Agência participants on the laje

A Recipe for Realizing the Potential of Favela Youth: Agência de Redes para Juventude

When asked about his experience with education growing up, Fernando–a 21 year-old from the Fumacê favela in Realengo, West Zone–said: “I’ve never liked to study. My mom forced me to go to school, but it’s something that I’ve never liked to do. In school, they don’t teach you, they just force you to do things. It’s a method for the masses.”

Fernando’s sentiments are echoed by thousands of children across Rio. He is one of 720 youth from 14 different favelas that have taken part in Agência de Redes para Juventude (Networks for Youth Agency) programs since 2011. Agência provides training to youth in “pacified” favelas in Rio de Janeiro, supporting youth in contesting dominant ideologies, experiencing new ways to fight for social justice, and taking positions of leadership within their communities in the face of recent developments in public security. In light of the pacification policy and changes brought about by the suppression of organized crime in their territories and the presence of the state, particularly by way of police, Agência works to improve participating young people’s view of themselves and their own communities–while addressing their position within the larger society and giving them the skills and tools for engagement. Fernando explains, “At Agência, they get to know you first before they teach you anything. They prepare you to do whatever it is that you want to do.”

The program’s model, now being exported to London and Manchester, trains selected youth in a range of practical and strategic skills and provides them with access to city-wide knowledge networks youth from such communities traditionally lack access to, over a period of three months, during which youth receive a stipend for participation. Participants are then given the chance to create, develop, present, and publicly defend their own innovative ideas with a view to transforming their lives and the communities in which they live. The whole premise is that young people need to be active participants in setting up the framework for change to take place. For them, to stimulate youth is essential for the social transformation and deepening of democracy. This philosophy is based on the teachings of its creator, Marcus Faustini, who is also a director, filmmaker and writer, advocating for a shared city, where differences come together to produce similarities, with the individual’s potential taking central stage in the reconstruction of their world.

Following training, network-building and developing and presenting their innovative ideas, 134 projects emerged from groups of participants that were selected to go through the “incubation” process, with the ideas presented to a judge’s panel. Of these, 54 were selected to receive a cash prize of R$10,000 each (US$4,540), seed funding to begin implementation. Agência will be initiating its fourth edition this May and future plans include expanding the organization’s scope to work with youth in non-“pacified” territories as well.

Here we focus on some of the impacts of Agência‘s methodology on youth participants:

Raising consciousness and a social justice-oriented community outlook

Thanks to his stint at Agência, in addition to being able to concentrate on something he is passionate about–the performing arts–as he continues his education, Fernando has been inspired to become more connected with the people living in Fumacê and to combine these two interests: “Before, I saw the favela as something forgotten. My only interest was in leaving the place as soon as possible. Now, I think differently. I think about debates to bring improvements to my community as soon as possible.”

Fernando’s growing interest in his community and the sense that his work can help other people is reflected in the innovative idea he put forth. He proposed Mosaico, a funk/hip hop dance project in Fumacê that attempts to create a more peaceful environment and build unity among people living in different parts of the community. Prior to the installation of the UPP, there was a strong divide between two different drug factions fighting over territorial control. This conflict created an “invisible wall” inside the community and animosity among the people that lived under the two different factions. Given this situation, Fernando felt the necessity to create a project to bring people together doing what he loves most: dancing and performing.

With Mosaico, Fernando and his team create spaces and organize events to promote unity and a strong spirit of community amongst residents of different parts of the favela. Dance events and classes are held regularly at a public school (CIEP) located right on the “border” that marked the former division between the two different factions’ territories. Besides providing dance classes for youth and adults from the community, Fernando and his partners on the project have introduced dance lessons for children into the official school curriculum. Clearly proud of this achievement, Fernando said: “In our smaller class, we have about 50 children between the ages of 7 and 12 participating. The school director understood the importance of this project to bring children in the community together, and we were able to make it happen.”

