Sunday, December 12, 2010

Sau Paulo-in which I became reminiscent on my hometown, Gang Neung

Sao Paulo, an another Gang Neung in my mind

   Exploring HIGHRISE transferred pictures of other cities that I have never imagined. Especially, what shook my mind was a window of Sao Paulo. A short film of Sao Paulo showed me numerous problems within the city. At that moment, I thought about my hometown, Gang Neung. Each of four sequences of the film, “Highrise squat”, “Everybody’s baby”, “Neighbors”, and “Picture of my past/future”, illuminated a specific problem that exists in Sao Paulo. Subsequently, each of the sequences also brought up a possible solution for the problem. Though there were several differences between Gang Neung and Sao Paulo in terms of insights I got from HIGHRISE, I found Sao Paulo to become another hometown in my mind.

The first sequence, “Highrise squat” showed the corrupt political infrastructure of municipal government of Sao Paulo. There was a 22-storey highrise built in the 1990s. The owner didn’t care about it; the building had been closed and left in a rundown condition for years. It served as a shelter for rats and cockroaches. Since there were numerous homeless on the streets, some of them cleaned out tonnes of rubbish and litter, estimated 100 trucks to be exact. They made a small world for all. New residents took other homeless to their shelter, and provided them with social necessities. New residents built a free library within the highrise, and hosted autonomous educational activities (such as free school, etc). The building was worth being called a major laboratory of experiments in organizing a real human renewal of downtown Sao Paulo. The problem broke out on November 3rd, 2002. The building was to be returned to its legal owner. In the previous 15 years, the legal owner had accumulated a debt in municipal taxes of some 2.2 million US dollar, roughly equal to the value of the building at that time. The problem was that the new residents were to be evicted from the building to ‘the streets or elsewhere.’ The pioneers’ original goal was to transform the building and to give free access to people with low-income. More than 200 people congregated in front of Presetes Maia, the name of the building, and required a solution such as financial aid or relocation. A gradual removal of the residents to other locations in downtown Sao Paulo was undertaken, with varying degrees of government promises and assistance. A building is still closed and barricaded with concrete blocks. Though it is still unused, Presetes Maia became a symbol of struggle and victory for many Brazilians. Also, it shows the power of humble people against corrupt political infrastructure.

Gang Neung, my hometown, had a similar problem. For exploitation, some people including my grandfather were ordered to leave the rural area where they had lived for more than 20 years. There were not many highrises in the rural area; the highest was a 7-storey-tall apartment. Since the apartment named “Hye-Chung” was endangered to be destroyed, residents including my grandfather resisted against the municipal government like those of Sao Paulo. Their argument was simple: the city should not exploit the rural area because the nature can be polluted. What uniquely identified the political infrastructure of Gang Neung from others was that the municipal government was flexible enough to accommodate citizens’ requirement. The city council admitted the request, and my grandfather’s rural area could be kept. Until now, the area has become one of the most popular pure areas that attract many visitors from other cities.

The second and third sequences shed light on the problems of drug addicts and homeless people. A hippie girl who shows up in the second sequence is a drug addict. She and her brother indicate two significant troubles in Sao Paulo; homeless children and drug addicts. In reality, there are a number of homeless children on the streets. The children cannot bear the harsh situation, and become drug addicts. The teller of the story, Ivaneti, said that she was a coordinator of the Downtown Homeless Movement; since 1998, more than 30 buildings were reclaimed. This movement aimed to offer homeless people shelters. There are more than 400 buildings that have no social purpose now. This phenomenon is one of the most ironical situations, for there are also numerous homeless people in the city. The homeless are prone to develop social problems. Moreover, there are a number of homeless children. They don’t have the ability to scrape by, so ‘vulnerable’ to social problems. That is, they are easily addicted to drugs, and cause juvenile delinquencies-since they cannot find a means of living. As for Sao Paulo, the city is trying to solve the problem of homeless people by depending on autonomous civic movements. Hence, volunteers including Ivaneti established the Downtown Homeless Movement, and have tried to find a breakthrough until now.

The fourth scene, “Picture of my past/future”, suggests the city to change its focus. The municipal government of Sao Paulo had realized that a “development” is needed; however, it failed to focus on the right subject. It only aimed at ‘buildings’, and the contour of the city. Old buildings were destroyed, and new ones filled the empty places. The area in which new buildings congregated was called “Bario da Luz,” and seemed to make Sao Paulo a better city to live. Nevertheless, fundamental social problems have not been solved. Even now, citizens of Sao Paulo suffer from drug addiction, alcoholism, high crime rates, etc. The city’s revitalization project should alter its subject-from buildings to people.

   From the film of Sao Paulo, I could find a significant point Gang Neung’s citizens and municipal government should take into account. Gang Neung has concentrated its financial and humanistic efforts only on physical development. As a result, Gang Neung is now an internationally well-known city for its beautiful seashore and picturesque lakeside. Nevertheless, the crime rate is quite high and doesn’t seem to decrease. Isn’t it a trivial result considering that Gang Neung has not focused on human beings? Rather than physical development, a different focus-on human beings-is needed.

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