Not only does Vidigal, a favela (shanty town) in the south zone of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil have breathtaking views, it is also home to a hidden oasis. Ten years ago, Mauro Quintanilha began to transform a garbage dump on the top of a hill into an ecological park. The park was named Sitiê, as a combination of the word for “site,” and “Tiê,” which is a characteristic local bird. “The most beautiful part was removing the trash and unveiling the earth. The focus of Sitiê is to transform chronic dumps and similar places through genuine community projects,” states Quintanilha, the musician and artist, who is all packed for Colombia.
Quintanilha will present his project in a sustainability seminar in Medellín. Known to the world as the stronghold of the drug cartels, Medellín now boasts the title of being the most innovative city in the world. Before Medellín, Vidigal’s eco-park was also replicated in Bolivia.
Sitiê has been gaining notoriety and support in the past few years. “We have the legal assistance of the Getulio Vargas Foundation (FGV) and we have a partnership with the Instituto Moreira Salles and others,” stated Quintanilha. The architect Pedro Henrique de Cristo, founder of Cidade Unida (United City) -- a project that studies public policy actions in Rio’s poor communities -- has been giving added visibility to Sitié since 2012, when the United Nations Conference on Development, known as Rio + 20, was held in the city.
Gradual and Slow Transformation
Quintanilha’s dream is to transform Sitiê into an alternative space, such as an amphitheater which would invite music and poetry, in addition to activities for children. Born and raised in the neighborhood, he knows what the park area was like even before it was a waste site. During his childhood in the 1960’s the place was populated by fruit trees. The degradation began when more families moved in. In 2000, the residents were relocated by the Rio government to another area of the hill. The houses were demolished, but the rubble remained. Then began the accelerated degradation of the space, which became an open air dump.
“Everyone on the top of the hill would throw trash here. It had everything: televisions, stoves, refrigerators, dead animals … In the summer it had a damned bad smell. I was ashamed to be living here. I was even thinking about leaving, but at the same time, I imagined a beautiful Vidigal,” recalls Quintanilha. Unsatisfied with the situation, he sought out Comlurb (Municipal company of urban cleaning) and the Association of Residents, both of whom at the time were not mobilized to resolve the issue. So with the help of a neighbor, Paulo Almeida, he began to clear the area. “When we started we had no gloves, no protection, nothing. We were about a year into work when other volunteers, who have been alternating throughout the years, appeared.” Almeida today is coordinator of the community street sweepers.
Gradually Quintanilha and Almeida got other volunteers to help. But the residents were still throwing their trash. The way towards change opened when the two realized that they just needed to be able to clear the trash faster than it was coming in. The mentality was slow to change, but it changed. “Today they are our friends. They help harvest the food that we plant here. The transformation of the place also transformed the people,” Quintanilha said.
Today Sitiê is a 8,000 square foot garden with flowers and a nursery. Rubber was used to fill tires, which became stairs and barriers and flower vases and bike wheels serve as decorations.
Does your community have any converted gardens? How is waste disposal handled in your city? Share your thoughts and city’s stories in the comments area below.
Original article, originally published in Portuguese, here.
Credits: Data and images linked to sources.