Underground sociabilities surface, atop a Rio skyscraper

Our ever more penetrating gaze


For many Rio young people, hair grows long as identity and belonging develop

Some of the key actors in Rio de Janeiro’s transformation met this past Tuesday at the top of the downtown Universidade Cândido Mendes building, to put their heads together about the current moment. The occasion was the launch of a toolbox for bottom-up social development in Rio favelas — the result of a study undertaken by the London School of Economics, UNESCO, and the Banco Itaú’s departments dealing with social and cultural support. The study focused on the work of two pioneers, Afroreggae and  CUFA.

Para Sociabilidades subterrâneas vêm à tona no alto da cidade, clique aqui

Da apresentação marcante de Pedro Strozemberg, diretor executivo do ISER

A new moment — slide from ISER director Pedro Strozemberg’s presentation

Pedro Strozemberg, as seen in his slide, above*, drew an accurate portrait of 2015, thus far a year of intense drama. Notably, until recently the picture was vastly different: few voices spoke out, without broad use of the Internet there were fewer connections and less dynamism, young people were less visible, identity/belonging was a confused category, basic needs trumped quality of public services, violence reduction didn’t seem possible and dialogue was narrower.

In his next slide**, Strozemberg went further, suggesting what lies ahead:

Caminho das pedras

A rocky path

The day was gorgeous and it was a gift to be able to contemplate Rio de Janeiro on high.


Better, only from a helicopter. Worse, at sidewalk level.

Washington Fajardo, however, reminded us that the city happens on the ground level. Fajardo, who quite possibly fills a city post with the longest name of all (President of the  Rio World Heritage Institute and of the Municipal Council for Cultural Heritage Protection), lamented our tendency to still think it desirable to build a new, car-dependent Brasília. Perhaps only when we walk along the renewed waterfront, without the (recently demolished) elevated Perimetral highway, will we see just how horrific Guanabara Bay is, said Fajardo. “We need to rebuild the city’s ground floor,” he urged.

Fred Coelho, PUC literature and scenic arts professor, described the new environment at this private university, which now includes, thanks to scholarships, students from poor families. The professor, he said, no longer mediates reality for his or her students. The Complexo do Alemão student is present to share his or her truths about urban life, with those who grew up in Arpoador.


Marlova Noleto, lead program coordinator at UNESCO in Brazil, and Washington Fajardo

René Silva, founder of the community newspaper Voz da Comunidade (Community Voice), born in the Complexo do Alemão about a decade ago, represented the young people who are changing the cultural and psycho social face of Rio, as participants in NGO projects, collective initiators or in activist roles. He told of the experience of learning the power of media to express local residents’ needs. Silva has expanded his paper to other parts of Brazil.

Coordinator Bryony Duncan described the success of the Fight for Peace project which changes influences on young people in the Complexo da Maré and many other locations, worldwide.

The Dialogue included two Rio police officers: the Rio de Janeiro Military Police Chief of Staff, Robson Rodrigues, and PM Major Victor Fernandes de Souza. We heard from them both about the recognition of errors and difficulties and great effort in the areas of training and communication. “The police owe a debt to society,” said Fernandes.

Sandra Jovchelovich, co-autora do guia prático ao Desenvolvimento Social de Base em Favelas do Rio de Janeiro

Sandra Jovchelovich, co-author of Bottom-up Social Development in Rio de Janeiro Favelas: a Toolkit, and professor at the London School of Economics: it’s possible to provide missing psycho-social/cultural ingredients of personal development, in poor communities

Eduarda La Rocque, who moderated the afternoon “I have a dream”conversation , spoke about the pact she’s determinedly forging, among government, the private sector, universities and NGOs. Rio’s problems, after all, belong to us all.

Describing recent change in Rio, Sílvia Ramos, CESeC/UCAM coordinator and social scientist, echoed Pedro Strozemberg.

Afrorreggae and CUFA (and other groups), she said, “effected a radical shift” in Brazil. After the massacres of the 1990s, they brought to the fore issues that the country preferred to avoid. They were, she added, a sort of founding fathers. At last, the logic of truth prevailed.

Now is the moment to deepen change. “We’re not doing what we should be doing,” she observed. The Minha Casa Minha Vida (My House My Life) federal housing program, for example, has built record numbers of homes — with no debate on any aspect of it. This is why, she added, dialogues such as Tuesday’s are so crucial.


Eduarda La Rocque, untiring energy

Ivana Bentes, Secretary for Citizenship and Cultural Diversity at the Ministry of Culture, said she heard participants’ call for public policies to help with the construction of psycho-social scaffolding, particularly in the areas of sharing experiences and networking.


Ivana Bentes, every finger firmly on the cultural pulse

*Translation of first slide:

  • Expression of multiple voices
  • Internet establishes new frontiers and new dynamics
  • Youth expressing urgency while older actors step back
  • Low institutionalization with high identity/belonging
  • Demand for quality replaces demands for basic needs
  • Shifts with the UPP presence, including unstable territories and wavering police presence
  • Broader dialogue
  • With continued distrust, limits to violence, cronyism in relations with public sector, legitimacy of victim role

** Translation of second slide:


  • Focus on recognized conflicts (without equivocation, but based on an agenda that calls participants to dialogue)
  • Actor movement (departing from stable positions)
  • Personal exposure (being honest about positions)
  • Experiencing conflict (positions carry intent)
  • Focused questions and direct responses (real dialogue)
  • Kindness and humor (relaxing the environment)
  • Systematization and movement forward (next steps)
  • Legitimacy of mediator(s) (those who call participants to dialogue)
  • Multiple languages (plural and convergent initiatives)
  • Continual exercise (dialogue is a learning process)

About Rio real

American journalist, writer, editor who's lived in Rio de Janeiro for 20 years.
This entry was posted in Brazil, Transformation of Rio de Janeiro / Transformação do Rio de Janeiro and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Underground sociabilities surface, atop a Rio skyscraper

  1. janabehling2 says:

    Perfect description.

  2. Lidia V. Santos says:

    Good job, Julia!

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