion of themost hazardous slope was covered in cement toprevent further erosion and landslides (seeareas 1 and 2 in Figure 3). The followingillustration shows the risk area in the background(Figure 4).

A second research project was initiated in 2003 todocument the immediate impacts to the commu-nity as a result of the ProSanear project. Onceagain the Pedra sobre Pedra community associationwas involved in the design and implementationof the research project. A stratified randomsampling technique was used to select 44 house-holds within the community to participate in asemi-structured in-depth interview regarding theupgrading project. Houses were selected fromalleyways (n¼11), the new main road (n¼11), andminor roads (n¼22). The questionnaire aimed tounderstand how the day-to-day lives of theresidents were affected by regular formal accessto water and sanitation. Residents were askedabout their current residence and if they had

LANDFILL (Aterro Itatinga)

LANDFILL (Aterro Itatinga)





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Jardim Pantanal (São Paulo)







Public School


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eget ioat n cr


Praça Muçum


1 km0

} primary road

construction over creek

intermittent creek(disturbed by urban construction)

public telephone

garbage disposal

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Local Association

secondary unsealed roadpathway


open sewage discharge


























Iom Re



























municipal boundary

Figure 3. Mapping risks, hazards, and assets in Pedra sobre Pedra. Source: Jutta Gutberlet (2008).

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made any investments to physically improve theirhouse since the project. Finally, residents wereasked about changes to the community as a wholeand about their vision for the future of thesettlement.

Initial response to the ProSanear project waspositive. Several residents stated that they haddoubted the project would happen because theyhave little confidence in political promises.Despite having to pay a minimum charge forwater supply, most households felt that theycould afford these costs and only three house-holds admitted that the cost was too high and thatthey continued to steal water. Having a water billwas presented as a sense of pride. Residents feltthat their existence was being recognized and thatnow they had a proof of residence that they couldshow potential employers.

Women were the most positively impacted byhaving regular access to water at home. Pre-viously, most households had some access towater illegally tapped from the local watersupply. Several women spoke of having to wakeup early in the morning to fill water buckets whilethere was enough water pressure in the tap. Afterhouseholds were officially connected to the city,shortages in water supply were rare. As well,legally accessing water gave residents a sense of

security because they had the ability to phoneSabesp and make a formal complaint if they hadproblems with their water.

When asked to describe their lives before theproject, residents frequently spoke of flooding,either in their neighbor’s house or their own. Acommon answer was ‘it used to smell and therewere rats’. People remember the mud they usedto walk through and the garbage in the streets.‘There was a lot of overpowering smell, it washorrible, intolerable’ commented one woman.Cementing the alleys made them easier to walkthrough than slippery wet mud. Storm drains andchannelling of the creek also eliminated thesewage mixed floods in the community.

The main access road that was created broughtseveral changes to the neighbourhood. Residentspositively noted an increased police presence inthe community, which gave them a greater senseof security. Ambulances, school buses, and un-official buses began to enter, and a garbage truckwas able to start regular collection. Whereashouses along the creek used to be undesirablebecause of the smell and flooding, new additionsand improvements to houses are noticeable nowthat they were on the main road. Of the 12residents surveyed on this road, four moved tothe road since it was completed from different

Figure 4. View facing north towards part of the risk area. Source: Jutta Gutberlet (2008).

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locations in the neighbourhood. Of the sevenhouseholds that were living there before the roadwas built, five had invested in improving thestructure of their house and indicated that theywould not have done so if the road had not beenbuilt. One person did not respond to the questionand one had not invested in improvements due tolack of funds. Finally, a few businesses werestarted on the street such as an electronics repairshop, a bakery, and a bar.

Investment in house improvements and changeswere seen in other parts of the community as well.A total of 10 households out of 32 located on aminor road or alleyway had made improvementsin the previous year with one non-respondent.Eight households had lived in their home forless than 1 year and five of these moved fromoutside of the neighbourhood. A total count ofhouseholds in the community was not conducted,but the vertical expansion of houses was visible.

