São Luís, fragmented city

Image: Hamilton Grimaldi


Considerations about the urban space of the capital of Maranhão

Two decades into the XNUMXst century, São Luís, capital of the State of Maranhão, insists on having an uncomfortable fate: the ineffectiveness of administrative management with its consequent inability to promote inclusive urban public policies. The astonishing result of not performing this task is to live in a spatially fragmented city, where different social classes are distributed in very well defined and delimited territories.

Thus, this fragmentation brings together, at one extreme, territories with vertical and horizontal condominiums, enclaves in places where the street is just a place of passage – predominantly for motor vehicles – that borders the high and electrified walls, and gives access to the automatic gates of the properties. On the other hand, it covers the peripheral territories, where the street is like an extension of the houses, the neighborhoods have an intense sociability, the neighborhood relations are rich, conflicting and sometimes also solidary, there is a whole socio-spatial fabric with specific characteristics, typical of the informal city, with its rules and norms, since the presence of public power is residual.

Although there are clear differences in territories of the Ludovicense intra-urban space, delimited by infrastructural distinctions and apparent services, the result of power relations, omnipresent problems are noted in almost the entire municipality and the omission of instituted political powers, which seem unrelated, is surprising. to adversities.

One of the most impertinent problems in São Luís is the deficient water supply. Composed of 3 interconnected supply systems (Italuís/Sacavém-Batatã/Paciência I and II), with 285 deep wells, São Luís suffers from a lack of water in thousands of homes on a daily basis, it is not uncommon, for example, that pipes from the Italuís System – which supplies 60% of the capital of Maranhão – suffer disruptions, affecting the lives of thousands of people[1].

It is quite common for territories on the island, with populations from all social classes, to be serviced with water trucks, a business that has become profitable in the city due to serious supply failures, a fact that brings us to Ana Jansen, figure powerful member of the Maranhão aristocracy in the XNUMXth century, holder of the monopoly of water in São Luís in the century at the time, a period in which their slaves sold water in wagons, coming from the sources of their properties in Apicum and Vinhais.

As if the deficiencies in the water supply were not enough, São Luís suffers from not treating a large part of its sewage. According to data from the National Sanitation Information System (SNIS), São Luís had 47,7% of the city connected to the collection network in 2018, that is, less than half of the city would be covered by sewage services, and only 11,04% of sewage was treated[2]. It is no coincidence that bathing conditions on the city's beaches are almost always critical, unsuitable for bathing most of the year.

Regardless of the neighborhood, the city proliferates burst drains, sometimes without covers, streets and avenues with holes, open sewers without maintenance, insufficient galleries for the drainage of rainwater, in addition to grounded valley bottoms and polluted rivers. Recent extreme weather events, such as sudden variations in heat, humidity and torrential rain, as well as localized winds and cyclones, causing flooding and damage, only contribute to worsening the situation of a city that is dying.

In recent decades the city has expanded a lot, both towards the north (neighborhoods of Calhau, Renascença I and II, Ponta D'areia, Ponta do Farol, etc.) and east (neighborhoods of Cohab, Cohatrac, Turu, Forquilha, etc.) .) of the municipality, as well as to the territories of Itaqui-Bacanga (neighborhoods of Anjo da Guarda, Fumacê, Jambeiro, Gapara, Mauro Fecury I and II, etc.) and also towards the mangroves and other areas of environmental protection.

The city crumbles in the midst of increasing inequalities, urban land – mainly in the neighborhoods of former housing complexes and other territories located to the north of the municipality – has become an extremely expensive commodity, which makes possible the presence of a stock of urban voids walled buildings that keep increasing in value due to speculation, in addition to ready-made housing developments that cannot be sold easily. This caused subdivisions and construction of new condominiums and housing to be directed towards the neighboring municipalities of São José de Ribamar and Paço do Lumiar through avenues such as General Arthur Carvalho and also Holandeses/MA-203, where land stocks are greater. and also cheaper. On the other hand, this process has determined the even greater distance of impoverished populations that live in increasingly distant places that lack transport, sanitation and other urban equipment.

In the midst of the increase in urban poverty, reflected in the significant increase in subnormal agglomerations, in which the capital of Maranhão has a shameful position of prominence on a national scale[3], the proposal for revising the Participatory Master Plan of the municipality is in the Chamber of Councillors. Bearing in mind that, as a legal instrument, the Master Plan guides the policy for development and urban expansion within municipal boundaries.

After dozens of meetings at the City Council (CONCID) for the construction of the proposal, a field of forces and disputes was formed, on the one hand the public power and the business community of the real estate sector act with common interests to the detriment of the concrete needs of most of the city's population, represented by other sectors of civil society in CONCID. There were public hearings that also generated fierce debates, finally a bill was presented that can be characterized as exclusionary, since its primary objective is to offer legal guarantees for the implementation of a private port terminal in the bay of São Marcos, captained by a partnership between China Communications Construction Company (CCCC), the largest infrastructure company in China, and the national construction company WTorre.

The geographical conditions of São Marcos Bay – MATOPIBA's main port region – are very favorable to the accumulation of capital for large mining companies and also for Brazilian agribusiness, because it has the following characteristics: 1. Deep draft[4]; 2. Proximity to the largest consumer centers of commodities in the world and 3. Logistics and infrastructure that facilitates the flow of production directly from its origin, through the interconnection of the North-South and Carajás-São Luís Railways. The developmental discourse coming from the companies to carry out the Porto Sao Luis is seductive, foresees the generation of 4 thousand direct jobs[5] and investments of up to R$ 2 billion in the municipality[6].

