Porto Alegre – capital of Brazil’s southernmost state of Rio Grande do Sul – was once a run-of-the mill, dirty, Brazilian port city. Today, it’s the showcase for a process of direct democracy known as the Participatory Budget scheme that’s giving all Porte Alegre’s citizens a say in how their city is run. People who haven’t been to Porto Alegre for the last eight or nine years are amazed at the transformation of the city: unemployment has fallen, there’s an excellent public transport system, and poor neighbourhoods have changed out of all recognition. A counter-argument to prevailing neo-liberal economic theory, the Participatory Budget scheme earmarks the bulk of the city’s financial resources for renewing the infrastructure of the town’s slum areas, and improving living standards for its neediest residents. As a result, exceptional neighbourhood leaders have sprung up in the most unexpected places. This City Life programme traces the experiences of two women – both born in poor slum areas – who have benefited from the programme.
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