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April 10, 2024

The experience of the Popular Audit in the Historic Centre of Salvador, Bahia, Brazil

The following article presents the case study of the Popular Audit in the Historic Centre of Salvador, Brazil, developed in 2023 in a collaboration between the Universidade Federal da Bahia (UFBA), OPPI, and the Black Planning Project. Here, we revisit and reflect on the main lessons learned and knowledge developed by the extensive network of collaborators involved in this initiative. By sharing this experience, we believe we are contributing to increased conversation about anti-Black racism in relation to planning in both Brazil and Canada.
What is the Popular Audit in the Historic Centre of Salvador?
The Popular Audit in the Historic Centre of Salvador is an urban initiative that was developed from 2016 to 2023 to mobilize knowledge sharing and engaged pedagogy in collective and advocacy practices.1
A collective experimentation space was inspired by the ideas of “Black city,” “Black study,” and “fugitive planning.”2,3,4,5,6,7
What were its goals?
Initially, the goal was to produce a collective assessment of living conditions based on the experiences and knowledge of residents of the Historic Centre of Salvador who are affected by social vulnerability caused by direct state action.
We formed a learning and practice network through alliances between residents, professors, students, other agents, institutions, and organizations engaged with ways of living that diverge from the institutional definitions of the Historic Centre of Salvador.
The project is viewed as an opportunity to co-create capacities and collective practices of restitution and epistemic, patrimonial, urban, and land justice to confront dispossession policies and enclosures that have affected residents of the Historic Centre of Salvador for almost 30 years.
Who participated?
The initiative involved a partnership between Associação de Amigos e Moradores do Centro Histórico de Salvador (AMACH), Articulação dos Movimentos e Comunidades do Centro Antigo de Salvador, and UFBA. Participants included:
• 45 residents and 13 community leaders and MA graduates from the Historic Centre of Salvador guided and participated in the activities.
• 86 UFBA undergraduate and postgraduate students took the extra-curricular component of the Popular Audit. The students were from various programs, including architecture, urbanism, law, geography, Afro-Oriental studies, public administration, social sciences, anthropology, communication, journalism, humanities, arts, and health.
•13 undergraduate and postgraduate students from architecture, law, anthropology, and museology programs contributed as monitors.
• 36 of the students also collaborated in a Social Development Practice MSc from 2016 to 2019. The University College London established this overseas practice engagement in Salvador in partnership with the research group Lugar Comum/Faculdade de Arquitetura at the UFBA.
•19 professors, researchers, institutional agents (a public prosecutor of the State of Bahia), and popular-technical advisors (lawyers, engineers, architects and urban planners) were involved.
Weaving tools for uncommon cities
We moved around the city, involving ourselves in and connecting at different activities, spaces and times and weaving tools for uncommon cities — roundtables and meetings, social cartography, documentation, negotiations, emergencies, protests and street parties, learning walks and territorial readings, workshops, collaboration classrooms, classroom debates, group work, a campaign to reactivate the AMACH community kitchen, film projections and urban art, creation of archival devices and transmedia memorials, production and circulation of a documentary, social translation and a popular translator.
Learning and auditing the city
The Historic Centre of Salvador underwent different protection attempts that led to its listing by the National Historic and Artistic Heritage Institute (IPHAN) in 1984 and the declaration of World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1985.
The state government sought to generate market value in the Historic Centre by positioning Salvador in the network of tourist circuits of global historic cities and mobilizing a folkloristic narrative that celebrated Afro-Bahian culture, at the same time as dispossessing its residents and cultural agents.
That violence gave rise to a protest movement led by an alliance of residents and solidarity sectors of Bahian civil society who together did not passively accept the evictions.
In 2002, a group of residents, mainly composed of Black women who created the neighbourhood association AMACH, joined forces to fight the policy of evictions in the Historic Centre of Salvador. They did not accept the low-value compensations and resettlement in neighbourhoods far from the Centre being offered by the Companhia de Desenvolvimento Urbano do Estado da Bahia (CONDER), the public company implementing the Recuperation Programme. They refused to leave their homes.
