2. From seaside to swamp to Conjunto Palmeiras

Fortaleza has a population of 2.5 million inhabitants and is a major tourist destination attracting around 2 million visitors per year to its white-sand beaches, blue-water ocean, warm temperatures and exciting nightlife. Today, one can observe a modern tourist infrastructure lounging the city’s coastal and wealthiest area (Figure 1). However, this area of Fortaleza was not always a haven for tourists and the wealthy.

Figure 1: Fortaleza’s modern skyline

In fact, prior to 1973 this coastal region of the city was occupied by fishermen and low-income families (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Fortaleza’s coastal region in the 1970s

Seeing the potential for tourism growth, coupled with the appreciation of real estate in the area, the local municipality implemented an urbanization policy which involved driving the favelados (a derogatory term for slum residents) out of the area. This urban policy, executed by the Fundação para o Serviço Social de Fortaleza (Fortaleza Social Service Foundation), involved displacing slum residents from the central, privileged districts of Fortaleza to the suburban and undeveloped areas of the city.

The displaced residents were forced to abandon their homes by the seaside and were assigned a vast land in a swampy and empty area located on the outskirts of Fortaleza, about 22 kilometers away from the ocean. While the city was focused on developing tourism on the one hand, its urban policy on the other hand, neglected to deal with the structural and social problems which displacement imposed on the slum residents. The swampy land allocated to the displaced residents was far from schools and city jobs and devoid of basic urban facilities such as public transportation, water supply, sanitation and electricity. It was, therefore, in these dismal conditions that the community of displaced 1,500 low-income families, called Conjunto Palmeiras (loosely translated as the Neighbourhood of Palm Trees, the latter being indigenous to the area ), was born in 1973.

From 1973 to 1981, the population of Conjunto Palmeiras grew significantly due to the additional settlement of migrants coming from Brazil’s interior rural areas. Within a short period of time, Conjunto Palmeirasexpanded into a peri-urban slum of 32,000 inhabitants. As in the case of other Brazilian favelas, this expansion happened in the absence of basic infrastructures and social services.  The inhabitants lived in dreadful conditions with very low levels of, and possibilities for human development.

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