The gentrification as a strategy of neoliberalization of Brazilian cities

The gentrification as a strategy of neoliberalization of Brazilian cities

In the article, Orlando Alves dos Santos Jr. shows that the institutional political coup underway in Brazil represents a new inflection in Brazilian urban policy, this time of a conservative nature. The author presents a historical analysis of Brazilian urban policies – from the initial model of segregating urbanism, to the anti-progressive administrations of Collor de Mello and FHC, based on the neo-liberal agenda, down to the progressive period starting in 2003 with the creation of the Ministry of Cities – to show that the conservative coalition craves power in order to enhance the market-city paradigm in Brazilian urban policy. The city is no longer treated as a whole, while the public sphere also ceases to be the expression of the collective interest.

The gentrification as a strategy of neoliberalization of Brazilian cities

Orlando Alves dos Santos Junior

The institutional political coup in the country resulting in the unlawful suspension from office of President Dilma Rousseff represents a new inflection in Brazilian urban policy, now of a conservative nature. However, rather than viewing the president’s suspension, following the opening of the impeachment process, as an isolated event, the political coup of the conservative bloc should rather be considered as a prior ongoing process devised and implemented within the Dilma administration itself. This is evident in the shifting position of “allied” parties and politicians in the voting session in Congress.

However, to understand the political coup and its impact on urban policy it is necessary to go back a few years in recent history and identify the inflections that occurred in this process.

In Brazil, the late 1980s and the 1990s represented an anti-progressive U-turn. Starting with the Collor de Melo administration (1989) and following through the two terms of office of Fernando Henrique Cardoso (1995-2003), an agenda of neoliberal structural economic reforms started being implemented with the adoption of economic liberalization policies and the privatization of state companies, marking a new cycle of commodification of cities. As a result of this development model, Brazilian cities entered the 2000s marked by contradictions – which, as we know, have historical roots – and characterized by deep inequalities in standards of quality of life, citizenship and social inclusion. In that context, living conditions in large cities, especially in metropolitan areas, were deteriorating and urban centers were becoming economic hubs marked by fragmentation, duality, violence, pollution and environmental degradation.

The roots of this process are linked to the exclusionary modernization of Brazil. As stated by Erminia Maricato, “modern segregating urbanism is established at the outset of the Republic.” However, it is from 1950 onwards, when the industrialization process is intensified, that the most profound changes in the pattern of Brazilian urbanization are observed, in a process combining massive migration from rural areas to cities, metropolization, expansion of the middle class and a growing salaried workforce. Indeed, “the urban, land and property legal framework, which developed in the second half of the twentieth century, provided the foundation for the beginning of the real estate market based on capitalist relations and territorial exclusion” (Maricato, op. Cit. P . 38).

However, as of 1990s, changes are observed in the pattern of Brazilian urbanization, largely resulting from changes in international capitalism and the insertion of Brazil in the globalization process, as indicated in the national and international literature. On the one hand, the increase of the outskirts of large cities, with a growing population on the metropolitan fringes and expanding slums and squatter settlements; on the other, the emergence of middle-class clusters and gated communities in the suburbs, producing a more complex, uneven and heterogeneous urban space. The point is that the model of production and management of Brazilian cities adopted in this period stemmed from the combination of processes of selective insertion of competitive and dynamic areas and regions into international capital circuits, the concentration of population in metropolitan areas, urban segregation and socioeconomic exclusion, producing a new socio-spatial order divided between rich and poor, between citizens and non-citizens.

At the same time, in institutional terms, urban policy was not adopted as a state policy. Successive governments never had a strategic project for Brazilian cities which involved, in a coordinated manner, interventions to regulate urban land, housing, environmental sanitation, mobility and public transport. Forever fragmented and subject to the logic of favoritism that characterized intergovernmental relationships, urban policies were placed under the responsibility of different federal agencies. Using housing policy as an example, it is worth noting that, from 1985 to 2002, different ministries were in charge of this area: 1985-1987, Ministry of Urban Development and Environment; 1987-1988, Ministry of Housing, Urban Planning and Environment; 1988-1990, Ministry of Social Welfare; 1990-1995, Ministry of Social Action; 1995-1999, Secretariat of Urban Policy, under the Ministry of Planning; 1999-2002, Special Secretariat of Urban Development, linked to the Presidency of the Republic.