Four major needs and desires were identified bythe community: improved access to health ser-vices, paving the roads, access to public daycare,and access to skills-based education. The com-munity’s lack of access health services is directlylinked to their lack of postal address. Thesettlement is close to two health centres, onewithin the municipality of Sao Paulo andthe other within the municipality of Diadema.The community residents do not have anofficial street address and their proximity to themunicipal boundary often leaves them in limbobetween the two health centres. Neither centrewillingly accepts these residents and theyclaim that the residents live within the othermunicipality. When viewed on a map thecommunity is literally depicted as a large whitespace. The impression given is that the area isempty. As no roads are officially recognizedby the city the community goes unnoticed to theoutside world.

Upon review of the five quality-of-life indicatorsoutlined by residents in the first research project,risks and hazards, basic infrastructure, publicservices, and housing had all improved as a directresult of the ProSanear project. However, the fifthindicator, green spaces, had actually been reducedfor two reasons. The largest reduction in greenspace was due to the installation of a cement capover 1/3 of the most precarious embankment toprevent further erosion (see area 1 in Figure 3).

Further impact on green space was the result ofincreased encroachment of housing on steepslopes that were previously undeveloped. Whilethe ProSanear project provided immediate benefitsto quality of life, it was not enough on its own toovercome the social exclusion faced by theresidents. Several elements of social exclusion,which were overshadowed by the need for basicservices, are brought to the forefront in the thirdstudy.

Four years after ProSanear

In 2007 a third study was conducted to exploresome of the elements of social exclusion identifiedin the previous studies and to document newdevelopments within the community. Qualitativeunstructured interviews were held with commu-nity leaders to learn about their community-ledinitiatives. A structured survey of 130 households(n¼88 on roads, n¼42 in alleys) and an open streetmeeting were also carried out with the aid of thecommunity association. The survey questionsaimed to identify ongoing community needs andkey elements of social exclusion, which continueto marginalize the community residents.

Between 2003 and 2007, the community receivedfurther infrastructure improvements. ElectroPaulo,the local electrical company, installed streetlightson the roads and in the alleys. Residentialelectrical meter boxes had just been installed inresidential homes at the time of the study and notall residents had received their first bill. Also, allof the roads had been paved. Official buses beganto enter sections of the community and a numberof new businesses had also opened along themajor and minor roads. The provision of thecommunity’s most basic physical needs hadbeen met. As a result, previously overshadowedelements of social exclusion were brought to light.

The community’s lack of a postal address,reflecting lack of land ownership, contributes tosustaining each of the remaining barriers thatcontinue to hinder the evolution of the Pedra sobrePedra settlement into an official neighbourhoodthat appears on city maps. The barriers created bythe community’s lack of a postal address and landownership were not prominently identified in thesecond study largely because residents believedtheir water bill was a sure sign that an addressand land title would closely follow. Unfortunately

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water and electricity bills can be hand deliveredby meter readers and thus a postal address is notneeded. A postal address is needed, however, toregister for a telephone line, to receive personalmail, and most importantly to register to vote.

Longer term residents to Sao Paulo and Diademaareas have managed to work around the addressbarrier by using the addresses of friends andfamily. Personal mail is collected from time totime and cell phones are used instead of residen-tial lines. For new residents without establishedsocial networks, the option exists to pay for apostal box if they can afford one. Residents whocannot afford to purchase and maintain a cellphone are restricted to using pay-phones locatedoutside the community (see Figure 2), which,however, are often out of service and do notreceive calls. Inability to access phone servicereduces a person’s ability to search for work asemployers require contact information.

