Favela Upgrading in Rio, Brazil: Rocinha Neighborhood

Rocinha (little farm), located in Rio de Janeiro, is widely considered as one of Rio de Janeiro’s largest and most densely populated and urbanized favela neighborhoods. Built on a steep hillside only one kilometer away from the nearby beach, Rocinha is identified by the 2010 census as with a population of 69,161 people while the actual estimate ranged from 150,000 to 300,000 during the 2000s. As the most populous favela in Rio and in Brazil as well, Rocinha developed from a shanty town into an urbanized slum with almost all houses made from concrete and bricks with basic sanitation, plumbing, and electricity. Compared to smaller shanty towns or slums, Rocinha has a better developed infrastructure and hundreds of businesses such as banks, medicine stores, bus lines, cable televisions, including locally based channel TV Rocinha.

Although located between two of Brazil’s wealthiest neighborhoods, São Conrado and Gávea, Rocinha has faced substantial disparities in public health conditions and education. Among approximately 800 slums in Rio de Janeiro, Rocinha is ranked only 316th from the top in its Human Development Index (HDI), significantly below the average HDI of the 510 slums considered in a 2008 government census. Considering the size of the community and its low HDI, it is argued that the number of Rocinha’s residents who suffer from at least one health related disability is probably significantly higher than the official estimates.

Similar to other favelas in Rio, Rocinha experienced removal attempts and forced evictions during the 1960s and 1970s when residents were relocated to distant neighborhoods that were 45 kilometers west of the neighborhood. In the 1990s, Rocinha was chosen to receive the pilot Project Rocinha, the community’s first slum upgrading program that stimulated it continue to grow throughout the decade. During the same period, violence and organized crime increased dramatically in Rio’s favelas like Rocinha. In the late 1980s and 1990s Rocinha became famous for its baile funks, some of the largest and rowdiest funk parties in the city that many middle class cariocas began to frequent as well. In November 2011, a security operation was undertaken where hundreds of police and military patrolled the streets of Rocinha to crackdown on rampant drug dealers and bring government control to the neighborhood.

Today, Rocinha has become a community where its residents can find basically everything they need without going outside of Rocinha. A favela of this size with growing concerns on the wellbeing of its residents has undoubtedly imposed large challenges on its upgrading, especially with Brazil under the World Cup and Olympic spotlight and its government’s alleged expansion on upgrading programs like Morar Carioca. The outcome of such efforts on favela upgrading remains to be seen.

Zhangjun (Winnie) Zhou, MPP ’15


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