Rio’s Push to the Periphery

Unlike the favelas in São Paulo, which are largely hidden from the view of the city’s middle classes and international visitors, those in Rio de Janeiro mostly occupy the city’s central hillsides, known as morros. Although often lacking in basic services, the morros have historically provided many poor cariocas (as the inhabitants of Rio are known) with a cheap place to live which is conveniently near the centre of the city. However, the influx of capital which Rio has experienced in recent years is now driving many of the favelados out.

Perhaps the most blatant way in which this spatial segregation is happening is through direct evictions related to the megavents that the city is hosting. Indeed, the international media has covered well the way in which an estimated 19,000 people have been ‘relocated’ in preparation for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games.[1] Some residents were given just a couple of hours’ notice before their homes were demolished. 

Elisangela, a former resident of favela Pavão-Pavãozinho, says she was out when the council officials arrived and her daughter called her to let her know.  “By the time I got home, the house was already flooded”, she explains. “Several men from the council with sledgehammers had knocked down the water pipes …Where were we supposed to go? In the middle of the street?”[2] 

Many of those evicted have been promised new housing through the Minha Casa, Minha Vida, a public-private initiative aimed at increasing the ability of low-income families to buy their own home. But over half of the houses assigned to the poorest residents in the programme are situated in the far west of the city, sometimes as far as 50km away from their former homes, where there are few jobs and it takes more than two hours to commute to the centre.[3] 

The second, more gradual driving force behind the shift in the patterns of land occupation is gentrification, a process accelerated in favelas in the centre by the 

 'No to evictions and military control of the favelas' reads a banner during a demonstration against human rights violations in the run up to the World Cup 2014deployment of the controversial and militaristic Pacifiying Police Units (UPPs). Despite the disproportionate use of violence, intimidation and human rights abuses that occur during UPP operations, the authorities have been keen to celebrate the introduction of UPPs as an overwhelming triumph for public security; and entrepreneurs seeking to capitalise upon the prime location of “pacified” favelas have been quick to respond. This has caused has caused rents in these areas to increase 6.8% more rapidly than in “more noble” (that is, non-favela) areas of the city.[4] 

Favela residents are well aware of the impact land speculation and megaevent development are having on their communities. For example, the “Wonderful Port” project is a scheme costing around R$8 billion (£1.7 billion) which proponents claim will transform the face of Rio’s port area and stimulate investment.[5] Ney, who lives in a favela affected by the project, reflects upon the lack of public services which has accompanied investment: “Really they aren’t interested in improving our situation. What they want to do is social cleansing. They want to push out most of the residents so that foreigners or whoever has money can invest in the favela.” [6] 

 

The Cantão Square, Favela Dona Marta: a site made famous by the music video for Michael Jackson’s hit ‘They don’t care about us’, typical of the favela chic cultural branding which has attracted international visitors to Rio’s favelas.

Expensive rents are pushing thousands of low-income favelados to consider moving to the periphery, as the outskirts of the city is called. The national media largely casts this as an unfortunate inevitability, with their narrative running along the lines of: rapid urban transformation is a necessary evil, a sacrifice which the city must make it if it is to attract investment and to gain international recognition as a modern metropolis. 

But the pace and scale of these changes raise fundamental questions about access to the city and the objectives underpinning development in Rio. The sheer distance between the centre of the city and its periphery severely restricts the mobility of those living on the periphery and the range of employment opportunities available to them; a situation which has been exacerbated by an 18% hike in bus fares.[7] Citizens, who have spent decades working in communities close to the centre and forging friendships there, are left stranded – without jobs and isolated from their strong networks of social support. The emotional distress this causes is considerable: 

“If we have to leave, I won’t feel happy about going to a new apartment … I feel so tense about it. I work right here in the community. If I have to leave, I will lose my house and my job…I won’t have a penny to my name”, explains João Felix dos Santos, a resident in Vila Autódromo, a favela located near the Olympic Park where the resident population has decreased significantly as a result of forcible evictions.[8] 

Those living in the periphery will receive inferior basic public services, not to mention severely restricted access to the arts and spaces for public leisure. So, at a societal level, the increased class-based spatial segregation is likely to lead to a decline in development indicators like sanitation, infant mortality and educational attainment for the poorest. At the same time more nuanced aspects of urban life conducive to social integration, such as the presence of citizens from a range of backgrounds within the same public space, will also be compromised. 

As land speculation accelerates in metropolises around the world, gentrification and the lack of affordable housing in urban centres have re-emerged as key issues. If we are to confront successfully the narrative which wilfully accepts the “warehousing of the poor” as an unfortunate inevitability, the social and political legacies of this project must be exposed. In Rio, a city famed for its cultural diversity, the very essence of civic life and participation may well be irreversibly damaged. 

*Maria Tyldesley is a researcher specialising in human geography in Latin America. She recently completed a Masters in Environment, Society and Development at the University of Cambridge. Her work focuses upon people-environment relations, climate change and urban marginality in the continent.



[1] Source: https://anistia.org.br/entre-em-acao/peticao/basta-de-remocoes-forcadas/ This figure is likely to underestimate the full extent of forced evictions in the city. The work of Architect and Urbanism student Lucas Faulhaber suggests the figure could be as high as 65,000. See: http://www.rioonwatch.org/?p=21863

[2] Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bB8J0gWTopE

[3] Source: http://www.rioonwatch.org/?p=14887

[4] Source: http://economia.terra.com.br/casa-em-morro-no-rio-chega-a-custar-r-700-mil,2238354e3fc90410VgnCLD200000bbcceb0aRCRD.html

[5] Source: http://economia.estadao.com.br/noticias/geral,ate-agora-so-um-projeto-foi-vendido-no-porto-maravilha-imp-,1531715

[6] https://vimeo.com/49419197

[7] Source: http://apublica.org/2013/05/copa-direitos-humanos-infografico-animado/

[8] Sources: https://anistia.org.br/entre-em-acao/peticao/basta-de-remocoes-forcadas/

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