Thursday, September 28, 2006

Property Rights in Favelas?

Brazil plans to spend $1 million to map Vidigal and Rocinha, two neighboring favelas next to the city's tourist zone, with an eye towards providing full property rights to the residents.

This may be a good thing (though it's much more complex than the government lets on): but there's much nonsense in the article:

1. "Without title, residents cannot finance home repairs, get credit or mail, or sell their property."

Well, no: while residents may not be able to get bank loans, people do manage to make home repairs, they can get credit cards through the local branch of the Caixa Economica, a federally-owned bank, and there's a booming market in which people buy and sell the possession rights to structures in these communities.

2. "They can also be evicted without legal recourse -- a real fear in a city where entire slums -- known as favelas -- have been removed to make way for commercial developments."

Sure this is a risk, but the truth is that Rocinha and Vidigal (and the majority of the city's 600-plus favelas) have been generally accepted as permanent parts of the city. There haven't been massive forced evictions in Rio in decades.

3. "Rocinha is reputed to be the largest shantytown in Latin America."

I appreciate the fudge-factor wording, but, no, Rocinha is not 'the largest shantytown in Latina America'--not by a long shot. It is the largest favela in Rio (or at least one of the two largest; Rio das Pedras is approximately the same size.) But its population is estimated to be somewhere between 150,000 and 250,000. There are many larger favelas in other Central and South American Countries.

4. "the Rocinha and Vidigal shantytowns"

Does it really make sense to call these communities that have water and electricity and in which most buildings are multi-story and made from reinforced concrete and brick 'shantytowns?' Rocinha and Vidigal are two of the most urbanized favelas in the city. Rocinha is almost fully developed, and a number of chain stores from the legal city have opened in the favela. Why call it a shantytown?

5. "The program is expected to benefit more than 5,000 families in the two favelas."

Hmmmm. The communities together probably have a population of close to 300,000. At five people per household, that's 60,000 families. So only 8 percent of the families in the two favelas will benefit. What will happen to the other 92 percent? What will happen to rents when people become property owners? What will happen to local businesses? Will they have to suddenly obey zoning ordinances and other codes? And what about the huge number of buildings that share walls or are propped on each other or cantilevered over each other. How will those land titles be drawn?

In short, handing out property titles is not always a simple thing.

[thanks to Jesse Walker for the link]

Monday, September 25, 2006

Is Sprawl Essential?

Urban sprawl is constantly reducing the vital area necessary for countless species of animals, plants as well as for the human race. Everywhere, the ecological toll of urban sprawl is growing. Geneva, where I live, is no exception. I am writing a book on the destruction of the last forest remaining close to the city, and it is very sadening to witness the urbanization of beautiful forests with fully grown trees and prairie. After countless such disapearances witnessed since 20 years, one gets a wide-angled picture of what is happening. Economic growth is the mantra leading the political programmes of every major political party. The problem is, with every new corporation choosing Geneva for its location, the population rises. And every new inhabitant induces 400 m2 of infrastructure.

As long as economic growth, as we know it today, continues to dictate our policies, urban sprawl will continue.

The question is, can we have a sprawl-less economic growth? Is there an alternative to what we’re living?

With these words, writer, former squatter, and dedicated squattercity commentator Philippe de Rougemont proposes a new and urgent topic for debate.

So have at it: Are there alternatives to sprawl? Or do capitalism and growth necessitate ripping apart the countryside in the search for ever-more-rare urban land? Is continuing urbanization an ecological disaster?

Friday, September 22, 2006

Good on Paper

At the start of August, the Kazak Government pledged to provide free land to all citizens. But the promise turns out not to be worth very much the Institute for War and Peace Reporting suggests in an article.

In Almaty, the financial centre of Kazakstan, and Astana, the capital since 1997, "the state has sold off much of its real estate for commercial use, so land is in short supply in city centres and the growing suburbs," the new agency notes. Local officials say they simply cannot implement the government decree. "In Almaty and Astana, acquiring even one plot of land is today unrealistic. There is simply no land," Ramazan Sarpekov, a justice ministry official, told the Kazak online newspaper Liter. "When they were drafting the decree, they should have taken account of the realities of large cities which have the highest population density."

Friday, September 15, 2006

"When a house is killed, it is a serial killing"

... "a mass grave of all the things once used to give a home to meaning"

Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish undoubtedly wrote this about Israel's recent bombings and attacks, but it also serves to express the tragedy of evictions and demolitions around the world Open Democracy has the full text.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The Soccer War

Two French footballers got into hot water with the far right when they invited evicted Paris squatters to be their guests at a soccer match against Italy. The African squatters were booted in a paramilitary action by the French government back on August 17th and have been living in a local gymnasium ever since. Pravda has the details.

Thursday, September 07, 2006


1,800 Johannesburg squatters who had been in their homes for 14 years were illegally evicted yesterday, a local city council member told The Star newspaper. The problem: eviction notices were served on the wrong community. The newspaper reports that shreds of childrens' homework and half eaten loaves of bread litter the ground where the shacks were destroyed. Authorities carted away much of the usable debris, so the squatters couldn't even build rudimentary shelters.

Don't tell Mama!

