The favela fighting back against Rio’s Olympic development

Looking down on Rio. Image: Getty.

Vila Autódromo is a small favela perched on the edge of the Olympic Park developments in Rio de Janeiro. The official plan for the park ensures that there’s space for the community to keep living there, and Rio’s mayor, Eduardo Paes, promised that nobody would be forced to leave.

Yet since Rio was awarded the right to host the games, many homes in the community have been destroyed to make space for construction works. In some cases, evictions have turned violent. In others, dwellings are demolished without warning – for example, one resident’s house was destroyed while she was at a doctor’s appointment. These evictions – and the protests and social movements they have incited – have formed the focus of my doctoral research.

The favela sits on a beautiful lagoon in Rio’s fast-developing West Zone. It would make for prime real estate, fuelling speculation that the current residents are being evicted to free up the land for redevelopment.

Prime real estate. Image: Buda Mendes/Getty Sports.

Politically speaking, it’s easy to evict these residents because of the stigma surrounding the favelas. I asked Theresa Williamson, executive director of the NGO Catalytic Communities, to explain the impact of the public’s negative perceptions about favelas:

[It] gives policy makers a pretext to do whatever they want. If you think favelas are violent by nature, you’re going to think any policing is good policing. If you think favelas are precarious, horrible places to live, then you’re going to think any public housing is good housing.

This stigma gives the impression that residents would be happy to be relocated to new housing built under the Brazilian government’s Minha Casa, Minha Vida (my house, my life) programme – a R$34 billion house-building initiative, which has been used to resettle those removed from favelas. Indeed, it is estimated that 80 per cent of Vila Autódromo’s 700 or so families have accepted compensation and moved to alternative accommodation. This is a result of a campaign of pressure by the city described by residents as “psychological warfare” and “terrorism”, combined with increased money offered as compensation.

Not everyone has a price. Image: Adam Talbot

But the housing is often poor quality, and essential living costs such as electricity are significantly higher. This has led to accusations that the programme reproduces social inequalities, rather than addressing them. And for the 40 families that remain, the favela is home. One resident showed me around his house, where he had got married ten years ago, showing me photos with a smile on his face and joking with his wife. Their home was placed under eminent domain in March 2015.

Organised resistance

On top of this, Rio’s government has sent military police units to “pacify” the city’s favela communities. These communities have a reputation for being violent and dangerous, and authorities leverage those often misguided perceptions to justify using barbaric levels of force. A vast number of unlawful killings by police have been reported by human rights organisations.

Alongside local residents, such organisations have played a significant role in documenting human rights violations in the lead up to the event. For example, the Popular Committee for the World Cup and Olympics in Rio de Janeiro recently released its fourth dossier of human rights abuses, covering the year 2015. Likewise, detailed daily coverage by news site RioOnWatch helps to hold the city to account and encourages residents.

Rio’s misguided perceptions of favelas, and its intense focus on achieving short-term success over a few days in August, have led the government to pursue this policy of forced evictions and pacification. #

But there is another way. By celebrating the vibrant nature of favela communities, the city could make Vila Autódromo part of the show. The residents are incredibly friendly and welcoming, and have recently played host to events such as cultural festivals and football tournaments.

By viewing favelas primarily as cultural assets, the city could incorporate Vila Autódromo into their plans for the Olympic Park, and use it to showcase the creativity and spirit of Rio, during those few days in August when the world comes to play. It’s not too late for the city to change: to provide upgrades for the residents in Vila Autódromo and use the community to show favelas to the world through a different, positive lens.

"Ataque Brasil" plays to the crowd at a cultural festival. Image: Adam Talbot.

In his excellent analysis of the likely legacy of Rio 2016, academic Jorge Knijnik concluded that the only hope is for civil society to counteract the injustices arising from Brazil’s turbulent sociopolitical environment. But more can be done. The activists I’ve met in Rio de Janeiro need support from citizens all over the world.

Anyone who wants to see a fair Olympic Games – one which lives up to the promises of peace and respect made in the Olympic Charter – can add their voice to those already asking, “Olimpíadas para quem?” (“who are the Olympics for?”). By sharing the stories about human rights violations in the build up to the games and ensuring the voices of Rio’s residents are heard, people all over the world can help to achieve a greater social legacy for the Olympics.The Conversation


Adam Talbot is a doctoral researcher in the sociology of sport at the University of Brighton.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

Here are eight thoughts on TfL’s proposed cuts to London’s bus network

A number 12 bus crosses Westminster Bridge. Image: Getty.

In 2016, the urbanism blog City Observatory had a modest proposal for how American cities could sort out their transport systems: “Londonize”.

Its theory, the name of which referenced another popular urbanism blog, Copenhagenize, was that the key plank of Transport for London’s success was something that even transport nerds did not consider very sexy: its buses.

Though the Tube might get more glamorous press, London’s bus service really is impressively massive: It carries roughly 2.3bn passengers per year—much more than the Tube (1.3bn), close to the New York City subway (2.8bn), and nearly half as much as every bus service in America combined (5.1bn), while serving a population roughly 1/35 as large.

How has TfL done this? By making its bus network high frequency, reliable, relatively easy to understand and comprehensive. We rarely talk about this, because the tube map is far more fun – but the reason it’s so difficult to fall off the transport network in Greater London is because you’re never that far from a bus.

