“Investment” in the slums – Vazio S/A

The newest policy of intervention in the slums of Rio de Janeiro: the building of a three metre high wall to “avoid their expansion”. Wellington Cançado, architect and co-organizer of the book  Collateral Spaces (see post Collateral Spaces – bilingual website above), comments on the piece of news.

The Wall
Wellington Cançado

“Rio begins the construction of a wall around 11 slums in the South Zone, noble area of the city.
(…) State argues that the goal is to avoid the expansion of the housing in areas of vegetation. Locations chosen, however, enlarged below the average compared to other communities.”

(Folha de São Paulo newspaper, 4/2/2009)

R$ 40 million, 11 thousand linear meters, 3 meters high: inarguably one of the greatest works of “public architecture” of recent times. Not only in Rio de Janeiro, but in Brazil. Approximately R$ 3600.00 per metre or R$ 1,200.00 per square meter. The equivalent of the high standard of finishing for an “unfamiliar residence” in Rio de Janeiro, according to the CUB (Custos Unitários da Construção Unit Costs of Construction) of February 2009. Nearly one-third more than the default “Normal” for “Popular Building” set at R$ 965.72 and that the single standard for “Popular Housing”. Nearly two and a half times the value calculated for “Social Interest Projects” (who knows what that means) set at R$ 583.50.

However, all this money will not be used to change the precarious conditions of the houses in the slums, or the built of new “High Standard” ones. It will not be used in proposing affordable housing in central unoccupied buildings as well, or in urban areas of the city historically forgotten, or for construction of new facilities, public spaces, libraries and gardens in the slums or in the expansion and improvement of pathetic metropolitan transport system (one of the worst in the world!), not even invested in public safety, or serve to implement any project truly transforming the harsh realities of those who paradoxically have the best views of the “Cidade Maravilhosa”.

All this brick and cement to protect the nature of the illnesses of the city, and the government, which is incapable of facing them prefers to hide behind a wall. After all, “deforestation is bad for everyone,” warns the president of Emop – a government company responsible for the works in the slums, and defender of the wall as a “green” strategy. In this case, soon we will have to build walls around the entire national territory, or the part that still has not been walled and deforested; beginning with the Amazon and other ecosystems threatened daily by extensive urbanization, by grabbing and denatured greed.

Obviously this is not about discussing seriously if the wall around the slums in Rio is really the solution to stop the explosive and uncontrolled spread of the Brazilian big cities and protect the remaining natural areas. It is about realizing how an opportunist political rhetoric uses the common contemporary discourses and exploits the more entrenched national illnesses and prejudices to carry out authoritarian, selfish and constitutionally questionable projects in the name of democracy and environmental preservation.

But what democracy is this where pseudo fascist works drain the public money to meet the most corrupt interests? What if a monstrous monument is built overnight without having anyone publicly consulted before? How can we be so fool and let the future be governed by half a dozen politicians? How come the eternal lack of resources and the constant laziness of the Brazilian politics be suddenly turned into 40 thousand ones determined to save the urban nature? And what idea is this that we have or they want us to have about nature in which we, human beings, are not inserted?

It is a modern utopian idea of course, like all the others that lead the national political engineering, but powerfully updated in its pragmatic instrumentation. Because after all and obviously it is not about surrounding the nature, the “void”, but isolating and immobilize the ones who are surrounded by it, and that until yesterday were outside this huge private condominium which became the “formal” city. What if the nature is nothing but an abstract and extremely instrumental idealization for never stated purposes, the proposal of the wall sounds completely useful to the raven interests of contractors, brokers and apartment managers of the southern zone.

However, the “environment”, unlike the governor of Rio and his followers wanted, starts inside every house of the slum, every penthouse in Ipanema, every backyard in Baixada and every duplex in Barra, indiscriminately, and not the other side of the wall. Such environment should be remembered inclusively in the present public and political practices when it is time to canalize streams, to cover rivers, to pollute beaches, to asphalt swamps and many other erroneous predatory state projects.

Wall theoretically separate enemies, isolate prisoners, divide nations, put immigrants back, hide unwanted neighbours and now we know that they also protect the nature from the men (the poor ones, of course). Walls are usual metaphors of the pseudo-ideological division of the local politics and concrete hardly efficient gestures. After all, criminals leave through the front doors of maximum security prisons every day and around these same buildings, thousands of homeless people use the wall to hold their precarious structures and found there their new hometowns. Meanwhile, in the traditional neighbourhoods, high walls allow the looters the necessary privacy to theirs selective activity; and in the imaginary global cartography, these structures are nothing but Olympic obstacles in geographic scale, challenging obstinate southern athletes.

In times in which the utopias are being built all over Barra da Tijuca and the contemporary spatial paradigm is the island, walls are the tectonic expression of our values. An immediate solution to the uncountable social spatial conflicts and architecture in pure state: “access protocols” that would delimit the disciplinary territories needed to the maintenance of the “order and progress”

But in a time when architects and planners have cowardly given up facing reality, politicians decided openly usurp the public interest and the society staggers dizzy in the fine line between reality and fiction; the walls unfortunately show the limits of our weak daily ecology.

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