Engaging Kids to Make São Paulo’s Streets Safer

The ‘Criança Fala’ (‘Child Speaks’) project is building the confidence and skills of children in deprived areas of São Paulo – with the support of the city’s First Lady, Ana Estela Haddad, who recognises that a city that works for children is better for everyone. Other cities can learn from the methodology of organising children to build their skills to make their voices heard, while working with municipal government officials to encourage them to listen to the children’s concerns.

Credits: Juliana Rosa - Prosa e Fotografia

Difficult upbringings in São Paulo

The municipal housing department estimates that 60,000 children aged under 6 live in substandard housing in downtown São Paulo. Many families pay extortionate rents for single, small rooms where they live, sleep, wash, cook and eat. Others are forced to turn to squatting, taking over abandoned premises which lack basic services and are unsafe for children.

Foundation-sponsored research found that almost three in ten children living in these difficult conditions do not attend school, and mostly spend their time indoors because they see public spaces as so hostile. The Foundation funded CriaCidade, a consulting company with a focus on urban and social projects, to explore how to make the inner city more child-friendly.

The presence of children reclaims public spaces

In the São Paulo district of Vilinha, children build themselves a tyre swing; the effects of the Criança Fala project are being manifested in numerous examples like this. According to Nayana Brettas, founder of CriaCidade:

… the presence of children in public spaces reclaims them for everyone. Vandalism and violence thrive when families stay away from the streets, seeing them as unsafe due to gang clashes and police crackdowns. But we have seen that when public areas are busy with children and families enjoying cultural activities, there is less drug dealing and littering. Public space becomes cleaner and more secure.

The project visits families to bring books and toys, play with the children, and listen their stories about their experiences with the local area; it organises craft workshops and cultural activities in public spaces; and it gets permission from authorities for community members to mark hopscotch courts and football pitches for children in public places.

Scaling up and replicating

‘Children now have a positive relationship with these spaces, interacting with them through their play’, says Nayana. Giovana, a local 8 year old, adds:

‘We didn’t have anything before. Most children stayed locked at home. Now, everyone plays on Saturdays.’

Achieving these transformations requires the involvement of stakeholders from the community and private and public sectors, so the project holds training sessions in child participation with leaders from various municipal departments. Nayana says:

In meetings with municipal authorities we seek to inspire them to want to listen to children. We believe that seeing how this works in practice, and the impact it has on improving life not just for children but for all the city’s residents, helps them to understand and replicate the methodology.

Credits: Juliana Rosa - Prosa e Fotografia