The public network that can transform Brazil

Image: Elyeser Szturm


To guarantee the future of the country, it is necessary to recover a generation from hunger, unemployment and Covid-19.

The global economic crisis, which acquired tragic contours in Brazil, added to the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, had a profound impact on society and, in particular, on an entire generation of children and young people. Increases in hunger and food insecurity associated with precarious schooling (which includes problems in sociability beyond education) alert us to the impact of these factors on this generation and, therefore, on the nation's near future.

At the center of these issues is the need and the right to live in conditions worthy of habitability. Evidently, this includes having the right to safe housing, access to a minimum income, urban mobility, health and sanitation, but not only that. There are also aspects that go further and directly affect children and young people, such as education, nutrition, leisure and sports, cultural and artistic activities.

We propose here the creation of a network of urban equipment (and in rural neighborhoods) aimed at developing the potential of an entire generation that will thus be able to lead a better future for itself, for its communities and for the country. This civilizing possibility – which must not ignore the serious environmental crisis – can be adopted as a fundamental mark of municipal governments and, especially, the new state and federal governments to be elected in October.

According to the Study School Exclusion in Brazil (UNICEF and CENPEC) there were more than 5 million children and adolescents, between 6 and 17 years old, excluded from access to education in 2020. Of these, 40% were between 6 and 10 years old. According to several international reports (Human Rights Whatch 2021, World Bank 2022), hunger limits children's cognitive ability and development. The unequal access to distance education tools not only promoted an educational gap and compromised mental development, but also generated anxiety and depression disorders.

Despite an improvement in the recent past, education indicators have regressed during the pandemic, aggravated by traditional urban and territorial exclusion. We are talking about the right to the city and human development. In peripheral urban neighborhoods, territories without laws occupied by a parallel power, the State arrives through police violence. Therefore, we are facing emergency issues, but also historical issues: saving a generation, guaranteeing its human development.

Efforts to guarantee survival are fundamental, but they cannot be seen as an end in themselves. They find their raison d'être in the implementation of long-term structural policies that guarantee – among other things – opportunities in culture, sport, leisure and hospitality for the new generations. In turn, full access to the right to the city is what gives meaning to struggles for survival.

A Popular Conference for the Right to the City, held in São Paulo between June 3 and 5, 2022, came out in favor of a combined agenda, considering two large groups of public policies as vectors of long-term social transformation. Those of an emergency nature, which aim to meet the imperative of survival, and those of a structural nature, which should focus on social inclusion and the right to the city.

The mismatch and fragmentation between policies for survival and those that allow the development of individual and collective potential and talents have produced a great social malaise in Brazil. If, on the one hand, life is relatively long lived today, on the other hand, it is often devoid of meaning, meaning and purpose. This, which is the very materialization of social injustices, has been a factor of wide and deep social degeneration, of diffuse violence and provided the ideal environment for the strengthening of the extreme right.


How to approach this new agenda? Does it fit the public budget?

Yes, our studies show that it is perfectly viable from a budget point of view. Let's take the Unified Health System (SUS) as an example: our health system has a network of equipment that is budget sustainable because they are distributed according to a sustainable population and territorial dimension. The thousands of Basic Units, UPAs, Hospitals, Maternities, Polyclinics, Blood Centers are normally expensive equipment, in terms of structure, human resources and inputs, but generate future savings, as the public health care provided by them reduces the needs of potentially more serious cases and costly to the treasury.

The network of equipment needed to start this great cycle of policies for culture, sport, leisure and shelter for the most vulnerable, potentially capable of mitigating the serious damage that this generation of children and young people has been suffering, is incomparably cheaper than the one that makes up the indispensable SUS Network. It should be initiated by the most emergency equipment in view of the immense problem represented by the risk of having a lost generation. Add to this the importance of rescuing the historical exclusion that affects the black population and women in Brazil.

The initiatives we propose, scaled to reach the poorest 30%, have the following territorial logic: the location of equipment, in urban peripheries and rural neighborhoods, must follow indicators of social vulnerability. Let's take the example of the city of São Paulo for this budget year. São Paulo has a population of approximately 12,3 million inhabitants. So it would have 4.100.000 people in its poorest third. If this group is divided into population clusters of 20.000 inhabitants, we would reach about 205 clusters in the city.

