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]

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.