Within boundaries

Chiara Ferronato

2016 - 2017

Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil

Brazil has witnessed a dramatic spike in criminal activity over the past few years, with areas mainly in the north-eastern region widely considered the most violent. Nonetheless, since 2014 the situation has been changing even in the southern part of the country, deemed to be less prone to criminality and disorders. One of the more notable cases is Porto Alegre, capital of the southern federal state of Rio Grande do Sul, which has undergone a rapid decline in its urban safety. Residents speak of assaults, robberies at gunpoint, flash kidnappings and increasing risk of attack, which has become rampant in a city marked by violence. These episodes take place amidst vast wealth inequality in Brazilian society, and a growing sense of fear and suspicion, affecting the way people live in the city and reshape its landscape. New physical boundaries, constructed as a response, mark the urban geography and underline formidable social frontiers, creating lives of isolation behind defensive walls for the inhabitants, and illusory protection from violence in the metropolis and the outer world.

These pictures were taken in Porto Alegre’s gated communities, known in Portuguese as condominios fechados, between November 2016 and January 2017. The fortified residences consist of groups of apartments or single houses that share areas like swimming pools, sports courtyards, gyms, playgrounds and party halls, all enclosed within a secure fenced barrier – long perimeters of electrified barbed wire decorate the first barrier, found upon entering from the street, constituting the external and public space, which is potentially the most dangerous.

Surveillance cameras are located at the corners of this first threshold that demarcates the internal and external worlds, as they are throughout the entire privatised public space for residents of the condominios. Once the most external barrier is passed, another series of checks, doors and gates finally leads to communal areas and single apartments.

Security employees are active 24 hours a day, along with workers who maintain green and recreational areas.

Since the inception of gated communities, Porto Alegre residents have been offered the promise of safe residential areas within their confines, and over time, the condominios have begun to annex even vaster portions of external public space, auguring a future in the privatised city that is socially and residentially segregated according to income.

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  • "Perigo – Cerca elétrica" is a common sign around residential areas in Porto Alegre. An electrified wire that can electrocute potential intruders is usually the first protective barrier outside gated communities.

  • A quick gentrification process is progressively eliminating shantytowns, or favelas, from the urban landscape of Porto Alegre, in favour of luxury residential complexes equipped with sophisticated security systems.

  • Entrance to a building in the centre of Porto Alegre. The reception area is separated from the street by a gate and a special anti-breach glass all around, with continuous monitoring by CCTV surveillance cameras at every corner.

  • A view of the centre of Porto Alegre, which most residents of condominios fechados consider unsafe to roam and to live in.

  • A resident boy digits a secret code to get out of the gated community where he lives. Sometimes, residents are requested to use their fingerprints to enter and exit condominios fechados.

  • Entrance to a gated community with two main towers hosting apartments. Visitors (visitantes) and residents (moradores) can access the area through two different doors. Visitors are required to leave their IDs with the security personnel on shift for scanning and registering. Security protocol also includes double-checking the identity of visitors by calling the requested residents and inquiring about the reasons of the visit.

  • A security employee at the entrance of a condominio fechado. From this tiny room he can monitor what happens both inside and outside the gated community and communicate with residents, other employees and check visitors out. He cannot intervene in case of attacks, and he does not have weapons, as he is not allowed to use them. However, he can call the police in case of a disturbance. Security employees usually work long shifts, and complain about the low salary they receive.

  • A worker taking care of decorative ponds at the entrance of a communal area within a condominio fechado. Brazilian society is not only marked by vast wealth inequality but also institutionalized racism, a legacy of the Portuguese colonial experience. Racism is reflected in various aspects of everyday life, such as the racialization of the labour force, as seen in the condominios, where most residents are white and most service workers are black.

  • A resident enjoying the swimming pool of the gated community where he lives. In most condominios swimming pools are usually reserved to residents and visitors are not allowed to use them, although on various occasions security turns a blind eye.

  • A swimming pool and a tennis courtyard as seen from an apartment within a gated community on a Sunday afternoon.

  • A basketball/football courtyard within a gated community. Even if is it located outdoors, a net covers it to prevent balls from falling onto the streets outside of the gated community.

  • A resident prepares to enter the tennis courtyard of the gated community where he lives.

  • Residents make the most of the communal gym that is part of the condominio. Here, a personal trainer is available for those who need her.

  • A sports courtyard as seen from an apartment of a gated community. CCTV cameras are located around the perimeter and security employees regularly patrol the area.

  • One of the guardians in charge of opening and closing the gates for residents' cars to get in and out of the condominio. Residents have a special remote control to warn the guards they are approaching the gates, but cannot autonomously open them.

  • The gated community guards open and close the gates and carry out the identification of drivers. Residents can call for help in case of assaults near the house through a special button on the remote control that they use to communicate with security employees.
    Carjacking has become increasingly more common in Porto Alegre, right after São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro in the list of cities with the highest figures of robbed vehicles. In 2016, 9253 cars were stolen at gunpoint in Porto Alegre, according to the eleventh Anuário Brasileiro de Segurança Pública.

  • Armed assaults are also relatively common within shopping malls, which – similar to gated communities – have gathered a lot of activities that people used to carry out outside. Brazilian shopping malls, besides regular shops, offer dental studios, beauty clinics, cafés and restaurants, all under the supervision of security personnel equipped with weapons.

  • View of a neighbourhood with a high concentration of gated communities at dusk, when streets tend to empty due to the increasing risk of assault.

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