Previously unrecognized as a problem, the use ofalternate addresses to register for voting right hasreduced the community’s political influence.While they all technically live in the municipalityof Sao Paulo, only 60 residents reported that theyvote in Sao Paulo. Forty-nine residents vote inDiadema, 19 vote in other municipalities or do notvote, and two did not respond. This divisionreflects the confusion that surrounds the commu-nity’s place within the city. The communityassociation has been unable to discover whoowns the land they live on. The city has notincluded local residents in negotiations with thelandowner, although they do claim to be trying toobtain land rights. Attempts by the communityassociation to lead improvement initiatives inpartnership with the municipality of Sao Paulohave not been successful to date due to the lack oflocal land ownership.

A non-profit daycare centre is an example of oneof these initiatives. Located on the edge of thecommunity closest to the municipal divide, asmall house was acquired for use as a daycare foremployed mothers. Community members sawthat mothers were having to choose betweenleaving their children at home alone or not takingjob opportunities. In an effort to address thisproblem, a group of residents formed a non-profitdaycare run entirely by volunteers and donationsfrom the community. Up to 60 children can becared for at one time, and adult literacy classes

and youth activities are being run out of thecentre on evenings and weekends (Figure 5).

This daycare was never meant to be a long-termsolution to the community’s childcare needs. Theintended goal of opening the centre was to showthe municipality that there is a significant needfor childcare in the community and to form apartnership with the municipality for funds torun the centre. While the municipality hasindicated that funds are available for a daycare,the centre has not been able to officially access thefunds because they do not formally own the land.Attempts at finding the official landowner havebeen discouraged for fear that the owner may tryto take back the land and displace the community.Despite considerable investment in water, sanita-tion, and electrical infrastructure, the local resi-dents are still presented with the fear of losingtheir homes.

Another community-led attempt to improve theneighbourhood was initiated before the firstresearch project began. The neighbourhood asso-ciation proposed the creation of a park and a plantnursery, a community garden, and a centre forenvironmental education within the open spacebelow the steep embankment (see area 2 inFigure 2). Six years have now passed and noneof the proposals were implemented. Over thesepast years, the area was occupied illegallytwice by homeless and each time the governmentpaid a compensation for the removal. The localleaders interviewed in August 2007 explainedthat the level of poverty and housing necessityprompts such behaviour of taking advantage ofthe compensation payments. Today, most dwell-ings hold at least two and up to five floors toaccommodate new family members or to providean opportunity to earn from renting out.

Formal instruments for government andcitizens’ action

Important changes in urban development areunderway with the Estatuto da Cidade (City Act),based on a federal law enacted by the NationalCongress (Law No. 10,257/2001) and the Munici-pal Law No. 15 547/1991 (Brazil, 2001; Bassul,2002). This act proposes participatory decision-making strategies in order for representativesfrom the civil society to partake in the elaborationand implementation of urban development plans,programmes and projects (Article 20.II). The City

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Act further provides opportunity for legitimizedparticipation from the community, through neigh-bourhood or community associations and envir-onmental NGOs (Article 50). It also stimulatescitizens to initiate public action through the PublicMinistry where collective rights are infringed.Neighbourhood associations, which have a man-date for environmental protection, for example,can thus take an active role in urban planning.Participation in the implementation of urbanpolicies is further facilitated by way of publichearings and the promotion of open debates.There are also procedural juridical instrumentsthat assist the state in any necessary interventionagainst violations to the principles of urbandevelopment. The Act allows for legal usage oftaxation or even expropriation (Brazil, 2001;Meneguello, 2002). In theory, land tenure con-tributes to the recognition of citizenship andfosters the dwellers’ sense of place. Consequently,it also enhances the stewardship of communityand environment. To what extent these participa-tory policy approaches of the City Act have thepotential for enhancing social mobilization andaddressing pressing issues of social housing andquality of life in underprivileged neighbourhoodshas yet to be seen.