In 2005, AMACH reached an adjustment of conduct agreement (TAC) mediated by the Public Ministry of Bahia. The Ministry of Culture, the Bahia government, and CONDER signed the TAC and recognized the right of 103 families (later increased to 108) to stay in Salvador’s Historic Centre. The state government committed to the rehabilitation (renovation and return) of buildings for housing and 13 local community businesses, combined with concessions of use to these residents in the seventh phase of the programme and the installation of a community kitchen, daycare centre, and AMACH headquarters. The local community businesses are owned and/or operated by residents individually but in solidarity.
The TAC entailed the creation of a management committee with the participation of AMACH representatives and those of the Bahia government and other institutions of civil society. This committee was charged with ensuring the rights recognized in the TAC. The work was expected to last 1.5 to two years, with the temporary displacement of residents within the Historic Centre itself and only if strictly necessary. However, this phase still remains unfinished.
In 2016, when the Popular Audit began, it became evident that despite the achievement of the TAC in 2005, the community was experiencing the uncertainties of a transformation process that had been unfinished for 12 years, with old and new problems and issues barely visible on the public scene.
In its first phase from 2016 to 2018, the work of the Popular Audit was to reconnect with the Historic Centre of Salvador and make visible the 7th Stage of the PRHCS in the scene of Salvador’s urban conflicts. We tried to challenge the official narratives from urban planning agents and academia as well the demobilization and fatigue of the community. Black women’s right to the Historic Centre, the violation of the 2005 agreement, access to rehabilitated housing, displaced housing and local businesses, insecurity of land titles and concessions, state of housing repair/condition, housing policy, the guarantee of AMACH's headquarters, and struggles for democracy were matters of interest to the residents.
The expanded Popular Audit
From 2018 to 2023, the Popular Audit in the Historic Centre of Salvador updated its approach. Building on our accumulated experience, we had the opportunity to further develop and enhance the collective power of the residents.
We activated a broader and more heterogeneous learning and practice network, connecting AMACH with Artifices da Ladeira da Conceição da Praia, Associação Amigos de Gegê dos Moradores da Gamboa de Baixo, Centro Cultural que Ladeira é Essa? Movimento Nosso Bairro é 2 de Julho, Movimento dos Sem Teto da Bahia (MSTB), and Vila Coração de Maria, which form the Articulação do Centro Antigo de Salvador.
AMACH brought together 108 families of residents who resisted the expulsions of the Salvador Historic Centre Recuperation Program.
MSTB organized seven housing squats in the Historic Centre of Salvador in which 80 families live, demanding the right to housing by occupying buildings that do not fulfill the socio-environmental function of property and of the city.
Gamboa de Baixo is a community in which 260 families live, located on the coast of Baía de Todos os Santos, with a history of mobilization, resistance, and struggle for permanence, access to infrastructure, and heritage recognition of its ancestral fishing practices.
Artifices da Ladeira da Conceição da Praia form an ancestral Afro-Brazilian space, consisting of 14 arches into which housing was built. The artists and craftsmen living in these homes work with marble and metals and prevented the gentrification of Ladeira.
O Centro Cultural que Ladeira é essa? is a vibrant community centre that promotes anti-racist artistic, cultural, and sports initiatives, such as the quilombola defense project and the traditional Banho de Mar à Fantasia festival, involving the 65 families living in Ladeira da Preguiça. This centre also articulates collective actions against gentrification processes at sea and on land and against risk situations that threaten residents.
Vila Coração de Maria is a working-class village created at the end of the 19th century. It is home to seven houses where artists live, combining arts and the right to the city in the fight against the threat of eviction by the São Pedro dos Clérigos Catholic Brotherhood.
The Movimento Nosso Bairro é 2 de Julho is a space for insurgent articulation that discusses, questions, and tries to influence Salvador City Hall’s master plan to prevent dispossession processes and the social and cultural de-characterization of this traditional neighbourhood in the Centre of Salvador.
Civil society agents with experience in the fight against processes of urban violence, researchers and technical advisors, and institutional spokespersons also participated and are guided by these groups.
