Help us document how perceptions of favelas have changed, and fine tune our strategies.
From non-participation to tokenism to citizen power. How do the gradations of participation apply in Rio?
Since 2010, ED Theresa Williamson, Ph.D., has given lectures at universities across the United States on a range of topics related to favelas and issues of urban development in Rio.
With the World Cup spotlight comes a fantastic opportunity to set the record straight on Rio’s favelas, for journalists covering the event to promote a more nuanced, accurate international perception of these communities, which will in turn impact local policies on the ground. Rio’s favelas are the most stigmatized urban communities in the world and are severely misunderstood.
Dating back over 117 years, the favelas emerged out of a need for affordable housing and have been developed by residents themselves over decades in the absence of state support or sufficient investment.
Favelas are not slums, shanty towns or ghettos.
Yet the stigma towards Rio’s favelas remains strong and is a result of their media depiction historically as places of crime, violence and poverty. In our international perceptions survey, of those who had heard of favelas but never visited one, 64% viewed them unfavorably, and of those who viewed them unfavorably, 80% first heard of favelas via mass media. In contrast, only 29% of international visitors who’ve been to Rio’s favelas view them unfavorably, and of those who view them favorably only 37% first heard of favelas through mass media. However–and here’s our opportunity now–most people haven’t even heard of favelas.
The spotlight afforded by the World Cup brings with it the opportunity to set the record straight on Rio’s favelas and end the stigma with productive, nuanced coverage.
We put a call-out to our extensive network of favela leaders in Rio and have compiled a contact list with over 50 leaders interested in receiving journalists spread out all over the city with story ideas and themes. To view the contacts map click here. We also have a local researcher in the area of police security available to provide translations for interviews with these leaders. For general city-wide context information, translation support to interview community leaders or to arrange an interview with urban planner and CatComm’s executive director, Theresa Williamson, please email us email@example.com.
For updates from RioOnWatch, our news site, community reports and international perspectives, please follow our RioOnWatch Facebook and Twitter. You can check out our calendar of community and protest events across the city updated daily here. Plus during the World Cup we’ll be tweeting using the hashtags #RioCupWatch and #EndTheStigma, tracking media coverage of Rio’s favelas and calling out those that reinforce stigmas. Please join us in raising awareness of the qualities and possibilities of Rio’s favelas and let us help you tell the real story on the ground in these communities. See below for a list of useful links and resources–any questions or for more information please email us!
On Tuesday April 8, Vidigal hosted the second of four debates. Organized by the Vila Vidigal Neighborhood Association, Catalytic Communities, the Intersectoral Forum of Vidigal, the Albergue da Comunidade, and Vidblog Vidigal the debates give residents the opportunity to discuss the process of gentrification and what it means for the future of their community.
The first debate, hosted on March 18, started the conversation with a panel discussion on the definition of gentrification, the history of Vidigal, the origins of favelas as affordable housing, and resident reactions. The second debate expanded the discussion on recent changes in Vidigal, allowing for a widespread and comprehensive discussion among residents defining community assets that cannot be lost in this transformation as well as necessary improvements and what residents want for the future of Vidigal.
With roughly 120 people in attendance, the debate was launched with a specially prepared video in which a variety of residents from a range of locations within Vidigal were asked what they think of the community and the changes underway. William de Paula, or Ninho as he is affectionately known, a life-long resident and actor in the well-known community theatre organization Nós do Morro, stated, “We made this video to see what everyone was thinking about this process of gentrification, because (new development) has impacted our lives in a positive and negative way. This is our objective tonight. [Real estate speculation] is happening in our community. It is happening everywhere: in Vidigal, in Rio de Janeiro, and nationally.”
The debate began with a testimonial from André Gosi, who has lived in Vidigal for 52 years, his family for 70, and who is one of the current directors of the Vidigal Neighborhood Association. Reflecting on those residents who’ve been tempted to sell to newcomers because they’ve never before imagined their house would be so valuable, André cautioned: “The person has to be aware that their house has a high human value. They have to think about whether it’s really worth leaving here for R$200,000. You don’t just change your address. You [have to] change your habits, the time it takes to do things. Later you get depressed because the people who lived nearby moved far away. So you have to start thinking about this. The favela is the most original side of Rio de Janeiro. Where people live very close-knit. The neighbor who loans you some sugar, the solidarity is fantastic–you get sick and I’ll take you to the hospital. All of this must be weighed…[people need to] think about whether it’s worth selling their homes to move somewhere far away.”
André was followed by Manoel, one of the founders of the eco-park Sitiê and an elderly community gardener, who defended the value that foreigners–often identified as having begun the gentrification process–interested in the community have brought in recent years: “I’ve been grateful to receive foreigners who come to see Brazil and the community differently [from others who look down on it]. Vidigal is…beautiful, it is a unique community. Not just today, but we have had many visitors since the 1970s and 1980s…Foreigners help educate us and bring culture.”
