Rio’s Attempt to Upgrade Favelas


Though not all favelas are alike, nearly all are characterized by winding narrow passages, the under-provision of basic services and often domination by gangs. Residents of these neighborhoods face constant danger due to insecure infrastructure that perpetuates poverty and creates many public health problems. Most favelas residences are built with inferior materials into steep hills and thus face the constant threat of collapse. The sporadic and unplanned growth also contributes to the lack of basic sewage systems, problems with waste management, the absence of paved roads or footpaths and a near-unmanageable electricity grid. The city government has tried a variety of different programs since the military dictatorship (1964 – 1985) to improve conditions in favelas with little success. Yet with the coming mega-sporting events and a mayor with a mandate for building a better, smarter Rio, the city government unveiled a new program, Morar Carioca, in 2010.

Morar Carioca, unlike many of its predecessor programs, was designed to upgrade favelas rather than replace them and ostensibly to have the extensive input of favela residents. Building upon previous programs to improve favelas, but which suffered from under-funding, Morar Carioca was used in Rio’s bid for the Olympics as evidence of the lasting positive impact of the games. The program has plenty of funding with $8.5 billion USD committed from the city budget, the federal government and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), for the program which runs through 2020 and aims to upgrade all of Rio’s slums.

As part of the program, Rio authorities have finally begun the long process of legally recognizing favela resident property claims, with a variety of regularization processes. This legal recognition is expected to give residents the incentive to help fund improvements in their neighborhoods and to protect them from displacement. So far Morar Carioca has helped to improve just over 40 favelas and 150,000 favela residents. The program works with 40 Rio architecture firms and originally solicited the help of iBase, a local NGO that specializes in participatory methods for development. These firms are expected to consult with favela residents to assess their needs and desires and from there, develop sustainable, green solutions.

The expansive program aims to improve favelas not only by providing better basic services such as sewage treatment, paved roads and footpaths and waste disposal, but also by building homes, schools and shopping centers made from recycled material. Rio’s mayor, Edward Paes, had made a name for himself internationally by promoting sustainable, green development and the need for cities to modernize to reduce their climate impact. Unsurprisingly, Morar Carioca features a heavy dose of green infrastructure. Upgrades focus on educating favela residents about the importance of the environment and climate change, of limiting favela growth in order to preserve green areas in the hills surrounding Rio and for getting favela residents to be more sustainable. Despite these lofty goals there has been ample criticism from favela residents.

The promise of Morar Carioca has not been realized in many of the neighborhoods originally guaranteed funding, with long, unexplained delays upsetting residents. Favela residents complain that the program was solely designed to lure the Olympics and World Cup to Rio, without the neighborhoods actually seeing any of the promised improvements. IBase, the NGO responsible for engaging communities in the development process has also been cut out from the program, begging the question of how much input favela residents now have. The program has also been linked to police efforts at pacification which have a mixed reputation as to effectiveness. There is no denying that implementation of a program of Morar Carioca’s breadth and depth would greatly improve life in the favelas, as always though the question is whether the government will actually deliver.

Rory Pulvino
JD/MPP ’16

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One thought on “Rio’s Attempt to Upgrade Favelas

  1. HI, nice to see this piece and thank you for linking to RioRealblog. Have you got a group coming to Rio? I’d love to meet and chat– my views of Morar Carioca keep on changing as I get deeper into the city. The program in fact hasn’t happened, and neither has the bay gotten cleaned up for the Olympics. It’s interesting to think about just what HAS been done, and why. best to you, Julia Michaels

    Liked by 1 person

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