The Squatters of São Paolo

The wiktionary, which just happens to be the most complete compendium of English words known to man, defines squatting as: “The act or general practice of occupying a building or land illegally.” Squatters are generally regarded as miscreants accused of illicit acts, such as burning down abandoned buildings while attempting to create meth in disused janitor closets with bottles of generic Robitussin. In São Paolo, however, squatters are apparently free to squat where they like and occasionally are even tolerated, just like Lindsay Lohan.

São Paolo is the largest city in Brazil, the largest city in South America, and the seventh largest metropolitan area in the known world (undiscovered Antarctic penguin mega cities might eclipse it). The city is home to some 11 million privacy deprived people with an estimated 21 million in the greater metropolitan area. By comparison, the entire state of New York has only about 19 million people.

As with any mega-metropolis, there is an element of urban decay. Wikipedia (which, like its afore mentioned bastard son, also happens to be the most complete and most accurate source of all human knowledge, dreams, and oral traditions) mentions that urban decay “is a process by which a city, or a part of a city, falls into a state of disrepair.” Basically, as the microcosm economies of a cityscape fluctuate, areas that were once vibrant and profitable can become desolate and abandoned very quickly, creating large swaths of unoccupied buildings. Think Chernobyl without all the radiation and glowing fish.

The Prestes Maia is an abandoned highrise complex in São Paolo. In the twelve years since its abandonment, the building had become a home of filth and squalor, with crime, drugs and occasional loitering running rampant.

In 2002, a group known as the Downtown Roofless Movement (Movimento Sem Teto do Centro) moved in to clean things up. The group built a free library, autonomous educational facilities, workshops, and probably even a McDonald’s or two (participation with McRib specials unknown).

For four years the group lived and thrived in the Prestes Maia until 2006 when the original owners decided to pay a few bills and take the building back. At hearing news of the coming eviction, the “tenants” were displeased and for good reason. After all, many residents had finally found the perfect rug, which had really tied their respective rooms together.

Protests were launched and demonstrations were staged; the squatters weren’t going quietly. Agreements were eventually reached and the “tenants” were relocated. The building now sits empty with concrete barricades blocking all entrances, exits, and doggy doors.

What follows are pictures from, taken when the Prestes Maia was still occupied.

Outside shotPhoto:
No security deposit? No problem!

Boy in Prestes MaiaPhoto:

Reminds us of The RingPhoto:
This picture reminds us of The Ring. Just sayin.

Elderly Lady in Prestes MaiaPhoto:
Amazing photo of an elderly resident of the Prestes Maia.

A boy in a hallwayPhoto:

Fire hazard.

Mother and childPhoto:

Laundry DayPhoto:
Light on the starch, please.

Gutter RepairPhoto:

Sources: 1, 2, 3