Creation of Shopping Malls in Favelas Divides Opinion

For the original article in Portuguese by Caio Quero on BBC Brasil click here.

The creation of shopping malls in Rio’s favelas may reinforce the distance between these communities and the rest of the city, in addition to increasing the social differences among residents of these neighborhoods.

This is the opinion of Itamar Silva, director of the Brazilian Institute of Social and Economic Analysis (IBASE) and a resident of the Santa Marta favela, located in Rio’s South Zone. According to him, relations in favelas are traditionally characterized by open circulation, thus the creation of malls in these neighborhoods may create divisions.

“I am critical of these projects because if we follow the model of malls that we are familiar with, they are restricting, some have more freedom than others… A new class may emerge, where people begin to feel more powerful and valued as they are able to purchase something in a particular store within the favela. This will create a distinction amongst the poor… some will be able to afford to shop at the mall, but many will not and will therefore find themselves left out,” says Silva.


Referring to cases of discrimination experienced by black and poorer people in traditional shopping malls, he wonders if the same could happen in these new developments, like the one opening at the end of the year in Complexo de Alemão. The mall is the result of a partnership between CUFA founder Celso Athayde’s Favela Holding (FHolding) group, and UAI, a shopping mall chain from the state of Minas Gerais.

“You’re going to put something similar to a castle within these neighborhoods and surround them with security guards… My question is: how will the mall security guards behave towards the poor people who live in the community but do not have the means to purchase items from these stores?”

In Silva’s opinion, the creation of malls in favelas could create a distance between the favela and the rest of the city. “Some may say: ‘Now that you have your own mall, why do you need to come to ours?’ Is this the message?”


On the other hand, geographer Jailson de Souza e Silva, a professor at the Federal Fluminese University as well as coordinator of the NGO Favela Observatory, sees Athayde’s proposal that favela residents operate 60% of the mall’s stores as innovative.

“This major innovation is Celso Athayde and his partners’ desire to create a means by which current and potential business owners in the favelas can achieve the conditions necessary to succeed, and to be able to effectively expand and ensure the continued success of their business. This is the unique part of this innovation,” he says.

Souza e Silva argues, however, that in order for this proposal to succeed, it is necessary for residents and merchants to have access to credit, education and training so they can compete on par with other entrepreneurs.

“Favelas cannot be transformed into solely a space of consumption; it also has to be a space of production and employment. This is a challenge that concerns everyone who works in these neighborhoods. Not just for businessmen and the market, but also for the State, which must be called on to participate in this process, as well as civil society,” he says.