In March 2014, seven Yale undergraduates traveled to Rio de Janeiro as part of the Yale International Relations Association spring break delegation to Brazil. The purpose of the trip was to study Rio’s economic development leading up to the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics, focusing specifically on the city’s urban development strategies, issues with inequality and rising social unrest.
The Editors would like to thank trip leaders Bianca Rey and Caroline Tan, as well as trip participants Paul Elish, Cynthia Hua, Mainak Ghosh, J.R. Reed, and Salaar Shaikh, for their wonderful contribution to the Review. Featured below is a photo essay detailing the culmination of their work.
In March 2014, seven Yale undergraduates traveled to Rio de Janeiro as part of the Yale International Relations Association spring break delegation to Brazil. The purpose of the trip was to study Rio's economic development leading up to the World Cup and Olympics, looking specifically at the city’s urban development strategies, issues with inequality, and rising social unrest. Pictured here are the YIRA delegates spelling out “Yale” at the foot of the iconic “Christ the Redeemer” statue, which overlooks the entire city.
On our first evening in Rio, we witnessed the magnificent spectacle of a Copa Libertadores game (a club competition for teams across South America) at the Estádio Maracanã, the largest soccer stadium in South America with a capacity of over 78,000 spectators. The Maracanã has a history as the amphitheater for the national team’s triumphs, as well as the breeding ground for sor “futebol” — superstars. Like many of the sporting complexes in the city, the Maracanã has been renovated and reconditioned for the 2014 World Cup, and the final game will be played in this stadium.
As international attention zeroes in on Rio in anticipation of the World Cup and Olympics, the city has gone to great lengths to prepare for both sporting events. City officials have stressed the megavents' positive impacts, such as the economic benefits of 13,000 direct and 40,000 indirect jobs in the hotel industry alone. In addition, city officials see the trains stadiums, roads, and other projects as signs that Rio will soon foster an internationalized future — one in which Brazilian Neymar jerseys will soon be seen on the backs of citizens throughout the world.
The municipality of Rio covers almost 500 square miles, and the city center lies on the shore of Guanabara Bay at the eastern end of the municipality. To the south, separated by hills, are the city’s wealthy and iconic South Zone neighborhoods of Copacabana, Ipanema, and Leblon. In the southwest of the city is Barra da Tijuca, a rapidly growing neighborhood which the city is intent on developing both before and after the Olympic Games.
Rio, like Brazil as a whole, is defined by sharp class divisions. The beach, however, is said to be Brazil’s most democratic space, serving as a destination where both rich and poor come for exercise and leisure. While some Brazilians will not be inclined to make note of racism in the country, racial inequality is notable in socioeconomic data that largely excludes people of color from Brazil’s wealthiest ranks.
The transportation control room office is part of the Center of Operations Rio de Janeiro, which oversees commute patterns in the city. Commissioned by the mayor, the building houses dozens of analysts who gather data and monitor traffic via hundreds of cameras across the city. The control room also serves as a crisis management room where government officials meet to determine strategy in cases of severe accidents or massive congestion. The space even includes a direct line to the president's office via a 3D “hologram” machine.
Inside the Operations Control Center, workers track traffic progress across the city. Led in part by Undersecretary Bernardo Carvalho, city officials have taken large steps to improve public transportation infrastructure in anticipation of the major sporting events. The BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) and LRT (Light Rail Transit) lines will help connect four of Rio’s major regions and provide the city's first transit lines to the airport. The BRT, which will offer an extra highway lane designed exclusively for buses, is expected to transport 2 million people per day.
On our very first night in Rio, we experienced firsthand one of the more significant developments in transportation infrastructure: riding the Rio subway train on our way to the Maracanã stadium. Through its plethora of transportation changes, Rio's ultimate goal is to transfer the city from 10% high capacity transit to 60% by the start of the Olympic Games in 2016. This subway is one such example of a high-volume transit option, with no separation between the cars and an entirely open space, with fewer seats and more standing room than traditional subway cars.
This image is what one might imagine when picturing a Rio favela: a tight cluster of homes located precariously on a hill. This favela, called Cantagalo, overlooks Copacabana, a major tourist area in the prosperous South Zone of the city. The South Zone is one of the four major Olympic Zones being targeted for infrastructure upgrades in preparation for the 2016 Games. These projects will displace many poor residents of South Zone favelas, either through direct removal or real estate speculation, which has priced many out of their homes.
Favelas are mainly self-built communities. Most originated as collections of tin shacks and were gradually built up as residents accumulated stronger building materials. Contrary to outside impressions of favelas as rickety and unplanned, this photo shows a town square organized and built by residents of the Cantagalo favela. Residents also build their own sewage management systems and string wires to tap illegally into the public power utility.
