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Creating More Colourful, Liveable and “Human” Cities: the revitalization of Favela Santa Maria

The challenge

We live in a world in which rapid urbanization is placing strain on our cities.

Our cities are growing at a rapid pace, faster than they can sustainably accommodate. In 1800, only 2% of the world’s population lived in cities. Now 50%, or 3.5 billion people, live in cities. By 2050, estimates suggest that the number of city dwellers will rise to more than 65%, representing 6.3 billion people. Meanwhile, the number of people living in slums will have reached around 1.5 billion by 2020, double the figure in 1990. A new urban agenda for sustainable urban development is needed.

Many programmes aiming to address the pressures of urbanization turn to Smart Cities, City 2.0 and high-tech developments, and these approaches tend not to consider people as a central element of their solutions. With billions more people migrating to cities in the coming years to face lagging physical and social infrastructure, it is imperative that we do not lose sight of the human element at the heart of the urbanization challenge. Making our cities more “human” means providing a more liveable and loveable future for us all.

As a company that creates everyday essentials – ingredients, protection and colour – that make people’s lives more liveable and inspiring, AkzoNobel strongly believes that we have a part to play in developing and implementing the new urban agenda. What we call “Human Cities” is the practical expression of our company purpose, and is everything we do with and for society, including “Let’s Colour” from our decorative paint brand Coral.

Colour makes cities more liveable and has an impressive transformational power, as demonstrated by the Let’s Colour programme in Favela Santa Marta, Brazil, a project undertaken with the local people for six years.

The idea

A bottom-up approach to create more liveable and loveable cities through colour and education

Coral started a first project in 2010 in Santa Marta, in the Praça do Cantão area. Coral painted 34 houses and the court of the “Mocidade Unida do Santa Marta” samba school. At the there was no awareness of the scope of what could be achieved in the Favela Santa Marta, but we saw a great opportunity to make a positive difference.

Although we did not have a blueprint for the activities in Santa Marta, we were inspired by similar projects in Medellin, Colombia, and Ecuador that involved socio-political environmental transformations. Understanding that ours would be a marketing project, we knew that we would have to forge our own path.

In 2012, the brand started to work consistently with the Santa Marta community as part of “Tudo de Cor.” Tudo de Cor is Coral’s mission put into practice: to add colour to people’s lives through the transformation of their homes and cities. The key to its success is a bottom-up approach which respects the wishes and needs of residents. By building relationships with residents, promoting transparent processes and being consistent in our actions, we build trust and legitimacy for our presence in the community.

Residents are asked to choose a colour for their home from a palette of 24 colours developed specially for the Favela Santa Marta. Professional painters support the residents, but towards the vision of a self-sustaining project which enables residents to make their own improvements. In this way, the residents feel ownership and renewed pride in their neighbourhood. The many different elements of the project come together through a design pattern applied through the favela, creating a feeling of togetherness and promoting social cohesion.

An important pillar and lasting legacy from Coral to Santa Marta residents is training as professional painters. Several painting courses in partnership with Senai (Serviço Nacional de Aprendizagem Industrial – National Service for Industrial Learning), have trained dozens of people now able to enter the labour market.

Since we started working with the people in Santa Marta, 400 houses have been painted and public areas – such as Espaço Michael Jackson where the King of Pop filmed the music video “They don’t care about us” in 1996 – have been revitalized. Street art interventions with local, Brazilian and international artists, such as local graffiti artist Swell, have also been promoted.

More recently, in the spirit of the Olympic Games in Rio, Coral launched the “Unexpected Courts” project, together with NBS advertising agency. Ten new urban courts came to life in streets, alleys and staircases. These spaces aim to promote sports other than football, such as basketball, volleyball, tennis, hockey and rugby.

The idea is simple and easy to replicate, anywhere, anytime. All that is required is a willing community, a good idea, some paint and dedication to help the people transform their neighborhoods.

The impact

The transformative power of colour at work in the Santa Marta Favela.

An impact survey carried out by Cieds interviewed 431 people, of whom 259 had had the façade of their house painted, to analyse the impact of Let’s Colour. The results indicated that the transformation of Santa Marta through the Let’s Colour insight article is directly related to residents’ wellbeing and optimism.

According to Cieds analysis, 82% of the people who had their homes renovated believe the painting has appreciated their property, and 85% say they feel more motivated to make new improvements in their homes. Of those who took part in the project, 73% said the painting of the exterior of their houses improved their self-esteem.

Just over 74% of the interviewed residents believe the painting helped to make Santa Marta a better place to live, and 64% of respondents believe the residents are participating more in actions to improve the community as a whole. In addition to enabling residents to improve their community and get involved in community activities, Let’s Colour has helped draw visitors to Favela Santa Marta. Almost 93% of the interviewed residents said the painting helped to attract more tourists. An increase in tourism results in an economic benefit for the whole community.

To date, 25,000 litres of paint have been used to paint 60% of the houses in Favela Santa Marta – 400 houses. Over 1,800 volunteers have contributed their time and skills and 53 taskforces have formed. It is a massive undertaking of Tudo de Cor, and still continues to make life in the favela more liveable and inspiring.

The impact of Tudo de Cor extends beyond Favela Santa Marta. From 2009 to 2016, a total of 1,650 projects were carried out in Brazil, 8,455 buildings were renovated and more than 56 million lives have been impacted in a positive way. Further information available at Humancities@akzonobel.com

The barriers to innovation – and the solutions

Process- and procedure-heavy bureaucracies require persistence, flexibility and trust

Projects like Favela Santa Marta taking place within an urban environment will encounter bureaucracies that will require time-consuming and challenging processes and procedures that are likely to test the resolve and commitment of all parties involved. The same is true within a company such as ours; our 400-year-old company had to develop a new, out-of-the box way of working with communities and other partners.

Flexibility according the local reality is necessary, and dialogue with the community will help make clear where the rules or process need to bend. A constant presence in loco helps to earn legitimacy and build trust to make this adaptability possible between stakeholders.

We also initially faced scepticism from the locals who had heard many promises of transformation from other companies, with no follow-through. We needed to demonstrate that our promise was legitimate by staying committed to working together, being transparent and, most of all, by producing results.

The way forward

Continue the dialogue with stakeholders

To bring projects like Favela Santa Marta to scale, we need to focus on the bottom-up approach by engaging in dialogue with the local people. Starting with their input, we customize and systemize the experience so that we are using the right products and services to fulfil actual needs.

We cannot do it alone. We must work with local governments, NGOs, community leaders, employers and volunteers. That means we must develop rhythm adaptation to each community – take into account schedule, language, communication channels and cultural practices. This enables us to reach influencers and mobilize the community in a way that is genuine and effective, and produces positive results that further legitimize our work.

This is one of the ways we can help to counteract the effects of rapid urbanization on people’s lives – by making cities more colourful, more liveable and more human.