Originally built in Barueri outside of São Paulo city in the 1970s, the first Alphaville encompasses 3 million square meters and along with residential housing has its own schools, shopping centers, banks, hotels, supermarkets, a movie theater, and other services. Security is run by the complex and is tight. Now, there are nearly 45 Alphavilles established or under construction throughout Brazil--all the way from Manaus in the Amazon to Foz de Iguaçu on the border of Argentina.
Targeted at the upper-middle class as an escape from the dangers of urban life, these walled communities are the antithesis of favelas, with luxury homes secluded from the rest of the city and providing enough services that means you may not even have to leave. Alphavilles are "planned, self-sufficient, and sustainable centers with complete and planned infrastructure for a rational level of occupancy that guarantees harmony between urbanized space and the environment," the website reads.
And it's not just Alphaville. Eike Batista, one of Brazil's wealthiest men, recently purchased former amusement park Terra Encantada in Rio's Barra de Tijuca to turn into a self-contained neighborhood. The 700,000 square meter space will be converted into residential and commercial buildings in an area of the city that requires a car to get from place to place. "Cariocas like to do everything on foot," he said last month. "In my neighborhood, people will feel like they're in Zona Sul." He said he would live in the neigborhood, too. "It will be a development with all of the infrastructure of a planned neighborhood, but like Ipanema."
It's not just these walled mini-cities springing up in Brazil. Cranes pepper the skyline in São Paulo and Rio as new apartments are under construction, given a growing middle class and a booming real estate market. Open any newspaper and you're likely to see a dozen ads for apartments. Meanwhile, the government's Minha Casa, Minha Vida program for subsidized housing and loans for low-income and middle class buyers is in its second phase. Beginning in October, the government lowered interest rates while raising the maximum value of homes in the program. Since the program began, one million homes have been constructed.
And with the busy bees of construction at work and the sense of confidence in the country's growth, there's little evidence that people are worried about Brazil's economic slowdown, industrial stagnation, or the potential for rising inflation. With record unemployment and continued consumption, Brazilians don't seem too concerned about the economy. On the contrary: the buzz of construction sounds belies any slowdown.