Beat Diaspora: Beats, Buses, Bricks

an omnivorous take on music of the beat-based variety and the urban spaces that nurture it

Saturday, September 30, 2006

The Ma[u/l]ing of Favelas

A piercing post from squattercity, cautioning against a plan by Rio's city government to provide titled deeds to residents of Rocinha and Vidigal and criticizing the American journalist's implied biases is finally spurring me back into a little blogging (as if there weren't mountains of leftover Rio stories to tell).

In particular, I'm wondering if the article's comment about plans to map Rocinna and Vidigal are related to the exhibit I visited in August at the Centro do Aquitetura e Urbanismo (Center of Architecture and Urbanism). Titled "Uma Cidade Chamada Rocinha" (A City Called Rocinha), I wasn't entirely sure what to expect, but it certainly surprised me.

Essentially, the exhibit was a polemic in favor of a city-sponsored development plan for the Passarela, the commercial strip along the highway in front of Rocinha that serves as the main gateway in and out of the favela.

You can see part of it there in the foreground. It's a wonderfully boisterous marketplace, full of merchants and food vendors selling everything from bootleg DVDs and music to soccer jerseys to snacks. Sort of a mini-Urguiana (the huge market downtown) that gets plenty of foot traffic, since most of the buses and vans passing by let off there.

But the plans by In!Rio would definitely wipe out the whole Passarela (in Portuguese only, I'm afraid, but enter the site and click "Explanadas plantas baixas" on the left to get an idea of what they're planning on building, then imagine it replacing what you see in the picture above). In exchange, Rocinha's new entrance could include anything from a shopping mall to a movie theatre to a sports complex with Olympic-sized swimming pools.

While I try hard not to ghettoize favelas in my mind, eschewing any kind of change, as far as I can tell this project deserves nothing but scorn. There are no indications that this proposal has been discussed with the Residents' Association or that there have been any other attempts at dialogue with the very people it will affect. And of course, the kinds of services it proposes don't appear to be in the price range of favelados any more than the São Conrado Fashion Mall across the street.

[from the home of Versace and Cartier, where I felt underdressed in just a tank top and shorts, you can turn 180° and you'll be looking at that Passarela shot.]

The site and the exhibit also talked about this esplanada plan as a way of increasing tourism to Rocinha. The economic benefits of tourism are undeniable, even if it can be culturally stultifying. Cf favela tourism, a phenomenon of dubious morality, in my opinion. Equating a statue of Jesus or a big hill with gorgeous views (Christo Redentor and Pão de Açucar, respectively) with somebody's neighborhood is a serious act of social objectification. Unsurprisingly, the companies themselves are also of dubious honesty. Matt, one of the other volunteers at Dois Irmãos, is working on a thesis about the gringo fascination with favelas, and discovered that the founder of the leading tour company who makes the claim of being local to Rocinha actually lives in São Conrado -- local geographically speaking, but a far cry from Rocinha socio-economically. And, I might add, it's not too hard to score some of those gorgeous views without paying a tour company. On my last day in Rio, I had one of the mototaxis (motorcycle instead of a car, but same concept) take me up the hill to some good vantage points for pictures.

Getting back to Altere-Rocinha, even if tourists came to some gleaming new citadel of shopping, that doesn't necessarily translate into money being spent in Rocinha. It will probably just push back the (artificial) border beyond which one does not cross, carving out more space that "belongs" to the asfalta and taking away space from the morro. I don't want to perpetuate artificial borders, but they certainly do exist: At the Passarela you'll always see a few police loitering about; walk 20 feet into Rocinha, and you'll just as easily find a gun-toting traficante.

That the city would like to plunk a mall down in front of Rocinha (and in fairness, a mall is one of several proposals, but the concept is the same regardless) is, in the end, not surprising. One of the trends that I found most disturbing in Rio's adoration of American commercial and popular culture was the popularity of malls. In nouveau riche Barra da Tijuca (so wannabe American that, I've been told, residents pronounce the name of their neighborhood as if it were an English word rather than the Portuguese "Bah-ha"), a Southern California-style district of gated communities and guarded condo buildings, the crown jewel is the utterly terrifying Barra Shopping/New York City Center, replete with a mock Statue of Liberty. While Barra Shopping is one of the biggest in South America, I know malls are even more the rage in São Paulo (a common expression claims that what beaches are to cariocas, malls or "os shoppings" in Portuguese -- not too inventive -- are to paulistas). Supposedly they even have a mall entirely dedicated to punk rock.

I could vent for awhile about the deleterious effect of shopping malls, but I'll let the case be made by a much more articulate argument. If you can find it, check out Margaret Crawford's "The World in a Shopping Mall" from Variations on a Theme Park. (Here's a teaser: a Harvard Gazette piece on Crawford's favorable opinion of street vendors -- she's a Harvard Graduate School of Design prof, FYI).

To draw some concluding lines though, one of the main gripes with malls are their controlling effect: it's a managed, top-down environment (truthfully, not unlike a prison), one that tries to manipulate the customer because all interactions take place in the private space of the mall, rather than in the agora, the public space afforded by, say, shopping along a city street. It's that kind of imposed order that to me seems contrary to the nature -- and the successes -- of favelas.