This photo of the Cantagalo favela shows a disused area, currently a trash heap, on the hillside overlooking Copacabana Beach. One professor we met suggested that a major goal of favela redevelopment projects is the capitalization of undercapitalized land, particularly in favelas with ocean views of the city. Visible in this photo, the stunning views from some of the city's favelas attract hoteliers and developers who see an upgraded future for these areas. A real estate market develops, and speculation brings what is known as “expulsão branca”: the gradual expulsion of favela-dwellers through the gentrification and capitalization of their formerly valueless land.
The Municipal Olympic Company of the city of Rio has argued that hosting the Games will be beneficial for the city by creating jobs and revenue from international visitors. They have predicted a strong increase in construction and tourism positions, with construction workers needed to build sporting structures and hotels, and hospitality staff to work in them. This relationship is depicted in the mural shown here, which was painted along a wall in the Cantagalo favela and visually demonstrates the friendly relations between the construction and tourism industries.
Upon arrival, we met Maria do Socorro, a woman who has lived in the favela for over 40 years. Maria has served as a leading activist in the campaign against the city’s plan to clear the favela from the banks of the river (possibly to make room for new development projects, although the city government claimed it was due to the high risk of flooding in the community). Residents of favelas across the city have been organizing and resisting these types of eviction campaigns, especially since the Rio city government announced the complete removal of 119 favela communities, including Indiana, in January 2010.
As previously mentioned, Indiana is one of the communities that has been targeted for demolitions. Indiana lies alongside a river (pictured here), which the government claims makes the area unsafe for human habitation. During our trip, however, we noted that many of the houses marked for demolitions were randomly distributed and some were far away from the riverbank, safe from the stated flood risk.
This dilapidated park area outside of Indiana highlights the lack of public spaces provided by the government to these communities. During an election year, local politicians entered the favela and commissioned the building of the swings. However, due to the lack of upkeep following the election and the minimal funds dedicated to expanding the space, the play area has fallen into disrepair. Meanwhile, local residents noted that the government rarely commissions construction on more urgently-needed infrastructure, such as revamped plumbing and sanitation systems.
This is one of the few bars in Indiana, an example of local development in the community and a desire for a shared place to gather. Economic activity is mainly hampered by forced evictions from the city police, though the police's social wing has recently launched programs to integrate and develop these communities post-pacification.
This picture shows an empty plot which used to support a house — now, only the door frame is standing, and the lot is being used as a parking lot. The government maintains that the demolitions were necessary due to the high risk of flooding from the nearby river, but residents are skeptical: Not only had the government built a nursery school for children directly on the riverbank a few years earlier, but, of the three homes demolished in August 2012, only one was actually located by the river. Residents have since organized to try to stop further evictions, and have an ongoing legal case.
Two children of the Indiana favela play outside their doorstep. The black marks on the door, which means these buildings have been marked for demolition, are a common sight here. This particular building was marked in August 2012, but officials have not yet returned to finish the job, leaving the future of this residence in flux. The legal status of the Indiana favela is currently unclear: one group of residents is fighting to stay, while another wants to accept government offers of relocation to newly built housing in the West Zone of the city.
Government demolition crews scrawl their names on a house after it had been demolished. It is unclear why the demolition crew members chose to do this, although residents suggest that it is part of an intimidation tactic on the behalf of city workers. Other methods of intimidation that residents identified include demolishing only certain houses, in order to rupture the social fabric of the community and disrupt access routes, leaving rubble from demolitions around to serve as a reminder of the eviction threat and sowing mistrust among the residents of the community.
This is the view of a neighboring favela, taken from the ruins of the demolished house shown in the previous photo. Notice how close the different favelas are to one another — this one was probably less than 20 meters away from Indiana.
There exists a wide range of experiences and realities in favelas across the municipality of Rio. Some favelas, especially those closer to the city center, are home to middle class residents and feature fairly dependable access to utilities. Others, especially far-flung favelas in the city’s West Zone, are both removed from the city’s economic hubs and dominated by abject poverty and, at times, informal militia rule. It’s worth noting that any given favela can be home to a range of socioeconomic strata.
Rio has faced a large amount of social unrest as people protest government spending, treatment of favelas, and widespread corruption. Throughout our trip, we could see evidence of residents’ frustrations in the city’s stunning street art, which lined the streets of Rio and provided a way for citizens to voice their dissent. In this picture, one citizen sketched a traffic cone, representing ongoing development projects in the city, with the caption “Rio para quem?” — which translates to “Rio for whom?”
Street art has been legal in Rio since 2009, and as a result, much of the city’s walls were filled with vibrant murals that not only sent a political message, but also captured the city’s energy and state of mind. During our trip through Centro, the financial center of the city, we chanced upon two street artists at work, busily painting an abstract mural of bright colors, swirls, and shapes of all sizes. Their efforts reflect the beautification movement in Rio and underscore the prominence of street art in the city’s overall aesthetic.