A Tale of Two Favelas
This is a tale of two favelas: united in scarcity, divided by provision.
Favelas—“informal settlements” to the academic, “illegal slums” to the antipathetic—are spontaneous, grassroots communities found throughout Brazil. In Rio de Janeiro, host to the upcoming World Cup and Olympics events, these settlements are marbled throughout the wildly protruding landscape, clinging to hillsides and diving under viaducts. About one out of every five of Rio’s citizens calls a favela home. Much of what the outside world understands about Rio’s favelas is shaped by popular representations of savagery, criminality, and despair, such as the film Cidade de Deus (“City of God”). But in the peaceful spots, there is no organized crime or drug trade. People go to work, help their kids with homework, and enjoy a barbeque on the holidays. They exist outside the city’s networks of services, and not much ink is spilled about them. Now that the Olympics are coming to town, however, the world is beginning to take note.
Jake Cummings is a Master in Urban Planning student at Harvard Graduate School of Design. His work and research on favelas and their urbanization was made possible by the GSD’s Community Service Fellowship Program and by a research grant awarded by the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies. Most of the information for this article comes from his and others’ contributions to RioOnWatch.org, a community journalism site run by the nonprofit organization Catalytic Communities.