And to bridge from bricks back over to beats, it easily parallels the spontaneous, uncontrolled nature of funk -- outside traditional, structured systems of copyright and industry, but popular and vibrant as a result (and more homogenized and exploitative when within that system, cf Marlboro's Link Records, as I've previously mentioned). I'm sure similar lessons can be glaned from another corner of the blogosphere that spurred me to put something new up here. Check out wayne&wax on "how reggae’s aesthetics emerge from a particular history of practice and technology and copyright law." I'm no expert on the minutiae, but I'm willing to bit the same can be said for funk.

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At 10/02/2006 9:24 PM, Blogger ripley said...


fascinating stuff.. I wonder how people in favelas understand ownership? based in title or use or other things?
forgive my ignorance.. I know so little about this.. but I've always been fascinated with the way property rights are seen by the powerful as solutions to problems.

What they see as problems, however, shifts depending on who they are selling the solution to.

and whether everyone else thinks depends on their access to power and representation, as far as I can tell.

Also among legal scholars (you may know) tehre is lively debate about what happens when property rights are claimed as a defensive measure by people with less power (i.e. "traditional knowledge" claims in IP, or indigenous claims to land under human rights law).

SO of course, I wonder about definitions of indigenous or tradition. how long to favelas have to be around before people involved/engaged with/in them can make those kinds of claims, and would they want to?

and on the Mall thing: I wonder about what rights people in Brazil have in public spaces - are they the same for malls? and what about surveillance? who's watching who in malls (and in favelas)? I like Margaret Kohn's discussion of these issues..

At 10/03/2006 5:47 AM, Blogger FaveladodaRocinha said...

No to shopping mall..sao conrado have more!!
Rocinha do not want shopping mall. The pasarella is cultura da favela..

At 10/03/2006 5:05 PM, Blogger scruggs said...

Ripley -- Most of my knowledge of property rights issues in Rocinha comes from Robert Neuwirth (proprietor of squattercity, which I linked to at the top of the post) and author of Shadow Cities, a book he wrote after receiving a MacArthur Grant to live in 4 different squatter communities around the world (Rio, Nairobi, Istanbul, Mumbai).

In the book, I recall him pressing some old guys at a bar about deed/title issues, and they just laughed at him. They built the house they live own, ergo they own it. Simple as that.

On the other hand, as density has increased, certain rights transactions have been occurring -- like selling the space above your structure so someone can build on the 2nd floor (not unlike air rights in NYC, I suppose).

In the case of this particular property rights plan, the article said a family would have to prove they've lived in a given house for 5 years and claimed that such a proposal would benefit 5,000 families -- that's far far less than the total number between the two favelas, which easily number 200k-300k people.

I didn't spend a ton of time in malls, for obvious reasons (I intended to visit the Barra Shopping/New York City Center for research purposes, but couldn't bring myself to do it). But, for example, in that São Conrado Fashion Mall just across the way from Rocinha, I could easily tell it was supposed to be some kind of refuge for the "right" people, the kind who live in São Conrado and not Rocinha. As a gringo I never got a second glance, but I'm sure the security at the door would not have let someone in who looked like they'd come from up the hill.

The issue of surveillance in favelas is interesting -- part of what makes them so fascinating is the fact that the government can't do whatever it wants in favelas like it can anywhere else in the city. Mapping, for example. Rocinha was mapped fairly precisley by the electricity company when they came in and turned the pirated juice into regular service, but the electricity exec Neuwirth spoke to refused to show him the map -- he thought it would get around to the wrong people (aka the gang that runs Rocinha) that he had done so.

And with such tight density, while satellite maps (cf the ones on the In!Rio site) can show principle throughfares, all the alleyways are easily obscured and still known only to those who live there.


At 10/03/2006 5:08 PM, Blogger scruggs said...


I agree with you 100%. That's why I wonder if anyone in Rocinha knows about this plan. Do you know if William de Oliveira from the Associação de Moradores has an e-mail address? I would like to tell him about the website that has the ALTERE-ROCINHA project. It is important that Rocinha's residents know about this idea and can voice their own opinions, tá ligada?

É eu, tá certo, prefero uma passarella a um shopping.


At 10/03/2006 9:01 PM, Blogger FaveladodaRocinha said...

I can get email of Willian for you ok?
Rocinha people do not agree in this. This only making things cost more money and make problems for Rocinha.

At 10/04/2006 8:49 AM, Blogger FaveladodaRocinha said...

A Associação de Moradores ﴾ U.P.M.M.R﴿

Fundada em 21 de agosto de 1961 com a união e esforço de moradores da própria comunidade da Rocinha par trabalhar em pro da comunidade, A Associação de Moradores da Rocinha ˝ UNIÃO PRÓ MELHORAMENTO DOS MORADORES DA ROCINHA˝ (U.P.M.M.R.) foi fundada e vem lutando há 44 anos pela comunidade da Rocinha pare trazer serviços públicos de qualidade para os moradores de baixa renda, intermediando com as instituições governamentais e não governamentais, com os governos, empresas privadas e todos os que querem de alguma forma trabalhar pela comunidade, e nos ajudar a fazer desta comunidade uma Rocinha melhor.
---------------------- pode fazer contat com o willian aki. vc conhece Dj Sany (pitbull) ..Sany e Willian são amigos bons..
vc tem sorte greg..


..tb ele tem o site


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