So we could say that, in 2003, urban policy experienced a new inflection, this time of a progressive nature, with the election of President Lula. The Ministry of Cities was created in response to an institutional vacuum, a lack of a national urban development policy committed to the construction of a new project of sustainable and democratic cities. Therefore, by creating this ministry, the federal government supposedly acknowledged the urban issue as a national issue to be faced with macro public policies. Indeed, responsibility for urban policy is now largely decentralized, especially after the adoption of the City Statute in 2001, which consolidated and strengthened the role of municipalities in planning and managing cities. However, due to their dimension, urban problems – housing, environmental sanitation, mobility and transport – require national intervention, whether for their importance or breadth, in which the federal government still plays an important role. Metropolises in particular reveal the importance of national intervention, both to define guidelines and develop plans and projects to drive cooperative integrated policies that respond to the complexity of urban-metropolitan problems in the country.

From a historical perspective, it can be said that both the creation of the Ministry of Cities and the creation of the Council of Cities, both in 2003, and the holding of national conferences of cities in 2003 and 2005, are achievements of the movement for Brazilian urban reform, which, since the 1980s, has been formulating a diagnosis on the production and management of cities and proposing an agenda focused on (a) institutionalizing the democratic management of cities; (b) public regulation of urban land based on the principles of the social function of property ownership and social function of cities; and (c) reversing priorities concerning urban investment policy to promote socio-spatial justice.

From the perspective of the urban reform agenda, the holding of national conferences, as well as the creation and operation of the Council of Cities, should result in a new dynamics in managing urban policies, with the participation of the government and popular movements, non-governmental organizations, professional and business segments. And significant policies were indeed approved as of 2003: the National Environmental Sanitation Plan; the National Housing Plan; the creation of the National Fund for Social Housing and the National Social Housing System; the National Urban Mobility Policy; and the housing program Minha Casa Minha Vida for entities are examples of policies that aimed to decommodify cities and promote the social function of property and the social function of cities. Although urban policy is the responsibility of municipalities, one must consider that this new national institutional framework created a favorable environment for the adoption of progressive policies at local level.

But institutional advances are merely one dimension of this process, which involved contradictions and daily struggles. Indeed, the effervescence of these struggles is noticeable throughout this period, with increased occupation of urban land and empty buildings, public demonstrations for access to environmental sanitation services and cheaper public transport, actions calling for improved health and education services, leisure and culture, among many other claims and urban conflicts demanding common urban goods and greater democracy in the management of cities.

The point is to acknowledge that this process combining social struggles, institutional policies and conceptual reflections developed a new paradigm, or more precisely, the foundations of a new paradigm, identified with the notion of the right to the city, which could be called right-city, characterized by the construction of critical diagnoses of the Brazilian urban issue and the proposal of strategies for an alternative project for cities.

However, the effectiveness of this new institutional framework and of national urban policies identified with this paradigm came up against several barriers and many impediments, not only in conservative sectors outside the government, which would be expected, but in the power coalition within the government, setting the foundation for the institutional political coup of 2016 and the new conservative inflection in urban policy in this context. This process begins precisely the replacement of Minister Olívio Dutra (PT), in July 2005. The Ministry of Cities would then be led by PP (Márcio Fortes de Almeida, Mário Negromonte, Aguinaldo Ribeiro and Gilberto Occhi) and PSD (Gilberto Kassab), parties that voted for the suspension of President Dilma and the opening of impeachment proceedings, until interim President Michel Temer handed over the ministry to PSDB, which proposed Minister Bruno Araújo for the post.