In 2002, the council of Sao Paulo enacted the city’slong awaited Plano Diretor (Master Plan). This

plan, largely supported by the City Act, has to‘fulfil the constitutional premise to guarantee thesocial function of the city and of urban property’(Brazil, 2001, p. 43). It redefines urban land usezoning and focuses on the following majorprinciples: (1) Act in solidarity towards excludedpopulations; (2) consider housing as a social right;(3) complete and expand roads and transportationsystems; (4) recover urban environmental quality;(5) transfer funds from developers to publicprojects; and (6) strengthen the public sectorinitiative and planning (Brazil, 2001, p. 40). Theplan and the City Act provide new opportunitiesfor correcting the disparities in urban develop-ment between core and peripheral areas, and forimplementing actions that can enhance urbanliveability and sustainability in all parts of the city.

The Master Plan and City Act have succeeded inincluded Pedra sobre Pedra city projects. Ongoingsocial exclusion, however, has limited the com-munity’s ability to participate. One example is acommunity greening initiative that provides treesto community associations. The Pedra sobre Pedracommunity association has been accepted as apartner and plans to initiate an adopt-a-treeproject with local residents. A major questionthey have been unable to answer is where there isroom in the community to actually plant the trees.Unless the municipality is willing to pay-off and

Figure 5. Child care unit directed by Mr Nascimento leader of the NGO Associacao Amor e Vida. Source: JuttaGutberlet (2008).

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remove houses, the only green space within theneighbourhood is on the steep embankmentswhere houses cannot be built (see areas 2 and 3in Figure 3). In order to achieve solidarity withexcluded communities and to recover urbanenvironmental quality municipalities need to movebeyond planning to actually doing and enforcingtheir plans with community collaboration.

ConclusionsEmpowerment: a path towards inclusion

With growing rates of impoverishment in recentyears, squatting has become a widespread socialand environmental problem in most large cities inthe developing world. Major driving forces forthis expansion of irregular squatter settlements atthe urban fringe are social exclusion, lack of pro-active social housing policies, and land specula-tion. The often unemployed or underemployedmarginalized population lacks resources to rent orbuy property and thus become illegal squatters.The research shows that at the periphery of SaoPaulo this population lives confined under un-healthy, risk-prone and crowded living conditions.

Environmental education and awareness aregenerally low among the marginalized popula-tion. High intra-urban mobility, insecure landtenure, and fear of eviction hinder the formationof sense of place among the new squatters and thebuilding of social cohesion becomes more difficult(Bimal Kanti, 2006). The cost of squatting is high,as it results in land degradation and contamina-tion and often provides the conditions forthe diffusion of disease (eg Leptospirosis orDengue fever), and property loss followingdisasters (landslides and flooding). The expensesof reparation and mitigation of direct andcumulative impacts, as well as the costs relatedto permanent loss of environmental assets, are notaccounted for.

The ProSanear project implemented in Pedra sobrePedra brought immediate benefits to the commu-nity in the form of regular access to clean waterand sanitation, the elimination of flooding and anincreased sense of inclusion as official cityresidents. Subsequent improvements includedofficial access to electricity, and improved roadaccess, which allowed garbage collection, ambu-lance, police, school bus and city buses to enterthe community. Despite these major physical

improvements, the community remains sociallyexcluded due to their lack of land tenure and forsome lack of postal address. Without land tenure,residents cannot access basic services such as hometelephone service. Lack of a postal address alsoforces residents to register to vote with the addressof a friend or relative. As a result, the community’spolitical influence is split as residents primarilyvote in two different municipalities.

The case study has uncovered the government’somissions for decades in providing responsibleurban development in the city’s periphery. Onlyin 2000, the new municipal government took firststeps in response to this crisis. The officialdiscourse recognizes the necessity of preventiveand pro-active measures to protect watershedsand to tackle the social crisis. The MunicipalGovernment has begun with the construction ofIntegrated Educational Centers (CEUs), the expa-nsion of basic infrastructure (primarily drinkingwater distribution and sewage collection) andnew programmes providing the opportunity togenerate employment. The first CEU was con-structed in Cidade Ademar/Pedreira in the Billingswatershed. The purpose of these centres was toprovide educational and recreational infrastruc-ture to the periphery. Despite these initiativesthere is still widespread consensus among theinterviewed community in Pedra sobre Pedra thatthe implementation ‘takes far too long’ and that‘the results have not yet been widely felt’ at theirgrassroots level (August 2007).

