Environmental disasters, inequality and gentrification – 03/18/2023 – Candido Bracher
The tragedy that hit the municipality of São Sebastião a month ago highlights the destructive potential of the combination of natural disasters and social inequality.
The rains that provoked it were the heaviest ever measured in Brazil, but they shouldn’t have surprised anyone. There is a wealth of data and reports, such as the Atlas of the UN World Meteorological Organization, which demonstrate a fivefold increase in these occurrences in the last 50 years. This situation is irreversible and we must adapt to it, as a society, just as we individually adapt to the effects of the years on our bodies.
Unlike us, however, the Earth is not irremediably subject to the degradation of age and this process can and must be stopped by ceasing greenhouse gas emissions, an objective that has become known as “net zero”. But there is another equally serious aspect.
Natural disasters occur most frequently in tropical regions, where additional warming causes the most devastation and where most poor and emerging countries are located. In these countries, the most deprived are the main victims of climate events.
In the case of beaches in the municipality of São Sebastião, almost all of the 64 deaths were found in risk areas on the slopes of Serra do Mar. This population, directly or indirectly, provides services to tourists and owners of houses and condominiums located by the sea.
First, we must hold the authorities accountable. Xico Graziano, secretary of the environment in the José Serra government, in a recent article is adamant: “It is the populist policy that is largely responsible for the disaster… Its authors allow, cover up, almost always encourage the construction of residences in precarious, environmentally fragile territories … [são] councillors, deputies, prosecutors, judges, mayors. They have no party color or ideology.”
There is no shortage of laws prohibiting construction in hazardous areas, but as we all know, the mere existence of the law does not guarantee compliance. In addition to punishing public agents responsible for non-compliance with legal codes, it is necessary to create mechanisms that facilitate their adoption. In the case of summer houses and condominiums, for example, I believe it is reasonable to create specific fees to finance the construction and maintenance of the infrastructure that they will use, such as that required to meet the housing, education and health needs of the population that will meet your service demands.
We can aim to go further. It is not necessary to be a specialist in urbanism to verify that the housing situation in the country not only reflects the existing economic inequality, but also aggravates it, by reinforcing the social and cultural barriers that separate rich and poor in Brazil. Thus, the best infrastructure, the best services, the best schools and hospitals are located in the rich areas of cities, widening the imbalance of opportunities between poor and rich young people and deepening the social gap that separates them.
As a business manager, I have always believed in meritocracy as a way to encourage performance. But it is clear to me that one cannot speak of authentic meritocracy where there is no equality of opportunity.
A major obstacle to the emergence of neighborhoods that harbor greater social diversity is gentrification, which can be defined as the process through which the low-income population of a neighborhood is forced to leave as a new affluent group settles in the region. , raising the prices of real estate and services. An internet query with the question “how to combat gentrification?” produces a huge amount of articles from different entities, demonstrating the enormous concern that the theme raises in developed countries.
Reading the articles shows the complexity of the problem. There are many examples of one-off solutions, especially in the US, where non-profit entities acquire properties in regions threatened by gentrification and offer them to the local population, limiting the possibility of sale, to prevent them from migrating. There are also initiatives such as forcing real estate developers in these regions to offer a certain amount of low-cost properties.
The most comprehensive solutions, however, are based on public housing, offered to the population according to defined criteria. Vienna, Austria, is cited as an example of this case, with 62% of its population living in “social housing”, built by the municipality or by strictly regulated non-profit institutions.
On a recent trip to Copenhagen, Denmark, I asked the guide how much an apartment in a large condominium under construction in the central area would cost. His answer was that it depended, as the law establishes that condominiums have to offer properties of varying prices to encourage the social diversity of their residents.
A month ago, Portugal announced the end of the Golden Visa program, which grants residency visas in the country to foreigners who invest in the purchase of real estate. The reason was the increase in property prices caused by the influx of new buyers, which makes access to housing difficult for the local population.
Behind the concern with gentrification is the belief that living with the diverse is a powerful tool for social development and moral strengthening. In Brazil, there are now a number of private schools in São Paulo expanding the number of scholarships for needy students and applying themselves to apprehending the best ways to work on their inclusion.
Let us not delude ourselves, however, into believing that this is a path without difficulties and enormous resistance. In June of this year, it will be four years since the PIU Leopoldina Bill is being discussed in the City Council, without being put to a vote. The project foresees the construction, by private initiative, of apartments for 853 needy families, who have already lived in the region —near Ceasa— for many years, in precarious conditions. Proponents of the project believe that the main obstacle to its approval is the fierce opposition of residents of affluent condominiums, recently built in the neighborhood.
These, in turn, probably fear that the lack of policing and negligence in law enforcement will create risks and embarrassments to their movement in the neighborhood. It is up to the State to intervene and create the conditions for coexistence among its citizens, regardless of their social condition. It will not be through the procrastination of decisions that this will happen.
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