By Antoni Galbany, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – “This was garbage, only garbage,” is the way Vitor Alvez, founder of Sitiê, describes what used to be a garbage dump a few years ago, where Vidigal residents tossed old refrigerators, tires, bottles and all kinds of trash. Today, thanks to the Sitiê project, this place has become a small paradise with overwhelming views over the ocean.
This effort, and several others in Vidigal, represents an example of sustainable development in Rio, thanks to local initiatives that try to improve living conditions for neighborhoods that have been forgotten by city authorities for years.
Vitor Alvez explains to The Rio Times how they started to recycle materials from the garbage dump and reuse them in order to build this garden and a small orchard, now called Sitiê. “With the help of some friends, we started the cleaning until the creation of a small garden and even a orchard”, he explains.
The initiative is little known by the inhabitants of Rio, but it was part of the agenda of UN Rio+20 sustainable development conference. On July 18th, several foreign delegations visited this “green oasis”, as its creators call it, born from garbage.
A stair made by old tires leads to the garden “made by all and for all”, as their founders state. They enjoy sharing this little land with neighbors and curious visitors along with a barbecue or a glass of beer. Among the recycled objects there are glass bottles, which have become colored crystal walls, or old bicycle wheels that are now used as modern tables, or plastic bottles converted into plant pots.
Mauro Quintanilla, another of the five founders of this ecological park, explains how they used recycled materials to build this garden, “a place for all to enjoy Vidigal’s beauty in a clean and green atmosphere”, affirms.
Quintanilla, who lived right next to the garbage dump decided to clean the mountain of garbage which extended down to the Avenida Niemeyer, next to the ocean. Quintanilla hopes that the experience is repeated in other favelas and set an example for future generations.
Other sustainable initiatives in the community are Wilson Alexandre’s projects, an artist who transforms garbage in art, something he has been doing since he was a kid.
Alexandre arrived in Vidigal twenty years ago, looking for the best waves to practice skim board. He started to make boards with recycled materials. The most famous and impressive of his works is the construction of a small condominium made with recycled materials. This group of colored houses is now mostly rented to tourists at the lowest part of Vidigal.
Since 1940, the slope of Vidigal was occupied mostly by immigrants from the northeast of Brazil, who worked in the rich areas of Leblon and Ipanema. Over the years, the community expanded, and people piled up in houses that lacked basic services such as garbage collection, electricity or running water.
After the pacification of the Vidigal last November 2011 and subsequent UPP (police pacification unit), area real estate prices have experienced an increase of up to fifty percent, in some cases more. Projects like this will help improve the quality of life for residents and likely to increase property values even more.