Favelas Forever & the Future of Social Housing

In a blink of an eye the World Cup is over and I was fortunate enough to enjoy eight days in Ipanema, Rio during the tournament.

In between watching two games in the Moracana stadium and two at the “Fan Fest” screen on Copacabana beach (I enjoyed the latter more!) – managed to pay homage to Christ the Redeemer, see Sugarloaf mountain, discover a party town called Lappa and the local favourite “Caipirinha” drink (being made below).

Caipirinha

In contrast to the shinny new stadiums of the World Cup and the heavily gated homes of Rio – a myriad of favelas run up the hillsides. From distant the favelas look more akin to Tuscan villages. Closer, they resemble the shanti towns of Africa and India, but rather than on flat lands – running diagonally ever upwards. The places were heavily locked down with Police and military posts on all roads running down from the favelas.

As more and more people head towards the big cities around the world, the favelas offer an insight into the future of low cost housing. A future that involves less demolition and more creative thinking about the potential of places and people:

With the right infrastructure support and the provision of shops, schools, roads and leisure facilities – the most challenging of neighbourhoods can be transformed without the need for wholesale demolition. These are the initiatives helping to transform the favelas:

  1. The provision of a modern cable car system (more synonymous with the rich ski resorts of the world) has helped transform the Complexo do Alemao – one of the largest favelas with a population of over 100,000;
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  2. It is easy to generalise whole neighbourhooods without understanding the complex mix of social classes with their own distinct aspirations. Some of the hottest places to eat in Rio are now within the favelas (see below Glimário Joao dos Santos, chef of a restaurant in the Rocinha favela. Photograph by Marcos Pinto);
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  3. Gentrification will and does happen in the most deprived areas as the young seek more affordable areas away from the high cost city centres;
  4. Former wooden shacks have been upgraded to permanent dwellings with some modern services. Residents are constantly improving their own homes through a process of ‘self-help’ and is a regular Saturday event when neighbours and friends join in;
  5. Local shops offer an unofficial post collection service, something only now been adopted by large retailers around the world;
  6. The contentious police “pacification” programme (UPP) has to a large degree worked to reduce crime. Some of the favelas have lower crime rates than the ever popular Copacabana beach area;
  7. Innovative learning programmes such as “Uere”(confidence and self esteem building) developed in the favelas are beingrolled out into the wider state sector;
  8. A consumer market exists for every type of service in the favelas and the big multinationals such as General Motors, Pearson, Visa, MasterCard and Sky are now falling over themselves to tap into this pent up demand; and
  9. Stereotyping the favelas as “slums” is misleading. These are not bleak or destitute places, but in fact are the most vibrant, creative and active places within the city.

Social housing providers need to deliver the right services to enable marginalised communities and neighbourhoods to thrive and become integral parts of the wider city scape . Otherwise, we are merely reinforcing the negative stereotypes promoted in the media and now held by so many of the population.

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