Certain cities can be “read” like either a portrait or a map. As portraits, during the process of slumification so visible in recent decades, we saw the precarious shanties, substandard structures, and improvised “additions” in which thousands of “invisible” residents live, virtually on top of each other, along the imaginary borders of Brazilian cities. As maps, we find in the geographical surveys, by analyzing meticulously compiled statistics and cross-checking data from other research, details about the locations and conditions of the “precarious settlements” in the territories. That was the purpose of the study entitled Diagnóstico dos assentamentos precários nos municípios da macrometrópole paulista (Diagnosis of Precarious Settlements in the Municipalities of the São Paulo Macrometropolis), coordinated by researcher Eduardo Marques, of the Center for Metropolitan Studies (CEM), one of the Research, Innovation and Dissemination Centers (RIDC) supported by FAPESP. Also involved were geographers Daniel Waldvogel and Donizete Cazolato, statistician Edgard Fusaro, and political scientist Mariana Bittar.
“Precarious settlements include favelas and clandestine and illegal subdivisions, three temporary solutions to the housing problem,” says Marques, a professor at the the University of São Paulo Faculty of Philosophy, Languages and Literature, and Human Sciences (FFLCH-USP). “There is a huge variety of situations, but these precarious areas usually house poor people who have little access to infrastructure and services, especially sanitary sewer systems.” In order to identify the precarious settlements, the study used variables like housing, infrastructure, and demographic aspects such as the level of education and income achieved by the head of the household.
Conducted at the request of the Paulista Metropolitan Planning Company (Emplasa) and the Campaign for Housing and Urban Development (CDHU), the study updates the methodology used in an earlier work conducted by the Ministry of Cities. In 2005, based on data from the 2000 Census, the favela population of the São Paulo macrometropolis was calculated at about 3.17 million. By 2010, base year of the new study using 2010 Census data, there were 3.8 million residents living in precarious conditions in the region’s 113 municipalities, an area of 31,500 square kilometers that encompasses the metropolitan regions of São Paulo (RMSP), Campinas (RMC), Baixada Santista (RMBS), and Vale do Paraíba and Litoral Norte (RMVP-LN), as well as the urban agglomeration of Jundiaí (AUJ) (see map). There was, therefore, considerable growth, from 13.5% to 14.3% of the total population of those municipalities. “However, those figures conceal tremendous variation among regions,” Marques observes. “In the São Paulo Metropolitan Region, the percentage fell from 15% to 14.5%. Meanwhile, in Baixada Santista, the number rose from 18.1% to 20.5%; and in the Campinas region it jumped from 9.9% to 14.5%–i.e., a significant change, suggesting that intense slumification is occurring. All regions showed an increase in absolute numbers, but in the state capital the percentage increase was lower than the rate of growth in the population as a whole. To a certain degree, the problem has become more widely dispersed.
Marques believes that several factors contribute to this scenario. “The process of slumification has been going on for decades now, caused by poverty and the absence of housing policies that could satisfy the demand. In general terms, it is the product of the way in which urbanization came about in Brazil (and the way it continues to occur, albeit at a slower pace),” he says. Over the long term, one possible solution would involve reducing poverty and significantly increasing the supply of affordable housing, but given the way that the metropolises became established, the question has become more complicated. “Frequently the availability of land for construction and the land distribution market can be obstacles to solutions for precariousness. That is the case in the São Paulo Metropolitan Region. Enacting urban zoning laws and making good land available for planning are becoming crucial—and statutes like the Special Social Interest Zones (Zeis) called for in the Master Plan, now being discussed in São Paulo, are heading in that direction,” Marques says. The consequences for São Paulo, from the cartographic standpoint, are low urban quality and a poor standard of living for a significant segment of the population, accompanied by a decline in the environmental and urban conditions in the state’s cities.
There are no rules that dictate the geographical location of the precarious settlements. In the São Paulo Metropolitan Region, many are concentrated on the outskirts of the cities. “Only a few sizeable favelas are found in the more central, wealthier area. This is the result of a lengthy process of expulsion of smaller slums from the more central areas, causing their residents to try to settle in the few spaces that still exist—all increasingly farther from the city center. The illegal subdivisions, for their part, were already established in the more distant areas and in fact, were responsible for most of the peripheral expansion that began in the 1960s. The combination of those two processes intensified the patterns of social segregation in São Paulo and other metropolitan regions,” says Marques, disapprovingly.
Outside the “Normal”
The Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE) prefers the term “subnormal agglomerations” to refer to the urban zones in which census classification finds a certain degree of complexity, such as embankments, shanties, favelas, invasions by squatters, huts in wooded areas, homes built on piles over water, and clandestine subdivisions. Areas having 50 or more residences, marked by a series of housing inadequacies, i.e., structures not in compliance with urban planning standards, are considered by the IBGE as “subnormal.” The other urban zones are classified by the IBGE simply as “not special.”
“This definition, however, was made prior to the census, since it was used to organize the data collection effort, so the information is out of date. We should emphasize, however that the term, ‘subnormal’ did not result from a mistake by the IBGE, since its use was not meant to express precariousness, but rather to organize the institute’s work. The collected data have been standardized so it makes sense to use them for other studies, but to circumvent their limitations,” says Eduardo Marques. That was the basis for the work by the CEM, which used information from IBGE to identify the precarious settlements and included both “subnormal” agglomerations and the “not special” zones that had similar social and urban characteristics, in order to correct possible distortions.
Definitions aside, subnormal agglomerations and precarious settlements convey an image of the fragile forms of housing that are scattered throughout the vulnerable parts of large cities, awaiting effective public policies. “Housing is crucial, not only for its central role in the quality of life for people who depend on government policies, but because it organizes the structure of a city. This means that it is in everyone’s interest, regardless of social class and not limited to the direct beneficiaries, that massive, diversified housing policies be drawn up and redistributive policies of land zoning adopted,” the researcher says.
The CEM study also examined the management tools used in housing policy. “Brazil has been stockpiling the knowledge needed to develop housing policies to handle the problems that have existed since the early 1990s. The learning process has survived several administrations,” Marques comments. As to the accuracy of the theory, he says: “Certainly the development of diversified policies that involve massive production of new housing units for the lower-income population, the legalization of subdivisions, and the urbanization of favelas is the right path. The technical knowledge has been gathered over several decades, but this kind of policy is expensive and takes a long time,” the researcher says. On the imprecision of practice: until such public policies are implemented, Brazil’s cities will continue to grow haphazardly. As for the favelas, as Carlos Drummond de Andrade wrote “while people are out there counting them, others are popping up,” (Crônica das favelas nacionais [Chronicle of Brazil’s Favelas], Jornal do Brasil, October 6, 1979).
CEM – Center for Metropolitan Studies (No. 2013/07616-7); Grant mechanism Research, Innovation and Dissemination Center (RIDC); Principal investigator Marta Teresa da Silva Arretche (CEM); Investment R$7,109,808.20 for the entire RIDC (FAPESP).