The State and the Municipality are working to ensure that the project succeeds, which is why approval of the Master Plan is urgently needed, which proposes to transform what is now part of the Rural Area and its various communities into an Urban Area. Public authorities, with legal support, have already used police forces to forcibly remove residents who refused to leave their territories, as in the emblematic case of Cajueiro.[7], as they would be occupying privately owned places. This phenomenon, called by David Harvey[8] of “Spatial Adjustment”, allows the creation of conditions for a hyper-accumulation of capital in specific places, creating disorder and chaos, such as the expulsion of local inhabitants from their territories, environmental degradation and consequently the production of a geographic differentiation that concentrates and tensions productive forces x workforce.

In addition to the government, local urban rentiers are also in favor of building Porto São Luís. But what are the interests of local real estate entrepreneurs in their construction? During public hearings and in the minutes of CONCID meetings, they defended and voted to expand the Urban Zone. The builders are targeting a new territorial front to earn new profits and rents, represented by a territory subject to appreciation, that is, a retroport area that will occupy 1,5 million m² in the south and southwest portion of São Luís, an emerging business that will serve support the goals of big capital. Such agents, in their speeches at the hearings, went so far as to state that, if the port terminal were to be installed, São Luís could become a kind of “Brazilian Singapore”, because they have in common the fact that they are island spaces with similar extensions, of port vocation and strategic geographic position, which in fact constitutes a true discursive fraud, given the profound differences in the political-economic, historical, social and cultural structure between São Luís and the Asian City-State.

In this way, there is a great and permanent clash in Brazilian cities, the conflict between real estate capital and workers, who, due to the intense expansion of the urban frontier, transform the livelihoods and housing of the poor, pushed increasingly to unhealthy places. , insecure and distant. The urban legislation of São Luís has fulfilled this harmful role, either with the projects of the Programa My home, my life in isolated spaces and without infrastructure in the municipality, or offering the conditions for the occurrence of the expanded reproduction of the capital, as in the case of Porto São Luís.

Therefore, it is necessary to expose what has been happening with the management and urban planning on the large island of Maranhão, which is agonizing due to expropriations and evictions, due to the violence and death of poor and black inhabitants, which is incapable of promoting structural public policies for land regularization , the creation of new housing of social interest and the raising and allocation of resources for the implementation of spaces for leisure, health and education in the periphery. It is necessary to act in an integrated way when thinking about the city, uniting the different entities of the federation in the search for the allocation of resources to target the essentials of the city: the right to decent housing, drinking water, basic sanitation, culture, good and diversified food, free public education in quality schools and accessible public health services, rights that have historically been usurped by needy and marginalized populations.

Public power – above all São Luís City Hall – is silent in relation to the poor and vulnerable in the city, the establishment of urban legislation in the last five decades has never served to change the structures of society in Ludovic. While recognizing important attempts, such as the establishment of Social Interest Zones (since the Master Plan and Zoning of 1992) and an expansion of the participation of different and diversified sectors and agents of civil society in the formulation of laws (due to the advent of of the City Statute from 2001), in practice, the legislation has been inoperative in essential issues, such as the non-effectiveness of urban instruments to resolve inequalities in the urban space. Likewise, the laws are efficient in meeting the interests of the private sphere, mainly those linked to the real estate sector, such as the increase in the number of floors intended exclusively for parking in buildings in 2011, an illegal modification, carried out in secret, infringing the law of zoning, land use and occupation.

One cannot fail to mention the resistance movements in the city: organized social entities, intellectuals, community radios, collectives, journalists, activists, unions, NGOs, populations affected by injustices, and some sectors of justice and the Public Ministry have assumed central roles. in discussions about the laws and therefore, acting in a way to make complaints and disputes about any arbitrariness and illegalities.

Only then, with intense participation, knowing how to act in the multiple arenas of public debate, appropriating political and technical knowledge and understanding the contradictions of the place and its articulation with the world, will we be able to try to remove São Luís from its state of neglect. And like Milton Santos[9] taught us, “what really counts is the time of the possibilities actually created (…) what we call empirical time, whose changes are marked by the irruption of new objects, new actions, relationships and new ideas”.

* Luiz Eduardo Neves dos Santos, geographer, is a professor at the Federal University of Maranhão (UFMA).


[1]Available in: https://imirante.com/maranhao/noticias/2018/04/29/adutora-do-sistema-italuis-se-rompe-e-afeta-mais-de-150-bairros-em-sao-luis.shtml. Accessed on 14 Aug. 2020.

[2]Available in: http://www.snis.gov.br/diagnostico-anual-agua-e-esgotos/diagnostico-dos-servicos-de-agua-e-esgotos-2018. Accessed on 14 Aug. 2020

[3]Available in:https://g1.globo.com/ma/maranhao/noticia/2020/05/19/sao-luis-e-a-5a-capital-brasileira-com-maior-percentual-de-habitacao-em-aglomerados.ghtml.Accessed on 14 Aug. 2020.

[4] Which allows the docking of the largest bulk carriers in the world. 

[5]Available in:https://www.opetroleo.com.br/construcao-do-porto-sao-luis-e-lancada-e-vai-gerar-4-mil-empregos-diretos/. Accessed on 14 Aug. 2020.

[6]Available in: https://economia.uol.com.br/noticias/reuters/2019/11/13/china-anunciara-investimento-bilionario-em-porto-de-sao-luis-atraves-da-cccc-dizem-fontes.htm. Accessed on 14 Aug. 2020.

[7] Available in: https://apublica.org/2019/09/no-maranhao-governo-nao-quer-assumir-que-quer-a-obra-diz-promotor-sobre-caso-cajueiro/. Accessed on 15 Aug. 2020

[8]HARVEY, David. Spaces of Hope. 2nd ed. São Paulo: Edições Loyola, 2006. 382p.

[9]SANTOS, Milton. For another globalization: from single thought to universal consciousness. 3rd ed. Rio de Janeiro: Record, 2000. 175p.

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