Participatory, bottom-up development strategiesraise crucial questions of: Who determines? Whodecides? Who applies these rules? It is theresponsibility of local governments to providethe grounds for the communities to participate inthe assessment and implementation of measuresthat will tackle their needs. It is also an obligationof the global community to address this situationof deprivation and to change the structures andprocedures that generate uneven development.Debt relief, fair trade, equitable trading condi-tions, access to micro-credit schemes, appropriatetechnology, and other social economy initiativesare equally important as deliberative democracyin promoting local community development.

The present results confirm that the difficulty inaccessing funding and information is one of themain hindrances for community development.It is very complicated for a neighbourhood

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association to implement self-help measures, andit requires endless persistence and resilience toaccess funding or public resources and most oftenthis results in unsuccessful endeavours. Theneighbourhood association Pedra sobre Pedra,struggled for years to access funding and toreceive support in the implementation of localdevelopment initiatives. These experiences un-derline the importance of involving locals in theresearch learning process.

Participatory appraisal and mapping providelocal leaders with instruments that can empowertheir community. This research aimed at generat-ing knowledge for the community, throughproviding them with the findings and by dis-seminating the results to the wider community,drawing the attention of the government to theirprecarious living conditions. The initial participa-tory fieldwork was finalized with a generalassembly, to which local authorities and NGOrepresentatives were invited, providing an oppor-tunity to communicate the research results and toreceive local feedback. A seminar discussing theresearch findings was also organized with repre-sentatives from the Sao Paulo government andwith local groups. This phase of the researchprocess was imperative in stimulating grassrootsmobilization and action. Despite the energygenerated, little has happened due to lack ofpolitical support.

It is well known and documented that bottom-upapproaches are often more time-consuming, com-plicated, and sometimes even less efficient in theirimplementation than top-down strategies (Zwart,2003). It has also been widely documented thatcommunity-oriented approaches are not alwaysas equitable as they should be (Carley, 2001).Grassroots approaches demand extensive nego-tiations and partnerships, sometimes even amongdifferent political parties. There is no singlegeneral answer as to how to attain more live-ability and greater urban sustainability; however,the focus needs to be on long lasting, widelyaccepted, inclusive, and locally appropriate reso-lutions, using local assets and capacities, mini-mizing degradation and waste of resources.Governments can provide the necessary condi-tions for opening up dialog, participation, andtransparency. Public hearings, general assemblies,and participative councils, as well as the strength-ening of associations and cooperatives, bear thepotential of producing sustainable urban devel-

opment. Finally, urban movements and grassrootsinitiatives are important in empowering sociallyexcluded citizens and in challenging currentdevelopment in favour of inclusive planningand decision making that improve overall sus-tainability (Carley and Smith, 2001).

A paradigm shift is necessary to attain long-termgrowth in quality. It needs to be based onsustainable and resource-aware production andconsumption models that are grounded in theinternalization of environmental and social costs.Development needs to undergo a paradigm shiftfrom a quantitative to a qualitative conception,building sustainable communities. Interactivelearning and community-based approaches areprerequisites for effective change towards increasedsustainability and liveability on a long-term basis.


Thanks and great appreciation goes to the com-munity Pedra sobre Pedra, and in particular to themembers of the local neighbourhood associations,and to Ruth Takahashi from Rede Mulher deEducacao, Professor Angela Baeder from theFundacao Santo Andre. The research was fundedpartially through the ARC National ResearchCouncil in Australia, and the Canada-LatinAmerica and the Caribbean Research ExchangeGrants Program (LACREG).


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