Carlos Gabriel–an 18 year-old from the Batan favela in Rio’s West Zone–has also shared a transformative personal experience and increased community engagement as a result of participating: “Agência has woken me up for life. I am starting to become more politically engaged…I want to learn about politics. I want to know how politics affect my community. We need to try and understand our reality and our community apart from the opinions coming from the top. We need to understand that those opinions are biased.”

Opening a dialogue about the relationship between youth and police

When discussing the often problematic–and even chaotic–relationship between police and youth in “pacified” Rio favelas, Carlos Gabriel said, “The youth in favelas have always been repressed… we are seen as vandals, like we just want to fool around. The police don’t see us as people; they don’t see us as citizens. For them, we are all bandits. That’s the politics behind the police work in favelas.” His heartfelt comment highlights the many layers of rejection and mistrust that characterize this relationship.

Fernando deepens his analysis: “The relationship between the community and the UPP isn‘t good. Especially because I think there’s no way people coming from outside [the community] can tell us what’s best for us… They think about education for children, youth 13-15 years of age, but the ones that are 18-19, they think of them as being lost already. There are no projects directed at these young people.”

Fernando believes the state and police choose to work exclusively with children, older adults and the elderly because they feel these people can be “shaped” and it might be easier to bring them to “their side.”

Carlos Gabriel points out that building a relationship with young people requires a completely different dynamic. For him, favela youth have their own way of viewing the world and won’t let anyone come in and tell them how they should live their lives. Reflecting on the “pacification” discourse about education and other social developments that have been “implemented” by organizations and the state after the police entered these territories, Carlos Gabriel said:

“We youth must show our potential. We need to show that it isn’t just because the police are here now that we, all of the sudden, want to become somebody. They need to talk to us. There are now more options for professional courses that came with the pacification, but they didn’t ask us what we wanted to do. They don’t know if I want to learn English or Spanish. They just give it to me, and if I don’t take it, they think I am just not interested in education.”

Exposing the need for an education of inquiry

The mentality that the state and educational organizations coming from the outside–and only them–have an understanding of what is best for youth has failed. In direct contrast, Agência‘s approach shows what can be accomplished when programs focus on youth’s capacity to act and are relevant because they are centered on the lived experiences and particular interests and dispositions of the youth and their families.

Viviane Salles, a fiery 23 year-old from City of God and former program participant with a deep understanding of the social, political and economic interests that govern her city–calls for a new education to emerge inspired by Freirean ideologies that allow young people to exercise decision-making, while learning how to think critically and creatively about their world. She says:

“We need to think about new possibilities for people to acquire knowledge. The most important thing is to help young people think for themselves. And to do that, we need to deconstruct in order to reconstruct…. The initiatives that are most present are embedded in a mediocre model of education… they are not discussed with youth beforehand. We want to choose now. It isn’t about what you want to give me or what you think I need anymore. You have to ask me… you have to discuss things with me. You have to respect young people. Things are changing… we don’t have to just accept everything now.”

Engagement and consultation as the practice of freedom for favela youth

Favela youth have lived the reality of their territories, they have an absolute entitlement to their opinions, and they are the ones most suited to be involved in the creation and implementation of policies and programs that will have a direct impact on their communities. Understanding their backgrounds, their lived experiences as favela residents, their relationship with education, with the police and the state–as well as their hopes and dreams for the future–is fundamental for any legitimate analysis to be carried out on the “pacification” process in Rio’s favelas and its effects on youth development through education. Youth counter-stories need to be at the forefront of the “pacification” process and of any other social or security policy moving forward.

If the state and police continue to neglect favela youth, stigmatizing them, silencing their opinions–and attempting to make them adapt to a forced culture that isn’t embraced freely–the “pacification” process will fail. Hanier Ferrer, a 23-year old law student, activist and tutor at Agência, comments on the need for the police to open up a dialogue with impacted youth:

“The police maintain a relationship of confrontation with youth. What needs to be proved is that this youth doesn’t need–or have to be–confronted. This youth needs to be potentialized through his/her territorial culture. The idea is to break with the moralistic thinking that says what is wrong or right in relation to the behavior of favela youth or in relation to the behavior of black youth. Young people don’t want a standardized behavior… they want to have their own behavior, and show they can also circulate in other spaces.”