Given all that, we should probably talk about TfL’s plans to rethink – and in most cases, cut – as many as 36 different central London bus services over the next few months.

I’m not going to rehash details of the changes on which TfL is consulting from next month: there are just too many of them, and anyway it’s someone else’s scoop. The story was originally broken by Darryl Chamberlain over on 853 London; there’s also some fascinating analysis on Diamond Geezer’s blog. You should read both of those stories, though preferably not before you’ve finished reading this one.

Before offering my own analysis of the proposed changes, though, I should offer a few examples. More than a dozen routes are facing a trim: the 59 from King’s Cross back to Euston, the 113 from Oxford Circle to Marble Arch, the 171 from Holborn all the way down to Elephant & Castle and so on. A couple – the 10, the 48, the C2, and at most times the special routemaster version of the 15 – are being withdrawn altogether.

On, and one new route is planned – the 311, from Fulham Broadway to Oxford Circus. This will help plug some of the cuts to the 11, 19 and 22.

So, what does all this mean? Some thoughts:

1) This might not quite be as awful as it initially sounds

TfL says that demand for buses has fallen by around 10 per cent in London in recent years. It predicts it’ll fall further when Crossrail opens, as passengers switch to the new line, or to the tube routes relieved by the new line. So: the idea of taking some unwanted capacity out of the system is not, in itself, terrible.

Striping out unnecessary buses should also improve air quality in some of London’s worst pollution hot spots, and improve traffic flow, hopefully speeding up journeys on those buses that remain. 

A map from the presentation in which TfL explained its plans, showing the reduction in bus numbers on key arteries. Hilariously, notes Darryl Chamberlain, “It no longer produces its own maps, so has had to use one prepared by a bus enthusiast”.

The plans might even free up buses and staff to increase frequencies in outer London where demand hasn’t fallen – though these plans won’t be unveiled until next year and, for reasons I’ll come to below, I’ll believe it when we see it.

2) For many bus users, a lot of these changes will pass almost unnoticed

By my count, I use nine of the affected routes with any regularity – but only three of the changes are things that I’m likely to be at all inconvenienced by. Most of the changes either affect a part of the route I don’t take, or one where there are easy, and pain free alternatives.

This is anecdotal, obviously – perhaps I’m just lucky. But my suspicion is that a lot of these changes will go unnoticed by most passengers. It’s only the sheer number of them happening at once that makes this look like a big deal.

3) The Hopper fare makes this easier...

Once upon a time, if you had to switch buses, you had to pay a second fare. This isn’t true of journeys on the tube or railways – and since bus passengers have, on average, less money than tube passengers, it amounted to a pretty unfair tax on poorer Londoners.

But in January, in what is probably his most notable policy achievement of his two years in office so far, London’s mayor Sadiq Khan changed the rules. Now you can take as many buses as you want within an hour, for a single fare: that means you can switch buses without paying a penalty.

That will have made it easier for TfL to cut routes back: replacing a direct bus journey with one that requires a change no longer means imposing a financial penalty on passengers.


4) ...but not that easy

That’s about where the good news stops, though – because there are reasons other than cost why people prefer direct bus routes. Needing to change buses will be difficult for anyone with any form of mobility impairment, for example. Even for those of us lucky enough not to fall into that category, it’ll be annoying: it’s just easier to stay in one seat for 40 minutes than to get turfed off and have to fight for a new one halfway through.

More than that, from the passengers’ point of view, excess capacity feels quite good a lot of the time: it means your bus may well be nice and empty. Reducing the number of buses along those key corridors will also make those that remain more crowded.

5) The motive is almost certainly financial

Another of Sadiq Khan’s big policy promises was to freeze fares. He made this promise at a time when central government is massively reducing the financial support it gives TfL (the work, Chamberlain notes, of Evening Standard editor George Osborne, back when he was chancellor). And the Hopper fare, while a great idea in many ways, means a further reduction in income.

So: TfL is scrambling for cash: this is why I remain cynical about those new outer London bus routes. I would be amazed if money wasn’t a motivation here, not least because...

6) TfL thinks no one will notice

Any attempt to reduce tube frequencies, let alone close a station, would result in uproar. Hashtag campaigners! Angry people pointing at things in local newspapers! Damning reports on the front of the Evening Standard from the bloke who made it happen!

Buses, though? Their routes change, slightly, all the time. And do you really notice whether your local route comes every 10 minutes or every 12? That’s not to mention the fact that bus passengers, as previously noted, tend to be poorer – and so, less vocal – than tube passengers.

So cuts, and the savings they bring, are much easier to sneak through. TfL probably would have gotten away with it, too, if it hadn’t been for those meddling bloggers.

Although...

7) Scrapping the C2 might be a mistake

The C2 runs from Parliament Hill, through Kentish Town and Camden to Oxford Circus. In other words, it links north London, where a lot of journalists live, to the offices of the BBC and Buzzfeed.

As occasional New Statesman writer James Ball notes, this is probably not the easiest route to quietly shelve.

8) None of this is set in stone

The consultation doesn’t even begin until next month and then will run for six weeks – so all these plans may yet be forgotten. We shall see.

Anyway – here’s Darryl Chamberlain’s original scoop, and here’s some detailed analysis on Diamond Geezer. Please support your local bloggers by reading them.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.

Want more of this stuff? Follow CityMetric on Twitter or Facebook.