1963-2018 - 55 years of Research for Social Change

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Democracy, Governance and Human Rights Programme Paper 14: Communities and Local Government: Three Case Studies in São Paulo, Brazil

26 Jan 2005

  • Author(s): Raquel Rolnik and Renato Cymbalista

These three instances of collaboration fell through during two subsequent conservative administrations from 1993–2001. Nevertheless, the work begun by the community groups, civil society organizations (CSOs) and local authorities during that first Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT - Workers’ Party) administration survived the decade and contributed to important social and political advances that are still in progress in many parts of Brazil.

The first case is that of the participatory budget, a citywide process that involved hundreds of CSOs, tens of thousands of residents and a large contingent of civil servants and PT activists. The second is the case of the Recyclable Materials Collectors Cooperative, a cooperative of homeless and near-homeless men striving to create employment and decent working conditions for themselves as collectors and recyclers of materials discarded by others. The third case is that of Apuanã, a revolutionary model for self-governed mutual assistance housing cooperatives.

The significance of the recent history of São Paulo lies in the fact that the policies implemented from 1989 - 1993 were highly exceptional, even in the context of the PT itself. Nonetheless, partnerships between civil society and municipal authorities formed during this period were not irreversibly dismantled. The authors show that each of the three experiences of partnership between the city government and CSOs that originated during Erundina’s term subsequently suffered in the face of demobilizing conservative municipal power. Yet, to a large extent due to the political relevance of social leadership in the municipality, the adverse context did not prevent the exchange of information about experiences between cities or the establishment of links at the national level. Thus the experiences did not come to an end; and in order to understand the complexity of their evolution, this paper looks at the broader arrangements that emerged. It considers these forces of tension and investigates the consequences of the experiences at the local and national levels.

Raquel Rolnik, an architect and urbanist, is professor of the master’s course in urbanism at Pontifícia Universidade Católica, Campinas, Brazil. Renato Cymbalista is an architect and urbanist.

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