As Latin American education specialist Professor Carlos Torres expresses, in order for education to take place it needs to walk hand-in-hand with tolerance and respect for other people and their understanding of the world: “Construction of knowledge needs to be done in an environment of tolerance. And people need to respect different epistemologies.” This tolerance is missing from the relationship between the police and the youth in Rio’s “pacified” favelas. Hence, the further education of people through theories and practices of liberation, emancipation and transformational resistance – inserted in an environment that fosters respect and tolerance for others – is at the core of what non-formal educational programs in “pacified” territories should strive for. This is important not only for programs that cater to favela youth, but also training directed at the police force.

Right now, more than ever, youth need to take a position of leadership in their communities, contesting spaces and working to make their voices heard. Programs like Agência allow for empowerment of this sort to happen. In summary, as reflected by Fernando:

“Before Agência, I had nothing. I had my mom who helped me out… with food and stuff, but I didn’t have a work structure, a path… What motivates me at Agência is that it opens this path so I can keep walking. I can do things and keep discovering things… always learning.”

Statements like this from favela youth offer hope that a better and brighter future for the young people living in Rio’s favelas is not only possible, but imminent. Hence, it’s fundamental that non-formal educational initiatives that present youth as potent actors of transformation continue to be developed and implemented. As Viviane Salles says: “We have to dispute spaces and ideas. We are creating… we are experimenting with inventing a new world.”

Veriene Melo is a PhD Student and a Lemann Fellow at the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles. She is also a Research Assistant at the Program on Poverty and Governance at Stanford University’s Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law (CDDRL) where she works on a project about the pacification, UPPs and police violence in Rio de Janeiro.

Photo by Eliano Félix

Inhuman Conditions & Fear of Eviction in Maré’s Mac Laren Favela

For the original by Eliano Félix in Portuguese for O Cidadão click here

More than 30 families are living in inhuman conditions with fear of eviction in Maré. 

Situated in Complexo da Maré between Vila do Pinheiro and Morro do Timbau, on the side of the Ilha do Fundão access bridge, is a small favela called Mac Laren, named after the small dockyard that used to operate there. For over ten years, more than 30 families have lived here in a degrading and dehumanizing reality. For most people it is difficult to imagine that there are still people living in wooden huts, particularly in Rio de Janeiro, a city that is receiving billions in investment for the World Cup and Olympics but leaves much to be desired with its infrastructure works.

In Mac Laren, there is no provision of electricity, water or sewage. Residents’ sole source of water comes from one single pipe. This water is used for drinking, bathing, washing clothes and dishes, however it’s not guaranteed to be drinkable. “I had got a job and had been working for five months, but after catching an intestinal bacterial infection, which I believe came from the water, I ended up losing my job and am now unemployed,” related Quívia Pamela, a 24-year-old general services assistant.

When a heavy rain falls, the ditch next to the favela fills up and water floods into the houses. When night falls, when it is time to sleep, no one feels secure; the place is infested with rats, cockroaches and centipedes and the children who live there are most affected, many with diarrhrea and stomach pain.

Hoping for a Solution

According to Róbson Borges de Moura, a 39-year-old security guard who is the longest resident of Mac Laren and the community’s representative, everyone has registered at the Nelson Mandela Social Assistance Reference Center (CRAS) and the Municipal Social Assistance Secretariat (SMAS). But so far nothing has been done for them. Róbson told us what it is like to live at Mac Laren:
“It feels like we are living in a cave. No one knows we exist.”

Osmar Paiva Camelo, president of the Timbau Neighborhood Association, said the ideal solution would be to rehouse the residents in their current location, and that the Association has helped as best they can, providing basic food baskets and residency declarations to those who need them as proof of residency for employment, for example.

