Urban Ag and Revolution

They claim to be the only example of rooftop farming in Porto Alegre. Hence, a revolutionary example in many ways. A student of last week’s class kindly offered to showed me around in Porto Alegre including unusual places such as the movement-community-cooperative COOPSUL. Right in the middle of the centre a building was squatted in 2005 related to the World Social Forum marches. The building was long-term abandoned and the movement of (somehow translated) ‘roofless’ people, the urban counterpart of the MST, asked with the squatting for the right to good housing. Their slogan; ‘Utopia e Luta’ which means Utopia and Struggle/Fight.

Against the odds, their fight was productive and they were given the right to stay in the building in 2007 under the condition that it would be a community place, open for the public. The building was turned into 42 individual apartments and community spaces for 5 separate cooperative economic activities; baking, gardening, sewing, laundry services and t-shirt printing. With the years, reality hit utopia from the inside. Tensions around individual needs and collective organisation, around leadership and running the cooperative emerged. It was originally envisaged that the people who were selected for the individual apartments would also work in the cooperative activities. This turned out to be difficult for various reasons. As a result, the 5 activities are not all running in the way it was envisaged and the rooftop farm is still very much in construction and produces for the building only.

Despite internal difficulties, the successful access to living space by squatting is still charged with a lot of symbolic energy. The movement and the building became a symbol for other urban groups and movements and the organisation is asked to assist in demonstrations and other revolutionary activities. For example today, they went out to assist MST land occupation demonstration in the face of evacuation.

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