Demonstration in Vila Autodromo. “Don’t throw us out. Better city planning is the solution.” Posted on Facebook on June 23.
Living in a “little corner of Paradise,” the residents of the favela Vila Autodromo in Rio are used to fighting against attempts to expropriate them. But with the 2016 Olympics on the horizon, the city authorities are eyeing this urban shantytown located in a zone with significant real estate potential. In the favela, a resistance movement is fighting back.
The residents of Vila Autodromo make it a point to emphasize that their neighbourhood is far removed from the image of the stereotypical favela, with its drug traffickers and gangs. The slum, located along Lake Jacarepagua in the west of the Brazilian capital, is known for its tranquillity, abundant greenery, and fishermen.
Yet the community of 3,000 inhabitants has been threatened with expulsion since the city government approved a rapid transit project for the upcoming Olympics that would essentially cut through the favela with an envisaged highway connecting the Olympic village to other parts of the city. According to several Rio urban planners, this detour could have been avoided; they see lurking in the plan a strategy to dispossess the favela residents of land long coveted by real estate investors.
The city government has also put forward several other reasons that allegedly require the favela’s destruction, including unsanitary health conditions and environmental protection.
The local authorities offered to freely relocate all the favela’s residents in low-cost housing 500 metres away. But, with the help of experts, these residents decided to go on the offensive, submitting an alternative plan for the favela’s rehabilitation to the mayor of the city on August 16.
A resident discussing the alternative plan. Picture posted by the Facebook group Vila Autodromo.
Throughout Rio de Janeiro, which will host the football World Cup in 2014 and the Olympic Games in summer 2016, massive changes are afoot. The municipality has launched a large anti-crime operation in several favelas and is working on redeveloping the city’s main arteries. According to the Popular Committee of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games, a total of 22,000 people will need to leave their current homes, and 8,000 of them have already been relocated.
Video created by the municipality of Rio. The deviation that would cut through the favela is shown at 1 minute 15 into the video.
“Their goal is real estate investment”
Jane Nascimento is 57 years old. She is a painter and has lived for the last 11 years in the favela of Vila Autodromo, where she heads a residents’ community group.
Our struggle goes back a long way. Since the late 1990s, our community has been trying to fend off various attempts to evacuate the favela. It’s true that it is a pretty place that is calm and slightly out of the way, so real estate investors are interested.During the Pan American games in 2007, we narrowly escaped expulsion. The favela is situated close to a well-known race course, and the local authorities had developed several real estate projects in the neighbourhood. At the time, they had considered just tearing down the favela, but the local prefect eventually recognized the legitimacy of our titles to our property. The favela was left untouched, but a water park and a velodrome were built nearby. From this moment on, real estate prices skyrocketed in the entire area. For instance, today, to buy here, it’s about 7,000 reais (2,700 euros) per square metre.If we are to believe the local authorities, we are to be relocated free of charge in a nearby area. But we just learned that we would still need to pay monthly housing maintenance costs of about 100 to 150 reais [38 to 58 euros], even though the average monthly income of the favela residents is 600 reais [230 euros]. We feel trapped.Demonstration in Vila Autodromo against the razing of the favela. Video uploaded on July 14.“Our counter-project, developed by experts, would save the government money”The municipality’s stated reason for destroying the favela is the sanitary conditions. But we know that their objective is to continue developing the area around the race track. The favela’s destruction would be a way to hide the poor people, because they don’t look nice next to brand new buildings. This would also allow real estate speculation in the area. It’s a purely capitalistic motive. [According to city planner Carlos Vanier, who participated in the development of an alternative plan, the favela is in “a zone of intense real estate interest”].During a people’s social forum that we organized in 2011, we met some academics working on urban development. With their help and that of a group of technicians, we prepared a counter-proposal that would bring the favela up to norm. This plan would, among other things, provide access to drinking water, as well as to a sewage system. [Other aspects include paving over the streets, the construction of a school and of a preschool, and public transit]. It’s a totally viable project, according to expert consultations, and it would also save the government money, since it would be cheaper than expropriating our entire community. [The residents’ project is valued at 5.5 million euros, which is half the cost of the favela’s evacuation, according to their numbers]. The authorities have 45 days to decide. If they turn down our plan, we will fight them, despite our exhaustion. But I fear violence. Since the government might come destroy our homes, and because nobody knows where to go, people will resist.The Olympic Games are supposed to be a positive event for a city. But by acting irresponsibly toward the city’s most vulnerable communities, Rio’s politicians are giving a poor image of our city.