According to Elisabete Figueiredo, a social worker who has been following the situation of Mac Laren’s residents, everything that can be done by the CRAS has been: “At the beginning of 2011 we produced reports on all the residents, detailing the individual situation of each one. In that period, all were registered with the Minha Casa Minha Vida housing program (and put on the list for public housing). We also put together a program of special protection and basic protection, where we retrieved personal documents, including school and professional qualifications among others. All documentation regarding housing was transferred to the Municipal Secretary of Housing (SMH).”

Residents affirm they are afraid of being evicted; none of them have another place to live. The situation of these thirty or so families is inhuman and all have been demanding improvements to the site for years, or at the least to be relocated to a place near where they currently live with better living conditions. It is unacceptable that they should still be living in such conditions.

The O Cidadão newspaper made contact with the Municipal Secretary of Housing (SMH) but in an email response they said it is the Municipal Secretary of Social Development (SMDS) that takes care of the registration of residents. We therefore made contact with SMDS, but as of the date of publication have yet to receive a response.

telerj capa

Today’s Telerj Eviction: A New Favela Dies, as Quickly as It’s Born

Thousands of families have been occupying the abandoned ex-Telerj complex in Engenho Novo, North Zone, where new arrivals have been claiming residence since Sunday March 30. The occupation involves over 8,000 people, according to the residents, with more arriving every day. Many families left their homes from the communities of Mandela, Rato Molhado, Jacarezinho, Cosmos, Manguinhos, Duque de Caxias and Morro do Sampaio. Others who lived homeless on nearby streets also participated in the occupation.

The space was collectively distributed as families arrived and began to erect their single-space rudimentary barracos (make-shift shelters) made from plywood and reclaimed materials, without any roof, furniture, or floor. Many barracos (typically 4m x 4m in size) were built on the insides and rooftops of the buildings, whilst others emerged in the remaining unoccupied outdoor spaces. Every barraco had a name painted on it claiming its personal space.

The 50,000m2 complex is shadowed by two six-story buildings and one warehouse, all arranged around a vast outdoor car park. Formerly a part of Rio de Janeiro State Telecommunications Company (Telerj), the complex was sold in the privatization of Brazilian telecommunications in 1998 to TELEMAR (today Oi). Eight years ago Oi abandoned the building leaving it derelict and empty. Local residents of Engenho Novo claimed the space was frequently utilized to sell and use drugs, reported O Globo.

Judge Maria Aparecida Silveira de Abreu ordered a removal injunction against the occupiers with no space for negotiations. A meeting took place at the Fórum do Méier Civil Court on Tuesday April 8 to decide a strategy and timeline for the eviction. No public conclusion from the meeting was revealed. Maria José da Silva, the only public representative with apparent ties to the community, Guilherme Simões from the Homeless Workers’ Movement in São Paulo, Humberto Cairo from the Brazilian Bar Association (OAB) representing the Military Police, representatives from Civil Defense, Fire service, both state and municipal governments, and the site owners (Oi) all met to discuss the exit strategy. A residents’ meeting scheduled for later that evening with Maria José da Silva was cancelled.

Resident’s respond to multiple issues

Speculative housing prices, inadequate health and education services, expensive travel, threat of removal, risk of flooding, landslides, and other issues they felt were ignored by the state were among the reasons articulated by the newly formed community as to what drove them to occupy the space.

Until recently, Joseli, 61 (pictured right), lived in a rented single-room house in Manguinhos with her daughter and four grandchildren where they paid R$600 a month. She continues to earn the minimum wage of R$724 per month in her job as a cook where she has diligently worked for over 30 years. Despite her hard work, she stresses that wages do not meet the basic costs of living. She went on to explain that, “When the children get sick, either there are no doctors, or no medication in the hospital,” echoing a common sentiment across the occupation. Joseli looks forward to her 65th birthday when she can claim her bus pass paid for by the state.

Only 4.5km from the Telerj site, the Maracanã stadium, site of the World Cup in Rio de Janeiro, offers a physical manifestation for the occupiers to focus their sentiment. Marcela, 26, lived in Jacarezinho with her son and husband until recently. Her husband works long hours delivering paint by bicycle around the North Zone, but still they continue to struggle to pay for basic goods. “A worker is worthless in this city,” she explained. “What is this [effort] all for, if we can’t even pay our way? I just want a little house… It’s no comparison to what they have spent on the [World] Cup.”

