I am in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for a 6-week long program, and my next two posts will be on the urban planning issues of Rio. Rio de Janeiro is known, among other things, for its urban poverty and squatter settlements (or in the Brazilian case favelas). I have had a chance to visit the largest favela in Brazil, called Rocinha, and this post will share the observations made in this visit.
Located on a hill between two rich neighborhoods of the Rio’s richest zone, Rocinha has become a lot more than a squatter settlement; it is now considered a neighborhood. It is the favela that gets the greatest help from the government. Rio Municipality undertakes construction projects within the favela, as well as bringing services such as churches, post offices, and kindergartens.
While strolling around Rocinha, an occupant invited us to his home to show the view from his terrace. The terrace looked down upon the whole favela, which gave us a sense of the massiveness of this chaotic agglomeration of tenements that cover the whole hill. The occupant was also kind enough to answer some of the question that we had, and he provided some valuable information.
First of all, he admitted that he was better off than most of the occupants in the favela, because he works at one of the most famous hotels in Rio, but he simply chooses to live there as he has been there for 33 years and has a human network. So, not everyone living in squatter settlements are poor, both in terms of World Bank’s poverty line measures and the approach that evaluates the ability to access basic services, confirming the literature written on this issue.
Also, when we asked about the infrastructure and services, he told us that the water is free but they have to pay for the electricity, after the favela was turned into a legal neighborhood. Interestingly enough, the sewage system is not controlled by the municipality, and he said there was no way for it to be because the system was built by the locals when the favela itself was being built. This gives an idea about the complexity of solutions, both architectural and infrastructural, that the poor can come up with their limited resources.
However, he said that there is a general belief in the favela that the government support will decrease dramatically after the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio. There is a city-wide development going on for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics, which also deals with some favelas that are ”strategically located” close to rich neighborhoods.
Is the Rio municipality helping the favela residents as a part of the overall development project to look good in these two major international events, or does it aim to integrate the largest favela into the rest of the legal city in the long run?
Credits: Data linked to sources, both images by author.