The idea is to offer each year, in each of these clusters, a new equipment: multi-sport centers, skate parks, cultural centers equipped with acoustic shells, libraries, projection rooms, spaces for athletics around the soccer fields (many times the only sports equipment in existence), among others that might be suggested by the beneficiary communities themselves. If each of these pieces of equipment costs around BRL 2.500.000,00, an amount that would allow offering equipment of up to 1.000 m² with a high construction standard, and multiplying that amount by the 205 population groups of 20.000 inhabitants, we would reach a total of BRL 512.500.000 (five hundred and twelve million, five hundred thousand reais) per year, for the city of São Paulo. This value corresponds to only 0,61% of the total city budget, which in 2022 was 82,7 billion reais.

It is true that the numbers above show the reality of a powerful city like São Paulo. So, let's do this same exercise thinking on the scale of a state. Let's imagine a situation in which population groups were determined in variable sizes, according to the population of the cities and the proportion of young people in a situation of greater poverty. Based on this, we could think of a web of equipment of the same type, to be implemented annually and spread across the territory of the State. In this way, we would reach the new generations in all the poorest corners, for a total cost that, likewise, would be reasonably small in relation to the total state budget.


There would also be an annual cost for these experiences and human resources

If we think of a policy that can integrate the three spheres of government for its management, the staff (teachers, educators and technicians) can be easily organized in line with the different departments of education, sport and culture, within their agendas and planning , with its servers, further streamlining the general cost of such equipment.

From the land ownership point of view, there is the possibility of acquiring and making land available by city halls and even states, in return for federal resources for the works. Considering that the land acquisition, licensing and works process can take more than a year, these initiatives must be linked to annual budgets, starting new works each year, at the same time as completing those started in the previous year. It is a policy that must become continuous and permanent, regardless of changes in management.

This proposal has some successful antecedents in Brazil. In 1982, with the election of Leonel Brizola in Rio de Janeiro, Darcy Ribeiro proposes the Integrated Public Education Centers (CIEPs), inspired by the Parque School in Salvador (1950), conceived by Anísio Teixeira. The CIEPs offered full-time education, sports, culture, food, medical care activities.

As of 2002, with the same head office as Anísio Teixeira, the City of São Paulo created the network of Unified Educational Centers (CEUs). The CEUs were intended to “promote an education to the population in an integral, democratic, emancipatory, humanizing way and with social quality, bringing together not only education, but also culture, sport, leisure and recreation, enabling the development of the human being as a whole, as a person with rights and duties and owner of his history.” Since their creation, the CEUs have gone through an evolution in their conception, aiming to increase their insertion in the territories where they were located.

In Fortaleza, the good example comes from a network of social protection and opportunities formed by three Urban Centers of Culture, Art, Science and Sport (Cucas) – Rede Cuca – which are managed by the Special Coordination of Public Youth Policies and destined to the protection social and development opportunities. But it is in Natal, at the Ginásio Arena do Morro in Mãe Luíza, built and maintained by the Centro Sócio Pastoral Nossa Senhora da Conceição in partnership with the state school Dinarte Mariz, which provided the land, where this equipment shows the extent of its potential.

Created in 2014, the Gym has been continuously offering the community of Mãe Luíza sports in the form of schools and leisure activities. In a neighborhood with about 15.000 inhabitants, the gym receives more than a thousand users a month, especially young people. In the year 2022, Mãe Luzia won the top national award in several sports, but more important than the medals is the offer to the large number of young people of an experience capable of giving meaning to their lives.

All these experiences have in common the quality of the architectural project, successful results and the recognition (even affection) of the community where they are inserted. Easy to implement, they are the essence of what is meant by the “right to the city”, in the sense of a full citizenship existence in the territory, which guarantees a dense and formative community life, and a future perspective for its young people. They can become a Locomotive Project for the social area, a mark of governments committed to the poorest and most vulnerable, and to an effective structural transformation of our society, aiming at future generations.

*Erminia Maricato, architect and urban planner, she is a retired full professor at FAU-USP. Author, among other books, of To understand the urban crisis (popular expression).

* Ion de Andrade is a physician, university professor and member of the BrCidades Network.

*João Sette Whitaker Ferreira, urban planner and economist, he is a professor at the Faculty of Architecture and Urbanism at the University of São Paulo (FAU-USP).


See this link for all articles