On Thursday April 10, Mayor Eduardo Paes attempted to divert attention away from the media’s focus on the government’s responsibility. Paes claimed, “I recognize an invasion, with all the characteristics of being professional and organized,” in an attempt to coopt public opinion and criminalize the occupation. He suggested it was a premeditated attempt to obtain social housing, such as through the public housing program Minha Casa Minha Vida, meant to house those in need but often used to rehouse victims of forced evictions. O Globo also indicated the occupation was organized by a single or group of organizers, suggesting that a Facebook campaign informed many of the residents. When asked, residents of Favela da Telerj were not aware of the social media campaign.

Although the precise mechanics of the mobilization remain unclear for now, it is clear by the scale and speed of the occupation that this is a community response (‘organized’, or not) to a broad range of social issues shared by a number of diverse communities across Rio de Janeiro.

Families stressed they wanted a non-violent solution to the situation, claiming they are open to dialogue with the state.

An eviction like many othersTelerj Eviction

The eviction of Telerj began at 4am in the morning today, Friday April 11. According to O Globo, 1,500 police from the BOPE (Special Operations Battalion), Choque (Shock Battalion), and UPP (Police Pacifying Units) participated. Officials from the Fire service and Méier Civil Court are also present.

In a live television report O Globo reported the unconfirmed deaths of three children killed by tear gas, later suggesting they were injured. At the time of publication, the newly formed community continues to show solidarity and resist against the police attack by tear gas and rubber bullets. Meanwhile, O Globo reports acts of “vandalism” by the community.

Despite the eviction, the qualities of the occupants and their project will be remembered as ephemeral, injecting creativity, improvization, collectivity, and workaround ethics into a space once abandoned and deserted.


(Inset photo credits to the author and Midia NINJA; album credits to Midia NINJA)

Museu da Maré

Maré’s Vibrant and Historic Civil Society is Organizing

With the recent military occupation of the Complexo da Maré, Brazilian and international media have turned their attention to this group of favelas in Rio’s North Zone. Yet Maré and its residents are so often mischaracterized in the same fashion: helpless, desperate and violent. “The notorious Maré shanty town” is, reads an AFP communiqué widely distributed internationally, “a haven for organized crime and one of the city’s most dangerous places.” Local coverage was often no less skewed, with Rio-based O Globo describing it as “one of the most violent regions in the city,” in which, passively, “residents hope for days of peace” following the arrival of the army.

Contrary to the media portrayal, Maré–with a population of 130,000 people in 16 favelas–is in fact a vibrant place with a powerful civil society, boasting strong traditions of activism and self-organization, in addition to its festive Northeastern cultural traditions. “Maré is not just violent, it has a lot more to offer,” says Carlos Alberto Fereira da Silva, vice-president of the Parque União neighborhood association. “But unfortunately the media tends to do this–present Maré as violent, a place of shootouts, crack addicts and drug dealers. This is easier and sells more than showing the everyday difficulties of the residents and the struggles for improvements.”

This powerful and vocal civil society has yielded many successes, with as many as 100 social organizations based within the communities. Among the best-known organizations, Maré is home to NGOs such as the Observatório de Favelas (Favela Observatory), Redes de Desenvolvimento da Maré (Maré Development Networks) and Conexão G, the first LGBT organization in a favela; 16 neighborhood associations; cultural organizations, such as the Museu da Maré; as well as church groups and many others. Locals have long organized to fight for better social conditions and celebrate their community, while the state has often neglected to do so. “Everything that Maré has was the victory of residents. If today Maré has better houses, it is because of the residents,” states Carlos. “The services the government is required to provide, we do ourselves,” citing examples such as sanitation and street cleaning.

