This is gross:
Five years ago, Rio de Janeiro’s “favela” hillside slums had such a bad rap that they were virtual no-go zones, where drug lords laid down the law and outsiders set foot at their peril.
But since 2011, police have seized control of dozens of favelas from drug gangs, and things have changed so dramatically that some of the slums are now seen as hot real estate investments — so hot, in fact, that two Europeans recently locked horns in a legal battle over a battered favela house. […]
In the Vidigal slum, middle-class Brazilians and foreigners who can’t afford chic Rio neighborhoods are snapping up properties wedged between tony [sic] beachfront areas like Copacabana and Ipanema.
“It used to be you’d say the word ‘favela’ and people would instantly think: drug trafficking, machine guns, grenades, kidnappings,” said Anderson Ramos, a real estate agent with V.D.G. Imobiliaria, Vidigal’s first real estate agency. “But now, you say ‘favela’ and they think pacification and good deals on houses.”
“We’re seeing upper-class people, millionaires, famous musicians practically queuing up.”
Of course, there are many components of this that are similar to gentrification projects elsewhere throughout the world – Harlem/Morningside Heights and Bedford-Stuyvesant in New York City being some notable US examples. But this has social implications that go far beyond the gentrification of neighborhoods in Rio, implications that speculators conveniently gloss over.
SecoviRio’s [Leonardo] Schneider acknowledged that the city’s demographics may change. About a quarter of Rio’s 6 million people live in the 1,071 favelas.
“In the coming 10-15 years, rich people are going to be buying houses and developers are going to be building condominiums in certain favelas that are well located, with views,” said Schneider. “Naturally, the poor people will move to another area and certain favelas, like Vidigal, are going to be transformed into luxury neighborhoods.”
Suffice to say, this is a disgusting sterilization of a very harsh social relocation; when Schneider says the current favela residents will “naturally” move, what he actually means is “the poor are going to be forced to move against their will from the areas where they grew up and settled once again, as rich people inject so much money into the favelas’ previously-unwanted lands that the residents can no longer afford to live there, creating social, economic, and cultural disruption yet again.”
Because that is how favelas ended up where they are. The term itself has its origins in the Northeast: it was a plant in the Northeast, where soldiers were sent to put down the Canudos community, a millenarian movement; soldiers returning from the War of Canudos settled on hilltops in Rio’s downtown, and named their communities after these plants. These favelas began appearing in downtown Rio de Janeiro, while the middle- and upper-classes lived further from the center in neighborhoods like Botafogo and Flamengo. However, in an effort to appear “modern” and “civilized” (which often meant “look European”), elites in the first few decades of the 20th century decided to transform Rio de Janeiro’s downtown into a more cosmopolitan center so as to make their own claims as the “Paris of the Americas,” a title Buenos Aires was also claiming. However, to initiate “urban renewal” downtown, the elites had to first remove the poor who lived along the hillsides. Through both military and economic endeavors, the powerful forced the poor out of downtown, making the area appealing to the elites and forcing Rio’s poor population, largely made up of former slaves, to the peripheries of the city. As the city grew throughout the twentieth century, the favelas ended up on the margins of the city, either on its north end or to the west, as well as on the mountainsides that cannot sustain the high-rises of the elites throughout the city. As a result, favelas like Dona Marta in Botafogo or Rocinha near São Conrado overlook middle- and upper-class residences.
For decades, the favelas were marginalized, as governments failed to install even the most basic infrastructure, such as running water, electricity, or sewage systems. As a result, favela residents often found themselves having to commute great distances to work in other neighborhoods or serving as the housekeepers for the elites even while being paid poorly. At the same time, favelas rapidly grew and expanded throughout the twentieth century due to rapid urbanization: in 1930, more than 70% of Brazil’s population lived in rural areas and less than 30% lived in cities; by the 1980s, those numbers had reversed, with more than 70% in cities and 30% in the countryside, and the gap has only grown since. Urbanization is so rapid, these favelas often appeared in just a few weeks. Over time, these neighborhoods became home to people, providing their own social networks and cultural expressions; indeed, samba, “the” Brazilian cultural form, has its roots in the favelas.
And now, after being disregarded, marginalized, and persecuted socially, economically, politically, and infrastructurally for decades, favelas in Rio’s southern zones have suddenly become the latest fetish for the rich and powerful, facing gentrification and “urban renewal” that led to their establishments in the first place. It’s a disgusting, if familiar, theme in Rio’s urban and social history.