A survey completed in four American and one Canadian cities reveals a huge disparity regarding perceptions of Rio de Janeiro’s favelas. All 300 respondents had heard of favelas prior to completing the survey. Of those who had never been to these communities, 79% viewed them unfavorably, whereas 72% of respondents who had visited favelas viewed them favorably.
Catalytic Communities’ Favela Perceptions Survey interviewed 300 people next to mass transit stops in downtown Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, New York, and Montreal in March 2012. Another 325 were interviewed in Rio de Janeiro.
Catalytic Communities, the organization responsible for the survey, explains this disparity:
“For decades favelas have been depicted by the international media, film and video game industries as bastions of crime and squalor. The word is readily translated as ‘slum,’ ‘shantytown,’ ‘ghetto,’ or ‘squatter community,’ when favelas ceased being characterized by these conditions decades ago,” explains Theresa Williamson, a city planner and Catalytic Communities’ Executive Director.
In reality, these communities that grew from the late 1900s on due to poor housing policy and land access, show creativity, innovation and the opportunity for Rio to lead the world in urbanization policy.
“Rio’s favelas are a testament to human ingenuity and determination,” says Williamson. “Over a century, against all odds and with little outside support, these communities have provided housing and livelihood options to millions.”
Catalytic Communities will be launching a 30-minute video entitled “Favelas as Sustainable Models” at Rio+20, and speaking before the Global Parliamentarians on Habitat at the conference.
Today, by official estimates there are 1.4 million people living in over 700 favelas in Rio de Janeiro, over 22% of the city’s population.
A recent study of 6 favelas by local think-tank IETS and Firjan, Rio’s Federation of Industries, found that: 95% of homes are made of brick and concrete; 75% have tile floors; and 44% have computers.
Favela residents also have the right to their land, though it is rarely recognized.
“Favelas sit on a continuum of development somewhere between ‘slum’ and full urbanization. Yet, because they develop on their own, each community is wholly unique. What they need is recognition of their innovation, vitality, individuality and accomplishments, and the support to fully urbanize in a way that’s consistent with the organic style of development that produced such unique places in the first place,” says Williamson.
The organization is inviting international visitors to experience the city’s favelas first-hand during the Rio +20 event, and thus help balance international perceptions of these communities.
Visitors can participate in community-led Educational Community Visits, donations from which provide critical support to community organizations in the favelas, as well as the production of Catalytic Communities’ video, Favelas as Sustainable Models, to be launched during Rio +20.
Thirty visits have been scheduled over a two-week period – June 13-29 – to a wide variety of favelas facing diverse pressures across the city: Alemão, Asa Branca, Babilônia, Cantagalo, Cordovil, Fogueteiro, Muzema, Parada de Lucas, Penha, Providência, Rocinha, Santa Margarida, Santa Marta, Vale Encantado, Vidigal, and Vila Autódromo.
Each visit will be led by a community leader and facilitated by two CatComm representatives providing translation and contextual background information.
Catalytic Communities is a US non-profit organization based in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Their mission, they say, is to improve the quality of life for all Rio de Janeiro residents by driving a more effective integration between the city’s informal and formal communities. They hope their work may be replicated elsewhere in the world.
Rio Olympics Neighborhood Watch – http://rioonwatch.org/.