02 junho, 2011

Can Informalization be a revitalization factor of the city?


In our understanding of the City we must acknowledge it as a place of contradictions and conflicts¹, and so Formal Urbanism and informal actions are two extreme modes of creating and appropriate urban space, and so Housing dwellings.

As strange this must sound informal business and transactions are fundamental for major cities global economies which result in a phenomenon where two different classes (low and high-income workers) have to fight for their right for stay and use the City, a right for Housing and Social Facilities.

In Brazil 6.6 millions of individuals don’t have a place they can call Home, 30 millions live in precarious housing conditions, while in the 2010 Census was proven that the number of vacant dwellings is larger than the housing deficit in Brazil².

This created a guerrilla phenomenon where homeless people started to occupied abandoned buildings right in the center of cities as São Paulo or Rio de Janeiro. Nevertheless, the huge speculation that controls the real-estate markets in these cities compel that others classes also have to enter into this process in order to have access to low-cost spaces for ateliers, products shops, art galleries, boutiques.

This informal actions might be a way of fighting gentrification, a process of downgrading “low-cost equivalent of gentrification”³ that will generate a social and economic dynamic and will create a more democratic and transversal cities for the future, avoiding the dying process of cities central areas.

Also the Federal Republic of Brazil Constitution specifically states that each Brazilian as the right to have a house and property should reflect a social function. These gives somehow legal basis for an informalization process that is happening in the city centers, which might be a solution for the death of cities.

São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro city centre are references concerning urban polis in South America. Equipped with a vast and complex infrastructure and services network, with an important architectural patrimony, is nevertheless under-use, pierced by numerous empty plots and abandoned buildings resulting in the decrease of inhabitants in the city centre. This situation as helped to create a fake lack of housing offer, increasing exponentially the price for square meter, banishing the lower-income classes to the outskirts slams, reducing the economy vitality and social variety and dynamic in the centre³.


In the present situation the underprivileged social classes occupy the ruins of these abandoned buildings, operating for the recapture of urban space which are constantly excluded from, building a process of reclaiming the city.

It’s my belief that the entrepreneurism of the low-income social groups, and their understanding of public space make them use the city as a resource to create opportunities to improve their lives, economically and socially, and trough that the urban and private space is somehow altered, redesigned, new uses are re-invented. An informalization process takes place with the qualities recognized in it. I believe that it would be reasonable to acknowledged that the dynamic and enthusiastic urban life characterizing Brazil slums might contaminate the city with a more cultural and diverse social environment, that it once had.

The recognition of the actors involved in this fight for the urban voids in the city centre, the understanding of how the central residual urban spaces are generated, who occupies them, how they are occupied, and how happens their subsequent dismemberment, or revitalization will define my route through this investigation, assuming that in the end I might be able to respond affirmably to my first question: Can Informalization be a revitalization factor of the city?

For the research, was defined two case studies occupations of abandoned buildings, one located in the neighbourhood of Luz, at the centre of São Paulo: Ocupação Prestes Maia, and the other in Rio de Janeiro, the former Instituto Nacional de Colonização e Reforma Agrária (INCRA): Ocupação Chiquinha Gonzaga.

1. RAMOS, Diana. (2009). “A Guerra dos Lugares – nas ocupações de edifícios abandonados do centro de São Paulo”.

2. DANTAS, D., ALBUQUERQUE, E., STREIT, P., Souza, R. (2007). “Direito à moradia – Famílias ocupam prédios abandonados para sobreviver”.

3. SASSEN, Saskia. (1997). “Ethnicity and Space in the Global City: A New Frontier?”


Images and text credits: João Amaral

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