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

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The new cable car.

Brazilian cities have been characterized by extreme poverty and inequality, bringing deep contrasts between urban conditions and generating social exclusion. From the beginning of the twenty-century the number of people who have moving from the countryside to the industrialized cities started to grow, mostly due to those in rural areas seeking better living conditions (i.e work, education, health, employment, etc). However cities were not prepared to receive these domestic and foreign immigration waves. Many of them could not find a job and ended up living in favelas, generating an imbalance and segregation in society.

In October 2nd of 2009 the IOC selected Rio de Janeiro as the host of the 2016 Olympics. In order to host an event of this magnitude, the IOC asks the cities have a certain level of capability and structure. Each host country must follow the IOC rules in order to ensure the games will run smoothly13. Leading up to the Olympic Games Rio de Janeiro is attempting to create a new city, changing the landscape and implementing a new urban renewal plan. They hope to establish city patterns for tourism and investments as part of the reforms, led by real estate investors, who are the main stakeholders in shaping the growth of the city. The decision by the IOC to select the city of Rio de Janeiro as host of the games for 2016 follows a new era of relations between this body and non-western countries. Along with the selection of Brazil, China was chosen for the Summer Games 2008, and Russia for the Winter Games in 2014.

Rio de Janeiro is going through a period of urban reorganization, related to the upcoming mega sporting events held in the city. One of the major mega projects, within the framework of the mega events, is the revitalization of the port. This project called Porto Maravilha is changing the traditionally abandoned area. Currently construction is underway of an integrated complex of residences, hotels and offices. Coupled with the harbor revitalization is the process of favela upgrading, carried out by the municipality, which is giving priority to favelas that are closer to the developments for the World Cup and Olympics. Morro da Providencia, is within this boundary.

“The Olympics have been used as an excuse to remove. The same constructs to improve the city have become excuses to drive removals of low-income population, and make an alternative to the middle class.”

As the quote above describes, 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.

Since 2009 the Porto Maravilha project is being executed as one of the largest urban revitalization projects in Rio de Janeiro.  The project is traded in the stock market through land securities selling, and therefore the reassessment of the properties and the port area will increase the profit of the project. The Porto Maravilha interventions are pushing the current residents away from the economic space, who cannot afford to live there with soaring prices. This leads to them being excluded from the city system, leading to uneven development and creating paradoxical contrasts in the city. This area will no longer be degraded, but instead will be an exclusive area to accommodate tourists, build hotel complexes offices and residences. 

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One of the walls of Morro da Providencia

Rather than bringing benefits to the community, is causing the resettlement of its dwellers, in order to build new roads, squares, the plano inclinado, improve the public services, and complete the construction of a cable car line, which will connect the favela directly with city. None of the dwellers was consulted about this urban renewal plan in the favela and were even less informed about the resettlement process. Based on this, favela “upgrading” has motives that go beyond the benefit to the dwellers. The municipality needs to ensure the safety of the “new city” to be built in the area by 2016. It is expected that soon the occupants of that area will change from working class people to tourists, businessmen and the middle classes who can afford it. The success of the new urban planning is riding on Morro da Providencia being fit into the current plan. 

These construction projects are causing the resettlement of hundreds of individuals and given the significance and importance of this space for them, they decided to mobilize and take actions to avoid the resettlement. Although the lack of organization, participation and knowledge of favela residents was an obstacle to make concrete proposals, the commitment of some of them started to yield some results. The issue of the favela started to gain attention. Local communities, like Morro da Providencia, are often unaware of the impact that they can have on government decisions; as they do not have the tools to enforce mobilization and create formal proposals. However many people, academics, students, and civil society have helped them propose actions and seek alternative solutions, which involve a real quality of life improvement.

In this way communities can make direct decisions through their own participation, and indirectly through their representatives. The community has achieved several results through collective actions. The community gained more local and international support, created alliances, implemented local initiatives, and began using social media. All these elements encourage the movement to keep continue, despite the unequal power positions. The final outcome was the judiciary’s order to stop all the Morar Carioca construction projects. This means that no more resettlements can be made until the verdict will be dictated.

Local government instead of proposing costly and unwanted removals should recognize and expand initiatives created by the residents, investing in development with popular participation and decision-making, guaranteeing the access to urban mobility, utilities and all other rights in the city. Citizen participation has been vital to defending their rights and generating concrete proposals that benefit the community and strengthen the quality of public policy. To encourage continued participation it is necessary for communities to be organized and have technical support that can help them to formalize their proposals.

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This is Marluzia, one of the dwellers who is being reallocated.

Next time when we think about all the excitement of these mega events, like the World Cup or the Olympics, we should also think about all the communities that are being reallocated from their houses.  For the public eye these events are amazing and are bringing economic growth to the host countries but behind the scenes the reality is completely the opposite.

@ivettemb & @jeffinergon

 

 

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