The Articulação do Centro Antigo de Salvador, in common with AMACH, has been facing different threats — forms of eviction, expulsion, and displacement of residents; prohibition of their modes of existence — inscribed by current urban planning.
Dealing with these processes, we have engaged in collective practices of restitution and patrimonial, urban and land justice, addressing dispossession, risks and climate change, the whitening on the Baía de Todos os Santos coast, connecting the right to the city and heritage policies and creating capacities for land regularization and social housing in vacant and occupied buildings in the Historic Centre of Salvador.
Outcomes, continuities, and new initiatives
• The documentary Ocupar & Resistir o Coração do Centro Histórico was circulated, exhibited, and discussed.
• After the Popular Audit course in collective and advocacy practices, some students continued to engage. They have been monitoring public debates on city policies, with AMACH and the Articulação do Centro Antigo de Salvador forming collective support initiatives. They are supporting grants and other applications, trying to access resources for housing improvements and income generation.
•Some of the students contributed to the realization and dissemination of the Living, Housing and Working Public Hearing in the Historic Centre and Old Centre of Salvador held in 2023.
Some of them are supporting a new MSTB housing squat.
•The residents of Ladeira da Preguiça collaborated in a land regularization initiative through collective usucapião [similar to the mechanism of adverse possession in the common law] involving FAUFBA Residency in Architecture, Urbanism and Engineering, UFBA Serviço de Apoio Jurídico (SAJU), Bákó - Advisory Office of Engineering and Architecture and Housing, and Urbanism Prosecutor’s Office of the Bahia Public Ministry.
• Contributions were made to enhance the Salvador Conservation Model Canteiro Project, proposed by Instituto do Patrimônio Histórico e Artístico Nacional (IPHAN) and to be carried out by FAUFBA from 2024 to 2026. These contributions include advisory and advocacy practices, participatory plans, projects and research for the promotion of popular housing in the Historic Centre as way of safeguarding the Cultural Heritage of Salvador.
Faced with the escalation of racial violence and dispossession processes that affect residents of the Historic Centre of Salvador, the Popular Audit has worked to build alliances between people, agents, institutions and organizations. These alliances generate collaborations that challenge a general state of indifference, articulating acts of epistemic — and political — redistribution, creating collective competencies, skills and capabilities.
Residents and leaders act as teachers and researchers, dedicating a significant amount of unpaid, volunteer time to Popular Audit activities. Despite the more regular presence of AMACH and Articulação do Centro Antigo de Salvador leaders in activities, there are difficulties in maintaining active participation by residents of the Historic Centre. There is also difficulty in dismantling or reversing dispossession processes and injustices carried out by state agents and private owners. There is a need for alternatives and possibilities for policies and actions that respond to the interests of residents in a more independent relation to the state.
Keep reading
Anti-racist planning practices in Brazil and Canada: Experiences, learning, and exchanges by Abigail Moriah and Glória Cecília dos Santos Figueiredo, which includes the Case study panels of Popular Audit in the Historic Centre of Salvador created by Flora Menezes Tavares
1 hooks, bell (2020). Ensinando o pensamento crítico: sabedoria prática. São Paulo: Elefante.
2 McKittrick, Katherine. (2011). On plantations, prisons, and a Black sense of place. Social & Cultural Geography - SOC CULT GEOGR. 12. 1-17. 10.1080/14649365.2011.624280.
3 Moten, Fred (2016). Collective head. Women & Performance: a journal of feminist theory, 26(2-3), 162-171.
4 Simone, AbdouMaliq (2017). The Black city? IJURR Blog: ty/the-black-city/
5 Figueiredo, Glória Cecília dos Santos; Estévez, Brais; Rosa, Thaís Troncon (2020). The Black City: Modernisation and fugitivities in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil. Radical Housing Journal, v. 2, p.55–82.
6 Harney, Stefano and Moten, Fred (2013). The undercommons: fugitive planning & Black studies. New York: Minor Compositions.
7 Estévez, Brais (2021). Fugitividade na cidade patrimonial: a Perícia Popular no Centro Histórico de Salvador, Bahia. Revista Internacional de Comunicación y Desarrollo (RICD), 4(15): 1-18. ISSN-e: 2386-3730
Bibliographic references

The views expressed in this blog post are those of the author(s), and may not reflect the position of the Ontario Professional Planners Institute.

Post by Glória Cecília Figueiredo

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