Favela is the name given to a bean pod, which grows in the Northeast savanna of Brazil. Although the term was originally used to designate one of the disordered occupations in the hills, it was quickly generalized and extended to all of the informal settlements in the city. The Carioca favelas began to expand in 1904 with Mayor Pereira Passos’ urban and sanitary reforms. One the one hand, the projects to modernize the city resulted in the construction of new streets, avenues, buildings, yet on the other, in the demolition of various houses in the center. Quite rapidly, the poorer populations began to move to the hillsides in order to avoid the consequences of the urban reform.

The migrants and settlers in favelas come from all over the country, but particularly from the North of Brazil. In the 1930s, Rio was capital and industrial center of Brazil, and as such, a big attraction as a source for employment (especially since the rural society and production had adopted new policies and changes, leading to a mechanization and a transfer of certain production methods to urban center).

New migrants in Rio- image taken from "Favela Bairro" published by the Prefeitura of Rio and the IDB


Just as many of Rio’s favelas have been present since the early 1900s, urban and social policies regarding informal settlements are not new. We could simplify the history into 2 larger moments of interventions.

The first- from 1960s to mid 1970s- consisted in a large process of eradication and relocalization, pushing large population to the outskirts of the city, where large social housing complexes where being constructed. In 1964 the Coup d’Etat took place, and the national bank of housing was formed. It is important to note that at this time, as the former capital of Brazil, Rio had much more financial funds and specially support from the exterior (for the example, Pres. Kennedy gave a lot of support to the city- to the extent that one of the housing complexes is called Villa Kennedy). This strategy of removal and relocation, done in a very authoritative and aggressive manner,  was one that formed many resentments and negative consequences (a loss of existing social networks, of the proximity to work and employment opportunities, etc.).

Removal-image taken from "Favela Bairro" published by the Prefeitura of Rio and the IDB

In the late 1970s and 80s, Mutiroes projects, the self-help housing projects (which was briefly described with regards to the process that took place in Sao Paulo), conformed an important source for housing in the city. In addition, there were other small programs focusing on the construction of daycare centers, some participatory local upgrading projects, yet all of these projects were quite punctual and none of them were part of a more integral strategy, program or plan for the community and city in general.

The Favela-Bairro

In the 1980s, with the re-democratization process, the discourse of displacement and relocation is entirely replaced by that of “urbanization” of the favelas. The creation of the Favela-Bairro program (officially initiated in 1993 with support from the IDB) became possible with the new-1988- constitution, the “lei Orgánica do Municipio do Rio de Janeiro” in 1990s, as well as the “Plano Diretor do Rio”, a new master plan for the city created in 1992 (a requirement given by the new constitution for cities with more than 20 000 inhabitants). One of the most important policies established with the “Plano Diretor “was that of housing and habitat. One f the main objectives became that of the urbanization and regularization of favelas.

To coordinate the different actions and bringing together secretariats and municipal companies involved in the housing sector, The Executive Group for Special Programs in Low-Income Settlements- GEAP- Grupo Executivo de Politicas para Asentamentos Populares- was created in 1993. With the GAEP, the Favela-Bairro Program began to be outlined. In 1994, a special department, the Secretaria Municipal de Habitaçao (Municipal Housing Secretariat), was created in order to administrate and execute the different policies and actions established. In 1995, along with the IDB, a first contract was signed for the execution of what was named the Program for the Improvement of Low- Income Settlement (PROAP). The focus of the program was the regularization of settlements, the construction of housing for families in “areas of risk”, and the creation housing credit opportunities. In addition some standards were defined for selecting the areas to be benefited: the dimension of the favela should be between 500 and 2500 houses (medium size favelas), the level of poverty, the needs of the community, some presence of previous or existing infrastructure allowing a potentially “easier” and less costly urbanization in order to maintain certain cost control and stay within the allotted budget).  Around 60 favelas were selected for the first phase.

In order to develop a methodology for the Favela-Bairro, a competition was held (through the IAB-RJ (Instituto de Arquitetos do Brasil-Rio de Janeiro) amongst professionals in the area. 15 teams were selected, mostly architects and engineers.

“Habitacao deixou de ser apenas uma casa e passoy a ser integracao e a estrutura urbana”  (housing stopped being a simple house and became integration and urban structure)

As the name indicates, the main objective of the Favela-Bairro is to transform the Favela into a “Barrio” or neighborhood, accepted and integrated in the entire. The objective where the following:

-Urbanize (provision of basic services and circulation infrastructure) and not displace when possible. Public administration organs would provide the maintenance.

-Promote the spatial reorganization of the favelas through which the integration to existing and surrounding circulation systems, and the implantation of public spaces for the collective use of the community (Normally the Favela-Bairro does not prioritize the construction of new housing, but only does so as consequence to certain necessary demolitions).

-Have certain social services available to support the more vulnerable populations. For example, day-care centers was mandatory components in the interventions. In addition, there were education programs geared towards the creation of new employment opportunities, and the creation of the CEMASI ( Centro Municipal de Atendimiento Social Inegrado), and community organization that could serve as an umbrella to the various social programs taking place.

-Regularize, from a legal stance, private properties and public spaces. In order to achieve this, the favela was denominated as an Area de Especial Interesse Social or AEIS   (Area of Special Social Interest). AEIS are subject to different and more flexible urban legislation. In addition, the Projeto de Alinhamento or PA (Alignment Project) was created to delineate private form public.

In addition a focus was placed on:

-Addressing houses in areas of risk, or of environmental protection, those obstructing necessary circulation paths, roadways, etc.

-Attaining common consent from the inhabitants before beginning work.

-Post construction, the creation of PUOSOs -Postos de Orientacao Urbanisitica e Social ( Posts for social and urban orientation)- in order to manage the maintenance of the projects in each favela, and serve as a guide and pretty much mediator between the communities and the government.

One thought on “Rio- some history

  1. There’s a really cool explanation for the origin and popularization of the name favela in Robert Neuwirth’s book “Shadow Cities.”

    Now I know the likely reason for Bogota’s “Ciudad Kennedy” also.

    Great post, Adriana.

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