I previously wrote about the design and life within Brazilian favelas (large, densely populated unplanned urban districts). There are many of them in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo.
I explored Rocinha, the biggest favela in South America, housing 80K people, according to official statistics (or 200K, unofficially!). It is located in the Zona Sul, the south of the city, interestingly, between the most gorgeous beach, Sao Conrado, and the most affluent neighbourhood, Gavea. These two districts represent highly disparate existences side-by-side.
They are usually built upward into the hills because of the unstable terrain for foundations, which is considered less valuable, and due to their distance from city’s infrastructure and the beaches. Then again, they have amazing vistas, but mostly of the rest of the slum.
More information here, and the visuals:
The view towards Sao Conrado
The back view, the sprawl upwards
It all grows ‘organically’ to the hills. With no more space the residents just keep building atop one another
Their foundations are other houses below
With no particular pattern or plan
Due to the fact that the constituencies have no pavements or sidewalks, vehicles relentlessly jostle for space with pedestrians. There is a complex and very confusing system of streets and paths, creating a labyrinth effect.
Someone’s roof is someone else’s patio, terrace or a passageway
The most dramatic feeling upon looking at these structures from the outside is that they may be on the verge of collapse at any moment.
So you always have a view inside or over your neighbour’s private life. Privacy is a vague concept..
I wandered onto somebody’s terrace….. oops. We just smiled and exchanged pleasantries
Most homes keep their doors open, resulting in the appearance of semi-public space where everything is open and shared. The procession of people and traffic in the crowded neighbourhoods means that there is never a silent moment.
The narrowness of the streets and alleyways also intensifies the feeling of proximity to other people. The constriction of maze-like corridors, combined with the constant noise from the interaction of all the open spaces, however, lead to a feeling of uncertainty and anxiety, never knowing what may be coming just around the next corner.
..there’s even a playground
What it’s like inside – like a maze.
Dark and twisty, with sun only peaking in
Life, music and some vibrant wall paints make it feel more sunny
Good luck navigating..
It’s exciting: watch out for the open electric wires
Everyone’s busy, but pretty friendly
Great cheap acai smoothies and other sweets
Moto taxis can whisk you for R1-1.5 (=USD 0.60) to the top of those hills. Otherwise, great leg workout.
Made famous by the internationally-acclaimed film ‘Cidade de Deus/ City of God’, about a Rio favela of the same name, the slums have now also, ironically, become a key site for ‘poverty tourism’ aimed at middle-class international tourists desperate to see the ‘realities’ of Brazilian urban life.
I am not one of them. Trust.
What can you expect? To see the worlds colliding with the mobilizing force of personal and collective imaginations of people attempting to make sense of their lives and rise above circumstances.
Everything is set up so it integrates the inhabitants of favelas, prompting them to take advantage of the notoriety of the slums for intimidation: the more dangerous their neighbourhood, the easier it is to commend respect.
But I found it to be really harmonic, in fact a great community fabric.