Policing for hearts and minds in the favelas

Paul Raven @ 13-04-2010

In Rio de Janiero, the authorities are moving to liberate favelas from the control of drug-traffiking gangs, demonstrating an advanced understanding not only of what causes this sort of social fragmentation, but also the realistic limits of what they can hope to achieve [via Chairman Bruce]:

The occupation of the Morro da Providência is the latest phase of a pioneering government “pacification” project that aims to liberate hundreds of thousands of Rio slum dwellers, replacing violent drug gangs with a permanent, hearts and minds-style police presence.

Seven of Rio’s 1,000-odd favelas have been occupied in the last 18 months as part of the pacification scheme, among them the City of God favela that gained international notoriety in Fernando Meirelles’ hit film.

By the end of 2010 authorities say 59 favelas will have benefited from the fledgling pacification units, freeing an estimated 210,000 people from the rule of Rio’s gangs. Between now and 2016, when Rio hosts the Olympics, dozens more occupations are planned.

[…]

Rio’s authorities make little secret of the fact that their aim is to reclaim hundreds of slums from the control of armed drug gangs, rather than to stamp out drug trafficking altogether.

“We cannot guarantee that we will put an end to drug trafficking nor do we have the pretension of doing so,” said Beltrame. “[The idea is] to break the paradigm of territories that are controlled by traffickers with weapons of war. Our concrete objective is [to ensure] that a citizen can come and go [in a favela] as he pleases, that public or private services can get in there whenever they want.”

The cynic in me suspects that the freedom of public and private services is of greater importance than that of the citizens… but even so, it remains to be seen whether the centralised power of policing can conquer the networked power of the gangs. We’ll see the police become more gang-like, I think, if they last the course, and the gangs may become more police-like; the methods are a response to the territory. [image by anthony_goto]


Welcome to the Dropout Economy

Paul Raven @ 16-03-2010

American pride?This one’s doing the rounds everywhere at the moment (I spotted it thanks to Chairman Bruce and John Robb), and with good reason: it’s a provocative piece, especially coming from Time Magazine. Welcome to the Favela Chic future, American style:

Middle-class kids are taught from an early age that they should work hard and finish school. Yet 3 out of 10 students dropped out of high school as recently as 2006, and less than a third of young people have finished college. Many economists attribute the sluggish wage growth in the U.S. to educational stagnation, which is one reason politicians of every stripe call for doubling or tripling the number of college graduates.

But what if the millions of so-called dropouts are onto something? As conventional high schools and colleges prepare the next generation for jobs that won’t exist, we’re on the cusp of a dropout revolution, one that will spark an era of experimentation in new ways to learn and new ways to live.

Go read the whole thing, and see Reihan Salam predict the rise of roll-your-own web-based homeschooling, resilient sub-communities based on the exchange of labour rather than money, backyard farming and permaculture, mend-and-make-do and hardware hacker attitudes, and a complete volte-face away from institutional politics.

Exaggerated for controversy and effect? Almost certainly… but grown from more than a single grain of truth, I think, and just as likely to happen over here in the Eurobloc, though maybe not so soon or so hard. [image by emseearr]


Lo-fi wi-fi network springing up from junk in Jalalabad

Paul Raven @ 03-03-2010

Jalalabad FabLab wi-fi reflectorOffered here as an extension of the arguments made by the Prospect Magazine piece I linked to the other week about the lessons to be learned from the last-minute low-cost solutions of slum residents and other disadvantaged social groups, Free Range International hosts a report from an MIT team working in Jalalabad, Afghanistan that describes how an injection of knowledge and expertise can accelerate local progress far more effectively than an injection of externally-managed aid money:

… the irony of the graphic above is particularly acute when one considers that an 18-month World Bank funded infrastructure project to bring internet connectivity to Afghanistan began more than SEVEN YEARS ago and only made its first international link this June. That project, despite hundreds of millions of dollars in funding, is still far from being complete while FabLabbers are building useful infrastructure for pennies on the dollar out of their garbage.

People are smart, adaptable; show them where they need to go, and they’ll find a way. What’s that old saw about giving a man a fish and feeding him for a day?

The post goes on to highlight the patient and painstaking work of showing the Afghanis that they need to work together to overcome their differences; a carrot and stick operation it may well be, but I’m guessing it’ll do more good than training up and arming local militias, and then expecting them not to fall back into old habits once your back is turned. All depends on whether you want to give these people their freedom or to take control of it yourself, I guess.


Only the slums can save us now

Paul Raven @ 22-02-2010

The Rocinha favela, Rio de JaneiroChairman Bruce is still busily curating a canon of Favela Chic thinking over at Beyond The Beyond; this article at Prospect Magazine looks to be a definitive slice of shanty-town futurism.[image by fabbio]

The magic of squatter cities is that they are improved steadily and gradually by their residents. To a planner’s eye, these cities look chaotic. I trained as a biologist and to my eye, they look organic. Squatter cities are also unexpectedly green. They have maximum density—1m people per square mile in some areas of Mumbai—and have minimum energy and material use. People get around by foot, bicycle, rickshaw, or the universal shared taxi.

Not everything is efficient in the slums, though. In the Brazilian favelas where electricity is stolen and therefore free, people leave their lights on all day. But in most slums recycling is literally a way of life. The Dharavi slum in Mumbai has 400 recycling units and 30,000 ragpickers. Six thousand tons of rubbish are sorted every day. In 2007, the Economist reported that in Vietnam and Mozambique, “Waves of gleaners sift the sweepings of Hanoi’s streets, just as Mozambiquan children pick over the rubbish of Maputo’s main tip. Every city in Asia and Latin America has an industry based on gathering up old cardboard boxes.” […] Lagos, Nigeria, widely considered the world’s most chaotic city, has an environment day on the last Saturday of every month. From 7am to 10am nobody drives, and the city tidies itself up.


Required reading: mapping the favela

Paul Raven @ 05-11-2009

favela housing, Rio de JanieroVia Chairman Bruce, here’s some required reading for anyone writing near-future fiction that involves a favela as a setting… and given the way the world is becoming urbanised, a near-future story that doesn’t feature a favela can probably be considered to have something missing from it! It’s an article from 2008 in the Harvard Design Magazine, titled “Resisting Representation: the Informal Geographies of Rio de Janiero, and it’s well worth the half hour or so it’ll take you to read it. Here’s a brief sample:

Rio de Janeiro is a city with a population of just over six million in its central urban areas, of which, according to officials, an estimated 20% are residents of favelas. These favelas vary enormously in size and character. These urban islands, like those of the earth’s waters, have formed according to several genealogies and geologies. Some, like continental islands, share a history and underlying structure with those around them, as if they have collectively broken off from a land mass. Others, like volcanic islands, seem to develop independently and suddenly from more isolated and turbulent forces. Still other favelas, like coral atolls, build slowly on an underlying urban structure. These metaphors show how favelas differ in their relationship to their surroundings—their seemingly insular status belies the fact that submerged structures tie them to the city.

Read on for more details about the utilities and transport infrastructures that enable favelas to exist, and the socioeconomic pressures that ensure they keep growing and multiplying in spite of all attempts to curb the expansion. [image by anthony_goto]

And as an added bonus, here’s a game-changing technology to drop into your fictional favela – Contraptor is the name of both an organisation and the open-source rapid prototyping system it has designed and built. Like a more sturdy and diverse answer to the RepRap, in other words – an affordable way to put the means of production into the hands of pretty much anyone with a few hundred dollars and an internet connection [via Fabbaloo]. You’ve got your setting, you’ve got your novum – and you’ve got a thousand stories waiting to be written.


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