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For the last three weeks I was in Rio de Janeiro, former capital of Brazil and a land where democracy is expressed through its beaches and Hawaiianas (famous Brazilian sandals that have admiringly transcended all of the city’s social classes and barriers)! During my visit, I was balancing my time between project visits, interviews as well as the UN Habitat World Urban Forum, and the Social Forum organized during the last week of March. That said, I hope you understand why I haven’t written so consistently in the last couple of weeks.

Panoramic View from Santa Teresa (looking North towards the city center and SouthWest towards Botafogo and Flamengo)

To begin, Rio has a total population of 6 million people (10 million in the metropolitan area). The favelas house a fourth of the city’s population. In contrast to Sao Paulo, Rio’s favelas are quite old (Morro da Providencia, the oldest favela in the city, dates back from the early 1900s), and are located in the heart of the formal urban fabric. To paint a quick picture, almost every neighborhood in Rio has one or various favelas in it. This includes the neighborhood that I stayed in, Santa Teresa, one of the older, more bohemian neighborhoods in the city, located next to the city center.

Favelas in Rio-Image taken from the Facultade de Arquitetura e Urbanismo (FAU) at the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ)

View from my apartment in Santa Teresa, overlooking the favela Santo Amaro

It is interesting to note that most of the favelas are located on the hillsides (morros)- originally unwanted and undeveloped land- and as such, have some of the best views of the city. Following are a couple of examples of the views seen from 2 favelas in the city: Santa Teresa and Vidigal.

Considered the “mother-city” of favelas, Rio has undergone various policies and strategies with regards to the informal settlement. Beginning with eradication and reconstruction in the 1960s, the policies drastically changed in the early 1990s with the re-democratization process and a new emphasis on “urbanization” rather than relocation. I will be focusing on the following projects:

Favela Tourism: Rocinha. Rocinha is the largest favela in Rio, housing 350 000 people. This favela, literally a city within a city, with banks and even a McDonald’s. Rocinha has also undergone some upgrades (mostly consisting of infrastructural and roadway improvements) as part of the PAC, a federal upgrading program began in 2007 that I will further explain below.

Favela Bairro: This is one of largest “neighborhood upgrading” programs in the world. Seeking to turn depressed areas into functioning neighborhoods, the main goal of the project is to integrate the favelas to the rest of the city through the provision of services and the facilitation of community interaction by interventions such as plazas for public gathering, community centers, new buildings for social interaction, health care centers, parks and an Olympic village. Favela Bairro addressed medium size favelas and was managed and executed at the level of the Prefeitura with loans given by the IDB. There have been two phases for the program (based on the two IDB loans, beginning in the year 1994) and they are currently trying to get a third loan/phase started. With regards to specific projects, I was able to visit Vidigal Favela and Parque Royal.

PAC: Programa de Aceleração do Crescimento (Program to Accelerate Growth/Development). The PAC was initiated in January of 2007 by President Lula, aiming to address the larger favelas. In contrast to the Favela Bairro, the PAC is financed with federal funds (projecting a total of $503,9 billion Reales until the year 2010) and specifically focuses on three (3) favelas: Rocinha, Complexo Manguinhos and Complexo Alemao. From these, I visited Complexo Manguinhos (as well as Rocinha).

Urban Cell. In Partnership with the Bauhaus-Dessau Foundation, Luciana Petersen, former director of the Favela Bairro Project, along with former mayor Cesar Maia undertook this project as an extension and potential improvement of former upgrading programs. The intervention focuses on a redefinition of a “block” aiming to construct a “contagious cell” for the rest of the settlement/city (through the use of semi-public spaces, a larger focus on vertical development the creation of new social, cultural, economic and political centers). The Urban Cell project began with favela Jacarezhino in 2000, and was continued with Morro da Providencia’s “Providencia Hill Open Museum” in 2001. Although I was not able to speak to Lu Petersen, nor was I able to see the intervention in Jacarezhino (which is the emblematic project for the “Urban Cell”), I did manage to visit of Morro da Providencia

UPP intervention: Unidade Pacificadora da Policia. This is a project from the Secretaria de Segurança Pública do Rio de Janeiro, aiming to disarm and disable the bands and drug traffickers controlling some of the favelas. My understanding is that the UPP, this special police force, enters the favela and forces drug dealers give up their arms and thus, their power in the favela. After this military domination, comes a physical transformation  (including the construction of creation of police posts in specific locations of the favela). As an example of a UPP take over, I was able to visit the Morro Santa Marta, the first “liberated” favela.

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