Road Widening in Pavão-Pavãozinho Criticized by Residents, But Specialists Defend the Project

For the original by Alessandro Lo-Bianco in Portuguese, published in O Globo, click here.

An alley that stretches merely a meter wide in the Pavão-Pavãozinho favela set the stage for a controversy involving works of the Growth Acceleration Program (PAC-2) in the community. On one side of the debate, architects who plan to turn it into a real, upgraded 5.5-meter wide road and integrate it into the city’s road network; on the other, residents who resist change because it would involve the removal of houses, commercial and recreational establishments. Immersed in a precarious environment, marked by the lack of basic sanitation, poor ventilation and weak lighting, Pavãozinho Street, 400 meters long, is one of the most important in the favela, although currently it does not even allow for vehicle traffic. In the midst of discord, those responsible for the construction attempt to convince the local population of the importance of upgrading.

A date to initiate the interventions has yet to be set, but on Tuesday November 18, the Pavão-Pavãozinho Neighborhood Association sent a petition to the State Department of Works and the State Public Works Company (Emop) calling for a revision of the project. According to the association, about a hundred people, including residents and businesses, will have to leave their location. PAC-2 public works in the locality are two years delayed, so the sewerage system and the widening of the road fell by the wayside. Residents say they are abandoned and claim the only benefit received by the PAC-1 was the solution to water shortages.

“We are against the creation of this street. We presented a proposal for the current street to be transformed into a revitalized path for pedestrians, with urban fixtures and adequate lighting. This intervention would enhance the community’s economic activity, not destroy it. Our project even presents the possibility of lowering the construction costs. However, those responsible have refused and informed us they do not anticipate any alterations to the project,” said Alzira.

In addition to the request to revise the project, Alzira says the letter also makes two demands in case altering the plan is not possible:

“We are demanding that, at the very least, residents be relocated before the removals begin. We also want a solution for the businesses that have been working for almost 50 years in this location. We ask for the creation of a space for merchants to concentrate their activities. In the same location, the Neighborhood Association must be able to operate. However, we have yet to receive any solution in relation to these workers. We also want to know what they will do with the funicular tram that crosses the strip where the road is to be built.”

According to architect Manuel Fiaschi, urban planning professor at PUC-Rio, residents should bear in mind that an initial sacrifice is necessary for the benefit of the entire population of Pavão-Pavãozinho in the future.

“From the urban point of view, the road’s widening is very valid because it will integrate the community of Pavão-Pavãozinho with the city. You break the urban isolation of the region with other urban points. The population gains from the arrival of and access to public services, like a truck to collect garbage, for example. That goes on to become a street address, giving a greater sense of citizenship to residents. It is always important to link isolated points to the urban fabric of society. It is necessary that the population be aware of this sacrifice that cannot be made without removals and relocations in an area like that. Furthermore, the street will provide greater visibility, which will bring more security to residents,” he added.

For Armando Schubach, member of the National Medicine Academy and professor of infectious diseases at UFRJ and Souza Marques, certainly most urban infectious diseases could be avoided with street widening instead of the typical alleys of neglected communities.

“Infectious diseases occur in large city environments with very close residences. Widening a street increases ventilation and allows more sunlight in, which is very important to combat infectious agents such as the dengue mosquito and other diseases such as chicken pox and tuberculosis. There will be greater ventilation on the road and without a doubt this is very beneficial from the health perspective,” he states.

The State Secretary of Public Security, José Mariano Beltrame, also emphasizes the importance of this project. According to him, the widened road will facilitate police action in the community (which has a Pacifying Police Unit  or UPP) and, consequently, will improve residents’ security:

“A favela community is a difficult area to police because it is very dense, has a very complex configuration. When you open a street, the police can transit and patrol, just as all other services can reach and benefit all residents.”

Despite the benefits the widening of the road would bring to the community, businesses and residents are concerned about evictions. One such resident is Reginaldo Franco, who set up a beauty salon on the site 22 years ago.

“To get me out of here, they will need to provide a location so I can work. If I survive today, it is thanks to the salon. My whole life is invested in it. They’ll demolish it and I will live off of what? And my employees? They’ll also be unemployed?”

Deliveryman Dílson Gomes da Silva, 27, who lives in one of the houses that would need to be removed, questions the priority of the construction in the lower part of the community.

“We want to understand what kind of priority this is. They want to make a road for cars to pass in the lower part, but they’re not thinking of the residents. When a fire starts in the houses in the upper part of the community, the fire truck can’t go up since there is no access. The funicular tram doesn’t reach the upper part of the community either. I’m tired of seeing the elderly people who live up there struggling and being carried by other residents. Brining grocery bags up there is an ordeal and everyone needs to help each other. And they want to open a street in the lower part of the favela?”

The upgrading of Pavãozinho Street is part of the PAC-2 public works in the community, which are budgeted at R$45.7 million. The set of interventions, made in partnership with the state and federal government, includes the construction of 76 residences, reforming a complex with 27 apartments, implanting the Largo do Samba, and the installation of a water lift in Sá Ferreira.