Center for Art + Environment Blog

January 28, 2011   |   William L. Fox

Dispatch from Rio #1

Lea Rekow

Photo courtesy of the Nevada Museum of Art

Photo courtesy of the Nevada Museum of Art

Photo courtesy of the Nevada Museum of Art

Photo courtesy of the Nevada Museum of Art

Photo courtesy of the Nevada Museum of Art

Photo courtesy of the Nevada Museum of Art

Photo courtesy of the Nevada Museum of Art

Photo courtesy of the Nevada Museum of Art

Photo courtesy of the Nevada Museum of Art

Today we caught the subway to the General Osorio metro station in Ipanema. This metro stop has a newly opened sixty-meter high elevator (equivalent to a 23-story building) that leads to the Cantagalo and Pavão/Pavãozinho favela communities (the elevator services a population of about 28,000 people – a city in itself). Use of the elevator is free. It is connected by a covered walkway to a smaller tower, twenty meters high, that leads directly into the Cantagalo community. These favelas are lodged in the hillsides of Copacabana and Ipanema in the center of Zona Sul (the South Zone) in Rio. The elevators to the second smaller tower are not yet operational. There are plans to relocate some of the favela residences here to make it more “friendly” and to add a second viewing platform for the general public. The residents of the slums in the South Zone have a higher human development index than the rest of residents in Rio, though these slums still suffer from issues of drug trafficking, water shortages, landslides, fire, and open sewer systems. Santa Cruz, the West Zone, has the worst human development index in Rio. This is where the recent escalation in violence, due to the “pacification” campaigns, originates from.

In April last year, over 250 lives were lost in landslides in various favela communities around Rio (what Mike Davis refers to as cities of slums). Rescue workers suffered from nausea as they searched for survivors in Niteroi’s Morro do Bumba favela community. The nausea was caused from the inhalation of methane gas (Morro do Bumba is built on a garbage heap that emits large amounts methane as it decomposes). A protest/installation, organized by the NGO Rio de Paz, was staged in response to the floods. About twenty children from the City of God favela, with gags in their mouths, protested the poor housing conditions in favelas by building a wooden shanty on Copacabana beach with material collected from several favelas that were affected in the landslides. The protesters asked for improvement of housing conditions to be prioritized in the planning for the upcoming 2016 Olympics. The action was attended by Brasilian celebrities, who later led the participants, with flowers and food, up to the Santa Teresa slum that was also severely affected by the rains. About 1.3 million people live in the approximately 750 favelas in Rio de Janeiro.