Second in a series of conversational nuggets, about the transformation of cultural life in the marvelous city.
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Pedro Rivera, architect and partner at Rua Arquitetos, PUC-Rio professor and director of Studio-X Rio / GSAPP Columbia University, says more mixing is needed.
“If you open up a street, it will attract commerce,” says Rivera, whose project Potência Informal (Informal Power), developed together with architects Pedro Évora and Pedro Araújo, was one of forty selected at the end of 2010 by the MorarCarioca (CariocaLiving) contest.
Meant to be part of the Olympic Games legacy, MorarCarioca is a municipal program that aims to bring almost all Rio’s favelas up to city standards by 2020, with a total investment of US$ 5.3 billion equivalent, in partnership with state and federal government, as well as the Inter-American Bank.
According to Rivera, the conceptualization of such an upgrade has undergone fundamental change since the last renewal of carioca favelas, with the Favela-Bairro (Favela-Neighborhood) program in the 1990s.
“A favela home is a house in process,” he explains. “It’s a mistake to forget the power of the ‘other’. [Urban renewal] projects should take into account and manage these processes.” New infrastructure, such as a sewage system or a street, can attract new residents and new investment.
The winning Potência Informal project, created by the three Pedros, proposes community participation to develop a kind of renewal that considers the way a place “reacts to investments undertaken by way of population influx and pressure to increase building density; investment on the part of residents; and the appropriation of proposed spaces, infrastructure and equipment.”
The project compares two photos of the same street in the Rio das Pedras favela, before and after the Favela-Bairro program opened up a street.
It wasn’t the police pacification units that sparked the urban integration now under way in Rio de Janeiro, Rivera says. “The  movie City of God was very important. For the first time the favela entered the mass media world. Everyone had seen World War II movies. No one had seen a war movie about Rio. And it went to the Oscars!”
Seven years later, the crime reduction stemming from the pacification program was crucial. People began to feel comfortable thinking about the potential of favelas, Rivera recalls. Now, he points out, “The power of Brazilian culture will be found at the frontier of these two worlds that are starting to discover each other. The division is starting to blur. Many members of the new middle class are in the favela.”
Economic growth and the upcoming sporting events have translated into cash to pay for improvements, Rivera explains. “The favelas are highly dense, so you need equipment such as cable cars [in the Alemão complex of favelas] and the elevator [to the Pavão-Pavãozinho favela]. Now, no one says ‘how ridiculous’, when they see investments like these.”
Rio de Janeiro has more than 600 favelas, home to approximately 20% of its population. If the MorarCarioca program really does upgrade all of them, what will our city look like in 2020? It’s interesting to imagine a topography of varying density, connected by cable car, monorail, inclined planes, stairs and oversized elevators, with fruit and vegetable gardens on rooftops, vertical and horizontal plazas for leisure activity, sewage systems, recycled trash, and clean rivers and bays.
We would have so many life experience options– something much more peaceful and easygoing than the future cities of cinematographic fame. And the mixing that Pedro Rivera recommends would be extremely pleasurable.
I think the key is COMMUNITY PARTICIPATION in the planning process. Grand plans brought in from on high rarely solve the problem.
The government can commit the resources – but the community must be the driver for what is right for them.
Imagine trying to rebuild a city like Detroit or New Orleans USA.. There is no will, no vision and no Olympics to prepare for. These cities will never be rebuilt. While Rio has a wonderful opportunity to shed its past and make new.in a revitalized effort. There is a raw vigor from a few making the first small steps. They are paving the way. Let’s hope others will follow.