Since the Ministry of Cities was taken over by conservative sectors, it can be said that national urban policy has been increasingly marked by four major policies developed by the federal government: (i) PAC – Growth Acceleration Program launched in 2007, with great impact on interventions in cities, especially in the areas of mobility, sanitation and housing; (ii) Minha Casa Minha Vida housing program, launched in 2009 to promote the production or acquisition of new housing units, or the redevelopment of urban property, for families with a monthly income up to R$ 5,000.00; (iii) the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics projects, with structural interventions related to the organization of those mega-events in 12 Brazilian cities, especially in Rio de Janeiro; and (iv) diffusion of the Public-Private Partnership – PPP model for the management of urban equipment, largely driven by the organization of the sporting mega-events, which encouraged the adoption of this management model in football stadiums, airports, transport systems and management of urban spaces linked to urban projects built by consortiums.

Thanks to these policies, Brazilian cities have become the setting of major interventions with an abundance of resources for infrastructure projects and the restructuring of urban areas, particularly in the central areas, while the instruments to foster the social function of property provided by the City Statute have lost practically all effectiveness, facing different political and institutional barriers to their implementation.

Especially in the case of large urban projects, it is observed that, in general, the interventions in Brazilian cities are not accompanied by policies to promote and guarantee the right to the city, especially the right to housing of citizens located in the intervention areas of these projects, who directly suffer their adverse effects. Therefore, although the general advances in the country in the 2000s with regard to national housing policy, environmental sanitation and urban mobility must be acknowledged, serious cases of violation of human rights to the city are also observed, expressed mainly in the high number of removals linked to major urban interventions, in particular those connected to the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics.

The conservative inflection had already been giving signs of its power in these projects, and the urban interventions clearly expressed a new cycle of commodification of cities, with the most profitable and valuable areas handed over to the private sector and the poor population being transferred to regions increasingly distant from city centers, often located in hazardous areas. One can observe in this new cycle of commoditization of cities the progressive adoption of gentrification as a strategy of urban renovation, understood as the progressive elitization of certain areas of the city marked by social, political and economic centrality, and the simultaneous eviction of the popular classes previously inhabiting these areas.

This process is evident in the context of the organization of the Olympic Games, with the municipal government of Rio de Janeiro directly involved in promoting gentrification by both removing existing political and economic obstacles, thus enabling gentrification through market mechanisms, and directly supporting the removal of low-income communities and their transference to more distant locations. In this sense, the processes of gentrification cease to be merely the result of the logic of the real estate market and become a class strategy of the ruling coalition, involving specific interaction between government and private agents in which policies are adopted and actions are implemented to promote gentrification in areas considered attractive for the real estate sector and large investors.

But the conservative sectors would not settle for the concessions made to the right to the city, and the institutional political coup creates new conditions for this new inflection, enhancing the cycle of commodification of cities. In the first weeks following the coup, the government of interim President Michel Temer announced drastic policy changes, with considerable cuts in social policies, among them the social welfare program Bolsa Familia, the suspension of public tenders for the housing program Minha Casa Minha Vida Entidades (PMCMV-Entidades – a complementary program of Minha Casa Minha Vida for the construction of houses by cooperatives and popular organizations), and the announcement of the creation of the Investment Partnerships Program (PPI), which aims to promote privatization and private sector investment in public projects.

The coup brings the prospect of an enhanced paradigm of the market-city in urban policy, involving the spread of urban entrepreneurship strategies, city marketing, and specific models of strategic planning. Urban policy should be gradually transformed into market relations, in which the winners are those with greater power to impose the profits and costs of government action. In this view, participation would be based on the recognition of the agents as consumer-clients, people with private interests, preventing the construction of a public sphere that expresses collective interest. The city is no longer treated as a whole and the notion of citizenship loses its connection with the idea of ​​universality.

In this scenario, the advances arising from the ideas of the right to the city and the paradigm of the right-city, achieved over the past few years through the struggles of the popular classes and progressive institutional policies, are at risk of being lost to the hegemony of the neoliberal ideology. In the context of the contradictions of this conservative inflection, further studies are needed to evaluate the nature of the new urban conflicts arising from the implementation of this exclusionary project and the ability of progressive forces to coordinate a resistance to the coup and fight for the right to the city as a common good.

Download Dossier What Is at Stake in these Games? 2016 Olympics and the Commodification of the City of Rio de Janeiro.

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Publicado em Artigos Científicos | Última modificação em 04-08-2016 19:27:36


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