LA STAMPA

Rio Launches Pre-World Cup Facelift For Its Infamous Favelas

With an eye on the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics, both to take place in Brazil, Rio de Janeiro plans to improve its image with an extreme makeover of its notorious hillside slums.

Paolo Manzo

RIO DE JANEIRO - Already known as the Cidade Maravilhosa (Marvelous City,) Rio de Janeiro is getting ready to become more fabulous still. South America's "sleeping giant," Brazil has finally woken up and is quickly becoming an international power. And Rio, the country's second largest city, is hoping to cut a profile worthy of that status by hiding its darkest sides: the favelas, its infamous hillside slums.

The housing department of the city has launched a program called Morar Carioca (Living Carioca Style) to reshape 215 of the city's 600 favelas. In recent months, the police have struggled to pacify the slums. Now architecture will do its part to fix the many social issues that plague these troublesome areas, which together cover an area of about 12 million square meters. The Inter-American Development Bank has helped raise roughly 4 billion euros worth of funding for the project, and authorities have already selected 40 projects by some of Brazil's best architecture firms to carry out the transformation.

The 2014 Football World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games have together played a large part in hastening the projects and spurring fundraising efforts. But more importantly, according to sociologists, the Brazilian society is finally feeling the need to address long lasting social injustices.

Rio de Janeiro was founded in the 16th century by Portuguese colonizers who exploited the work of African slaves. The slaves were freed in 1888 and soon after built the first slums on the hills around the city. Ignored for more than a century, something is finally changing for the decrepit and notoriously dangerous favelas.

Corruption is said to be slowing down the construction of the Olympic buildings but in the usually forgotten favelas changes are clearly afoot. The residents themselves, furthermore, are all invited to join in the work.

"Finally we are no longer invisible. We can make our voices heard in this process, which is all about giving a human aspect to the places where we live," says Pedro Leal, a proud resident of a slum called São João.

In these favelas, drug trafficking and shootings are part of the day-to-day reality. "Your residence doesn't protect you," says Pedro, who is hoping the Morar Crioca project will bring about real change.

Star architechts take to the slums

Blue prints drafted by architects Jacira Farias and Gilson Santos – two of the designers whose projects have been selected for Rio's extreme makeover – call for the construction of large, 19th-century Parisian-style boulevards. Plans also call for "greening" the poor areas with gardens and flowers, things that right now can only be found in the upscale Copacabana and Ipanema neighborhoods.

Open spaces tend to be healthier and safer. In the slums, rudimentary residences are built one on the top of the other. The heat increases the spread of illnesses. The Rocinha favela has South America's highest rate of tuberculosis. A project by city planner Luiz Carlos Toledo calls for improving Rocinha with "eco walks' to prevent overly dense construction.

"Morar Caroca may really change the face of the city," says João Pedro Backheuserm, one of most important Brazilian architects and the person responsible for coordinating the overall project.

"Everyone will have to do his part. Remodelled houses are not enough without the implementation of a good sewage system," he adds. "Often, projects begin only to be halted soon after. That shouldn't be the case with Morar Carioca. Rio wants to look and feel its best for the Olympic Games. That's something everyone, from the administrator to the poorest resident, wants."

Read the original article in Italian

Photo - Peteris 2009

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