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Brazilians hit back at Birmingham 'favela' claims

Blogger says Birmingham would be fortunate to share in the sense of community enjoyed by favelas in Brazil

Favela Coroa on in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Favela Coroa on in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Claims that a Birmingham suburb was turning into a "favela" have drawn an angry response from Brazilians.

Birmingham City Council's planning committee member Fiona Williams previously warned that Selly Oak and Bournbrook was "going to become Britain's first favela" if the rate of student conversions continued.

Favelas are densely populated neighbourhoods in Brazil where homes are developed without government regulation because of vast demand.

But coverage in the Birmingham Post and sister newspaper the Birmingham Mail alerted Brazillian journalists to the comments - and solicited an impassioned response from the Rio On Watch blog, which claims Birmingham would be fortunate to share in the sense of community enjoyed by such favelas.

"Contrary to what the Birmingham Mail and its city's politicians seem to imply, favelas offer a key insight into strategies for inclusive citizenship in the 21st century," it states.

"Birmingham would be lucky to have Britain's first favela."

Coun Williams (Lab Hodge Hill) made the favela comment in a planning committee in response to the latest of many applications to turn family homes into larger student residences in Selly Oak.

In this instance, plans were approved for a house in Hubert Road, Selly Oak, to be enlarged and converted into a property for 10 students, despite it being refused earlier.

Coun Williams declined to comment further when contacted by the Post.

Melissa Becker, a journalist from Brazil who is now based in Birmingham, said the city could benefit from the sense of community in Brazillian favelas.

She said: "I'm not from a favela, but I do keep in touch with colleagues who work actively in these communities in Rio. According to them, several of these places are models of organisation and life in society.

"In this point of view, the affirmation that Birmingham would be 'lucky' in having the first favela in Britain could make sense.

"Historically, with limited financial resources and the Government's help, the spirit of co-operation developed among their residents is natural and inspiring.

"People are not ashamed to say they live in one of the 1,000 favelas in Rio. Moreover, in the last five years, they became proud in saying so, due to the international interest over these communities."

Andrew Schofiled, of the Selly Oak Community Partnership, which opposes family homes being filled with students, said this particular home would "endanger the residential character" of streets.

He added: "The Bournbrook neighbourhood resembles a third world shanty town. Rubbish strewn across the streets, overcrowded, run-down houses with peeling paint and mildewed curtains. Front yards strewn with mattresses and Amazonian back gardens choked with brambles.

"We don't blame the students, this is the nature of short-term rented accommodation with negligent absentee landlords."

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