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27-31 August 2019
Poznań, Poland
Europe/Warsaw timezone
programme last update: 23 August 2019
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Contribution Paper

Poznań, Poland - Morasko Kampus, room: 3.132

Conceptualising struggles for urban space in Recife, Brazil: Slum politics vs. occupancy urbanism


  • Sven DA SILVA

Primary authors


Real estate prices in Recife, Brazil, have increased massively in areas targeted for urban renewal and upscale development, leading to struggles around the right to the city. Historically, Recife’s poor have occupied mangrove areas, leading to the expansion of slums in central areas of the city. Benjamin Solomon conceptualises this as “occupancy urbanism”, necessarily a subversive phenomenon through which the urban poor assert territorial claims and appropriate real estate surpluses. This paper engages with this conceptualisation by paying special attention to the role of slum-community leaders in the centre of Recife. Community leaders operate as political brokers between the interests of capital and slum dwellers. The case highlights how community leaders organise new land occupations, while at the same time mobilising people living in these occupations to support the construction businesses who want to evict them. The paper shares “occupancy urbanism’s” aim to narrate urban politics beyond policy and projects, while granting the urban poor a distinctive form of political agency. Yet, it is critical of the tendency to equate occupancy urbanism with resistance to masterplanning, since this would accept the primacy of governmental projects in shaping urban politics. The paper proposes that struggles for urban space are rather shaped by an ambivalent “slum politics” in which community leaders have to deal with unbridgeable antagonisms in urban planning. Rather than always being disruptive, the paper argues that the inconsistency of community leaders makes visible these antagonisms and potentially renders slum politics transformative.