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Brazzil - Nation - December 2003

The Brazilian Dream: To Live in a Fortress

Communities like Alphaville in the outskirts of São Paulo, Brazil,
are a sad reflection on the kind of society we now live in. Crime
is making São Paulo a city of fear. People are staying at home
more often and, when they do go out, choose shopping centers
rather than risking going to a particular restaurant or cinema.

John Fitzpatrick


To escape the threat of violence and crime many Brazilians dream of living in closed communities, such as Alphaville on the outskirts of São Paulo. The Alphaville concept was set created 30 years ago and aimed at setting up the kind of suburban life style enjoyed by middle class Americans who had turned their backs on the inner cities.

Alphaville has been successful that it has spawned "franchised" communities in other areas of Brazil. The people who live there are usually middle-class Brazilians and expatriate businessmen. These places are generally spacious and families can live in houses instead of apartments and their children can walk and play in the streets with relative security from traffic and thieves.

Alphaville is not one community but actually a series of closed areas within a greater district, linked by road and open to the general public. This, in fact, gives it a less repressive atmosphere than some of the more exclusive closed areas. I once visited a place in Chácara Flora in São Paulo and was struck by the absence of people, except security guards, gardeners and maids, and the lifeless atmosphere. I was visiting a senior executive from a multinational company who lived with his family in a beautiful big house. In terms of their link to Brazilian society, they may as well have been in Los Angeles, Singapore or Moscow.

While I understand the motives of those who live in such communities, I feel think they are a sad reflection on the kind of society we now live in. Unfortunately, crime is making São Paulo a city of fear. People are staying at home more often and, when they do go out, choose shopping centers rather than risking going to a particular restaurant or cinema.

There was an interesting item in a newspaper a few months ago about Jamelli, a Brazilian football player for Corinthians, who had returned to São Paulo after five years in Spain. He confessed that he was no longer accustomed to the menace of crime and was so afraid of being held up in his car that he had stopped going out in the evenings.

Another player, from Uruguay, said his wife refused point blank to leave their apartment block because she was afraid. One of the reasons why this woman was frightened was because she was a regular viewer of sensationalist television programs shown early every evening, which highlight crime, violence and gory traffic accidents.

The TV stations have helicopters hovering over the city like vultures seeking out blood. One station recently followed police chasing a gunman who had escaped into a wooded area. The police shot him dead and, with the helicopter hovering a few feet above the scene, the cameras showed live coverage of the wretched thief's body being dragged through the undergrowth and thrown onto a stretch of road like a piece of garbage.

To cater to this fear of going out, new buildings are increasingly including a gymnasium and even a video rental store within the complex.

No Escape Crime

Closed communities like Alphaville are no guarantee against crime. An expatriate American businessman and his wife were murdered this week in a similar complex in Barra da Tijuca, an up-market place just outside Rio de Janeiro. In fact, places like this often attract gangs who usually rely on help from an insider, often a security guard, to gain entry. There are also signs that Alphaville is becoming a victim of its own success. As it has grown, the traffic has increased and high-rise buildings are now starting to appear among the houses.

To try and deal with the extra traffic on the nearby Castello Branco highway, one of the most dangerous and chaotic in Brazil, a private stretch of road was opened. However, drivers have to pay a toll of R$ 4.30 (U$ 1.50) to use it. This may not seem like much to a foreigner but, by Brazilian terms, it is a lot of money and has caused uproar among the residents.

There are now signs that it is not only the rich who are considering places like Alphaville. The current issue of the magazine Isto É Dinheiro contains an interview with the inventor of the Alphaville concept, Renato Albuquerque, who says he is now working on a project called Villas-Alpha for lower-income families.

The aim is to set up communities in Rio Grande do Sul, São Paulo and Bahia for families earning an average of R$ 2,400 a month (around US$ 800) at a cost of R$ 40,000 (around US$ 13,800).


John Fitzpatrick is a Scottish journalist who first visited Brazil in 1987 and has lived in São Paulo since 1995. He writes on politics and finance and runs his own company, Celtic Comunicações -  www.celt.com.br,   which specializes in editorial and translation services for Brazilian and foreign clients. You can reach him at jf@celt.com.br

© John Fitzpatrick 2003




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