As Rio de Janeiro has grown into a global city to host the World Cup and the upcoming Summer Olympic Games, its government has invested in the city’s “global image.” This investment includes improving the many slums amidst and outside of the city, in which, in some cases, drug crime is rampant. With a new influx of tourists, many people fear for their safety in a city surrounded by slums. Most government efforts have been in the form of forcefully moving residents from favelas to government-funded apartment complexes. These buildings are often far away from the favelas and feature homes that are smaller and impersonal. Understandably, these efforts have been met with resistance, as residents are unsatisfied with their new homes. As we learned more about the government’s efforts to gentrify the favelas, we became suspicious that its priorities did not have the favelados’ needs in mind.
While there are clear disadvantages to living in one of these poverty-ridden communities, we were more struck by the many positive characteristics of Santa Marta. We became fascinated with understanding how these characteristics came to be. In our research, we found that the favela’s strong sense of community was what made it really come to life. Ironically, the aspects of the favela that are often portrayed in a negative light by outsiders are the very same ones that are cherished by insiders:
The disorganized layout makes navigating difficult for non-residents and police but also creates a stronger sense of belonging within the favela; the non-regulated building techniques may seem unsafe, but they also allow families to build customized homes and expand them as needed; the houses may seem uncomfortably close together, but they allow residents to share their lives with one another.
These things are what set the favela housing apart from the modern apartment building. While they serve similar purposes — namely, to house large quantities of people — they function very differently. And this isn’t necessarily such a bad thing.