A press release from Abahlali baseMjondolo, the tough squatter organization based in Durban, South Africa, notes that they have been warned not to talk with the press (so much for freedom of speech.) And they face a catch 22: the municipality says it cannot fund its plan to help squatter communities because of lack of funding from the province, but provincial officials say the squatters must work things out with the municipality.

I agree with Abahlali: democracy is about government officials being loyal to the people.

Here's the press release:

On Thursday last week Abahlali baseMjondolo announced that we would use the Promotion of Access to Information Act to compel the eThekwini Municipality to disclose its plans for shack dwellers to shack dwellers. The next day we received a sudden invitation to attend a meeting with the office of the provincial MEC for housing at 3:00 pm today.

We took time away from our work and made ourselves available for this meeting. We hoped that we would finally get answers to our basic questions about what future the government is planning for us when we are told that the slums will be cleared by 2010. We would like to register our profound disappointment and disgust at the way in which this meeting was conducted by Mxolisi Nkosi, the HOD in the Dept. He behaved like an Inkosi berating his subjects in front of his councillors. There was no democracy in the meeting. We were not allowed to speak and when we insisted that this was our right we were threatened. Mr. Jaguja, a respected member of his community, of Abahlali and the Methodist church was insulted by Lennox Mabaso and told to 'shut his mouth' when he tried to speak. The purpose of this meeting was for us to be told to know our place. Nkosi said that he had been getting phone calls from the media and
instructed us to stop speaking to the media. We will not be intimidated. We will keep speaking to the media.

Nkosi then instructed us, making much use of complicated English words that we don't understand, that from now on the province would not be dealing with our matters. He insisted that Abahlali must go back to the Municipality and that the councillors are the route to communicate with the Municipality. We have tried this for years. The councillor system failed us and then the Mayor failed us. Recently Mike Sutcliffe told a researcher from England that his 'slum clearance' programme would not meet its 2010 target because of a lack of funding from the provincial government. Now the provincial government tells us to back to the city!

Nkosi is trying to make the councillors as Gods above the people. We will not accept this. As citizens of a democracy we have a right to stand together, make our selves strong and demand answers directly from government. We will not be sent back to the control of lying and corrupt councillors who take their orders from above and not from below. In some of our settlements our councillors have even tried to intimidate us with armed threats. We have no choice. We will now go back to the streets in our thousands. And we want to make it very clear that it is Nkosi and not some third force that will be making us march.

On Monday and Tuesday we will be protesting because we have been denied access to the housing summit that is happening at the IEC in Durban. We are the ones who need houses but we are denied access to the conference. The rich will be there in numbers to speak the language of house prices and to demand that the poor are relocated to keep prices high. No one will be there to speak for the poor and for putting people before the profits of the rich.

The government talks about Breaking New Ground and says that upgrades are better than relocation because they keep the people near the city where there is work, schools, healthcare and so on. The government's own policy states that relocations make the poor much poorer. But the city and the province want to push the poor out of the city. They are in the pockets of the rich. This is not the democracy that we and our ancestors fought for. There is no justice in this.

We will keep struggling and we will keep talking to the media. Our ancestors were not silenced by Shepstone and McKenzie. Our parents were not silenced by Botha and Buthelezi. We were not silenced by De Klerk. We were not silenced by Sutcliffe when he tried to ban our marches. We will not be silenced by Nkosi. On the question of our right to speak to the media the struggles against apartheid have already won us a victory that we will defend. In this case the law is on our side. We will defend our right to speak.

Democracy is not about us being loyal to Nkosi. Democracy is about Nkosi being loyal to the citizens of this province.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Home vs. Tourism

This is worse than home vs. golf. Squatters who have occupied the Gaborone Dam area in the capital city of Botswana for better than 40 years must be evicted to make way for uses more friendly to tourists, government officials have urged. The squatters have been occupying the area since the late 1960s and use sand from the Notwane River and water from the Gaborone Dam to mold bricks for commercial purposes. The government-run Botswana Press Agency has the details.

Abuja squatters to be ejected

"They are only interested in rendering people homeless," said Raphael Elijah, a musician and squatter in Abuja, Nigeria, of the government's move to demolish 1,500 homes, his among them. This Day (via has details.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Golf vs. Roof

The Mayor of Caracas, Venezuela has declared that he wants to condemn two elite golf courses to build new housing for the poor, The New York Times reports. “We’ve done studies that show that 20 families survive for a week on what’s needed to maintain each square meter of grass on a golf course,” Mayor Juan Barreto said.

While this 'forced acquisition' may or may not have President Hugo Chavez's blessing, the paper notes that "squatters occupy units in more than 140 buildings in Caracas, either illegally or with the approval of city officials. Mayor Barreto, who once pursued doctoral studies in sociology, has ordered more than a dozen takeovers of buildings, including a 96-unit residential complex in El Rosal, a district with soaring postmodern office towers and the Caracas stock exchange. Mr. Barreto made apartments in the building available to families of firefighters who were homeless or had to commute from far-flung areas to Caracas to work. The firefighters now live in 46 of the building’s one- and two-bedroom apartments."

What's your take: golf or roofs?

Friday, September 01, 2006

Zimbabwe: 'Clean Out Filth' Victims Still Destitute

The Solidarity Peace Trust, a coalition of religious groups, reports that many of the Zimbabweans displaced in Operation Murambatsvina 15 months ago are still living in misery, reports.