The state occupation of Maré has long been discussed and civil society organizations have been preparing residents for some time to be aware of their rights within the context of increases in police abuse of power under occupation. So when it was eventually announced last month that the army would occupy Maré until the end of July, civil society organizations rose up to demand dialogue and participation with the government. On Thursday, April 3, after being publicly convoked by NGOs and residents’ associations, State Security Secretary José Mariano Beltrame attended a public hearing in the Maré Arts Center, in front of approximately 400 people. During the meeting, he agreed to accept a set of conditions for the military occupation presented to him by community leaders, and explained he is creating an ombudsman for the Pacifying Police Units (UPPs) across the city–something the ObservatórioRedes and others had campaigned for. This week, a public audience with Mayor Eduardo Paes was planned.

The very presence of senior state representatives is itself evidence of the influence and visibility Maré’s civil society holds. Founder and co-director of Redes da Maré, Edson Diniz explained the significance of Beltrame’s visit: “That the Security Secretary was here, taking responsibility, is something that before was impossible–the police would enter and do whatever they wanted, dictating the rules,” he said. It is the articulation of the many organizations within Maré that pressures the state into these concessions. “Twenty years ago there was no negotiation… so for him to come and take responsibility is a big gain [for the community].”

The Museu da Maré preserves and celebrated the history of MaréThe formation and growth of Maré has a long story, starting with the first occupations in the 1940s. Residents celebrate and preserve the neighborhood’s rich history through projects such as the Museu da Maré, a community museum initiative to collect artefacts and information on the area’s history, some innovations of which were featured in last year’s “Favela Design” exhibition, and Redes’ Memory and Identity Nucleus, which is currently producing a series of books documenting the history of each of Maré’s favelas, told by residents and community leaders themselves.

The evolution of the community has been influenced by several important factors. In the 1980s and 90s, Maré was–as with so many others of Rio’s favelas–under threat of eviction because of the Projeto Rio, a federal program and the largest government intervention in Maré. Shortly following its launch in Maré in 1982, large areas were threatened with removal. “This strengthened the organization of the residents in self-identifying themselves in Maré, improving the quality of life… This created a nucleus, a group of people who, later, went on to strengthen civil society here,” explains Edson. The success of campaigning meant that Maré is now an officially recognized neighborhood. Redes da Maré, like many other organizations operating within Maré, was founded by residents involved in political and community activism, liberation theology base communities, and neighborhood associations.

Among many examples of success and achievement through these nucleuses, Conexão G stands out as the first LGBT NGO based in a favela. Gilmar Cunha, director and co-founder, described how it grew out of the need to respond to violence–physical and mental–perpetrated against LGBT youths in their community, and their alienation from the non-favela LGBT movement.

“This population [LGBT from favelas] was invisible, and still continues being invisible. So Conexão G arose with the proposal of giving visibility to this group, to mobilize and articulate public policies for them,” says Gilmar. “If we try to visualize the situation of the LGBT residents of favelas, it is a very different situation from Leblon’s LGBT population. If you do an interview with gay residents in a favela, they will tell you that the priority is not marriage, but the minimization of violence.” Now, thanks to their pioneering work in health and awareness, gay residents of Maré have “respect” within the community – something that before seemed impossible, and LGBT NGOs are being set up in other favelas.

Maré’s civil society, fuelled by the residents themselves, has brought many innovations and benefits to their community. In the current climate of occupation, one hopes Maré’s many outspoken voices will not be smothered. The success in opening public negotiations with Beltrame points toward possibilities for a healthier interaction between the state, civil society and residents. As Edson stresses, “We cannot fall into the illusion that civil society is going to replace the state. Our role is not this… Our role is to pressure the state so that it fulfils its duties.” This harmony is essential to ensure a fruitful relationship, in which the communities’ needs are addressed by the state.

“We need a lot more than simply a military occupation–we need social action,” explains Carlos. “We are expectant, because this cannot simply be another [military occupation]–this has to be The Occupation, in which the social must be remembered above public security.”

