A fascinating look at the problems, and potential, of Brazil’s favelas.
For followers of post-modernism’s “new urbanism”, Rio is an exciting, infuriating place. As an urban form the favela is inherently robust, green and “sustainable”. It can offer high-density, low-cost living on locations penetrating the city centre and within reasonable reach of work. Its residents rely on walking and two-wheeled vehicles – taxis are ferocious motorbikes – creating close-knit, self-reliant communities in which ties of family and neighbour are strong. They delineate their own boundaries of loyalty and defensible space.
As a result the world flocks to study them. They have become intellectual works-in-progress to universities such as Pennsylvania, Columbia and the LSE. Pennsylvania even built its own campus “pop-up favela” for study purposes. A leading NGO champion, Theresa Williamson of Catalytic Communities, sees the favelas as the “ideal affordable housing stock”. Their buildings are mostly brick-built and sound, maximising every inch of space and fashioned to occupants’ needs. They are low-energy to a fault.