The Olympics, the World Cup, and the story of Morro da Providencia, the oldest favela in Rio de Janeiro. Part I

Source: Ivette Medina

Source: Ivette Medina

During the next four years, Brazil as the host of the Olympics 2016 as well as the World Cup 2014, will be initiating massive construction projects. Rio de Janeiro will be the city where the majority of these changes occur. These events have led to significant city reorganization in order to satisfy the requirements of the international committees and to promote Rio de Janeiro as one of the most important cities in the world.

Hosting such major sporting events is a way in which cities can express their personality, enhance their status, and advertise their position on the global stage. Brazil’s successful bids and subsequent planning for these events are generating a huge expectation of success. This entirely new infrastructure inevitably leads to new government planning and with it, a new distribution of the space. This distribution is often unequal, privileging the elite sectors and pushing low-income communities, due to the lack of power in the decision-making, to the periphery with less city access.

Cernea (2000) argues that the need to build new infrastructure for transportation, urban development, tourist infrastructure, stadiums, etc, may improve many people’s lives with employment, and supply better services; but that this also causes forced displacement, creating major impositions on some of the population. Most displacement has been involuntary and involves very little meaningful participation of affected people in the planning and implementation of these new projects, including in resettlement and rehabilitation.

This is the case of Morro da Providencia, the first favela of Rio de Janeiro with more than 100 years of history, which now is being resettled as consequence of the urbanization process conducted by the Rio de Janeiro Municipality. On my previous travels to Rio de Janeiro, I walked many times through these area and never saw any interest from any part into renovate this area. However now there is a special interest, mainly for two reasons. First this favela is located adjacent to the harbor, which is currently being developed as one of the major revitalization projects in the city, known as the ‘Porto Maravilha project’. Second, the municipality is attempting to “beautify” all the favelas for the Olympics in 2016. Although theoretically this urbanization could bring some benefits to the community as was mentioned earlier by Cernea (2000), the reality for this favela is that hundreds of families are being resettled, under two arguments, first that their houses are in middle of the urbanization constructions such as new roads and transport system and second that their houses are located in risky areas. But if the aim is to improve the quality of life of their dwellers, why are they being resettled from their homes? The question arises as to who exactly benefits from such changes.

The slum is located in the north center of the city, near to the harbor area , and is an old part of the city with a mostly low-income population. These characteristics are visible from the moment you arrive. To reach the top of the favela is necessary to take a “combi” (a little van up to 6 people) which goes every half an hour, and once the last stop is reach, people who lives higher need to climb up more than a 100 stairs. Up on the hill there are no food stores, and only a few “abastecimentos” (little shops with basic food). Therefore, most of the time people have to go to the supermarkets in the city, to buy food and basic things. However for old people it is really hard to go down, so they have to use the community to help them to buy their basic needs, according to some of my respondents there are even people who have not been to the city center in years.

The Olympics have become an excuse to transform the city. Providing tourist attractions has become a priority in this management and the low-income communities are treated like second-class citizens. The central problem in Morro da Proviencia caused by the urban developments has been the resettlements and the lack of information and involvement of the community in the discussion of them. Hence, the aim of the chapter is to present the resettlement process in Morro da Providencia, from the beginning of the urban operations until the most recent actions taken by the SMH and the dwellers. Describing what has happened with the householders, with special attention give to those who are still facing resettlement.

To understand what is happening in this favela you have to watch this documentary.

On the next post we will be revealing how the dwellers has been living and how they are fighting against the reallocation process.

@ivettemb & @jeffinergon

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