‘Great Good Places’: The Nature of Public Spaces in Favelas

In the dense built environment of favelas, spatial priority is given to housing. Public spaces, then, develop informally out of the leftover places in the urban landscape. Public streets and staircases are adopted as places to meet, discuss and hang out. Additionally, the private realm often extends into the public sphere, resulting in social spaces that include rooftops, terraces and doorways which provide these same functions. These spaces are the residents’ Third Place, ‘great good places’ where everybody knows your name and regulars often meet. It exists beyond the primary place of home and the secondary place of work, offering an alternative set of relationships and interactions within a familiar, companionable setting.

The act of placemaking considers a public space to be the heart of a community. Fueled by a sense of pride, it strengthens the connection between the people and the collective places they share within a neighborhood, demonstrated in the multitude of ways the spaces are utilized, enjoyed and maintained. By extension, community building emerges alongside this movement, increasing the solidarity of the residents and solidifying the value and necessity of the spaces themselves. The social intimacy amongst favela residents and the relationships formed due to physical proximity and circumstance are in some ways unrivaled.

In the favelas I’ve visited, well into the night, adults enjoy food and drinks from the dozens of small bars that line the roads, while children run and play in the streets. The mixed-use development that exists within favela communities, combining residential and local commercial establishments around traditionally pedestrian corridors, further promote these spontaneous gatherings. During the day, teens strike up spontaneous football matches along wider stretches of roadway, while others play games in and out doorways and along staircases. In Complexo do Alemão, some teens were even playing video games around an outdoor television set.

Though making possible the neighborliness that exists within these communities, informal public spaces are limited in other opportunities they can provide. Very few of these areas provide room for athletic, educational or other leisure activities. Furthermore, areas spacious enough for large public gatherings are scarce. When they do exist, their importance may be overridden by the car, often acting instead as parking lots.

Thus, formally-designated public spaces are also necessary in favelas, as they provide residents with a vast array of benefits associated with the Right to the City concept. Indoor public spaces, such as libraries and community centers, can take on grander civic roles acting beyond their traditional paradigms as centers of information and knowledge. They are spaces in which youth and adults can engage with one another, gain new skills, and nurture diverse hobbies. Outdoor public spaces, particularly recreational facilities, encourage a sense of play, with physical activity having a positive effect on their psychosocial development. Places for public gatherings, such as squares and plazas, provide the ideal space for an outdoor market place, helping local vendors flourish. They also act as a suitable location for mobilizing a community on equal grounds, prompting among other things, an open discourse. Spaces that make possible and stimulate meetings and debates are an invaluable asset within a community.

Many of the early formal public spaces in favelas came through the work of neighborhood associations before the 1990s. Formed in the late 1970s, they demanded civil rights and raised political awareness in their communities. They helped summon public resources and contributed to the creation of formal public spaces. In Maré, neighborhood associations were responsible for the creation of a public square within the dense built landscape. In the past couple of decades, formal public spaces were mostly associated with the Favela-Bairro City government upgrading programs of the 1990s.

Though limited in number and frequency across communities, a range of formal public spaces have thus been built in favelas over decades, ranging from football pitches, recreational areas, and community centers, to libraries and public squares, as well as the widening and paving of roads. Yet, how these spaces are used, by whom, and how they are maintained requires closer inspection. What is originally outlined on paper is often very different from what is achieved in practice, with public spaces at times suffering set-backs in quality and effectiveness due to a lack of public consultation. Though many government programs insist on public participation in order to understand what residents truly want and need from such spaces, what is ultimately built is predominantly top-down. This results in poor quality formal public spaces in favelas, and higher quality informal public spaces as measured by the tried and true Power of Ten concept–”any great place itself needs to offer at least 10 things to do or 10 reasons to be there.”

Thus, in Rio’s favelas, recognizing and preserving the qualities residents perceive in informal public spaces, while developing more effective and responsive formal public spaces, is the way forward. While spontaneous gatherings within informal spaces contribute to the vibrancy of a neighborhood, the multiple ways in which formal public spaces can be used are beneficial to the growth and strength of the community itself and are an important aspect of community development that warrants attention and investment.

 

Go to Top