Sylvia Cassanello, an Uruguaian who’s made Vidigal her home for the past 24 years and who is an activist on behalf of abandoned and mistreated animals in the community, pointed out that not only foreigners are moving into the community, but that middle class Brazilians unable to afford homes in the high-priced neighborhoods below have been moving in as well.
She was then followed by a middle class Brazilian actor who moved to the community when he was working with Nós do Morro one year prior: “I came to exchange with Vidigal. I think it’s an incredibly open community, colorful, with diverse people, and with high self-esteem…I don’t want it to lose its nature of people being open to talking to everyone [else]…Those of us who come from outside make demands as well. We see the garbage in the street and start picking it up. Our contribution is to make demands…I think Vidigal should have a bank and hospital. Those of us from outside had these things outside [of the community] so we will demand we have them here too…What I want for the future is that this is a formal neighborhood like any other.”
Ivanete Alleliuiah of the Women’s Association of Vidigal (A.M.A.R.) then took the mic, disturbed by some of what she’d heard: “For me everything’s wrong with [how things are going in] today’s Vidigal. Everything. I want to know who’s receiving an electricity bill that’s arriving high?…It’s the electricity bill coming high, it’s the water bill coming high. Shortly favela residents will be paying property tax. So I cannot condone what’s happening. There’s a 3-story NGO being built up there [at the top of the community] while I, a resident who’s lived here more than 50 years and active in the Women’s Association, [can tell you that] we don’t even have a space to build an office. Anyone can just show up and build, if they have lots of money. And with regards to a bank, yes it would be good to have one here, but everyone should be aware of what bank will enter the community, to offer low-interest loans so residents will take out loans and then as a result of the interest due will lose their homes. Beware. I want my favela, I don’t want a comunidade.”
Next came Adalberto Ferreira, or Beto, a samba composer and member of the Horizonte NGO. Building on Ivanete’s conerns around justice, and emphasizing that Vidigal residents had remained in the community, investing in their lives and living through such difficult times, he was adamant: “The government guaranteed that following the arrival of the pacification police there would be security, so the next step would be social programs. [But] Santa Marta was the first pacified 5 years ago and there haven’t been any improvements in education, in health, in housing, anywhere…In Vidigal, when there was drug trafficking, no one wanted to go up. Us residents, when we came home from work, we had to wait down here in the square, with the BOPE (Special Operations Battalion) there, not letting us go up because of the crossfire. So no one wanted to come [live] here. So we lifted ourselves up by our bootstraps. Since the 1980s the State was absent… and we experienced many difficulties. With pacification the police officers arrived. They are also lab [rats]. They are given a quick training, come without psychological preparation, without physical preparation, with a low salary, to do their work…We await the government that never appears. Since the community was founded, a leader, Paulinho, always says, that eviction threats come every ten years…[Yet people] build their houses brick by brick. Working on minimum wage with great difficulty. People from that period didn’t receive instruction, some studied, but all receiving low salaries, wanting to survive…How is it that these people will pay a high electricity bill, a high water bill. And [what about] the people being coerced to leave the community?…We need to call on the government, all of society here…to create concrete proposals [for public programs]. We don’t want to live on handouts.”
Adding to Beto’s critique of state neglect, high school teacher Fábio de Barros Pereira took the mic and made an impassioned appeal for the community to take interest and ownership of their local school, where he teaches: “Education plays a central role in building the future, whatever future that may be…In this sense I think that to build a good future, that guarantees rights and prepares citizens, and prepares students [to work and contribute to society], we need a school that is completely different from the one we have today. Vidigal’s Almirante Tamandaré State School is over 50 years old. It is inside the community, but has its back to the community. And the community has its back to the school. During such a crucial moment in Rio, with the crazy militarization we are experiencing, schools have an important role to play.
“What school do I want to see in the future?…One that forms citizens. In such a decisive situation as that we’re living in now, with the installation of a UPP that plans to pacify things, we need to form citizens who think, who experiment, who exercise democracy. Our school doesn’t do this. It’s authoritarian. Teachers and students have no voice. Why is it important for teachers and students, and especially the community, to participate in the school? I don’t know one example of a successful school where the community did not embrace the school. Why is this important? Because we are seeing an increasingly militarized city. Every bit of energy and every penny spent hiring police officers and buying more arms rather than investing in social benefits, we are building a city in a certain direction. The more I buy weapons, the more I nurture war. Schools should work in the opposite direction, building democracy. Why is it important to build democracy? Because democracy has two key aspects. First is popular participation. In such an exclusive, concentrated society as ours, if we don’t prepare youth for democracy we will be permanently perpetuating inequality and injustice. And second is the guarantee of rights. A student that participates in his school will learn…to control the public sphere, public resources, the state. If I see a solution for the occupied communities, for the success and viability of the pacification program, it is the necessity of the community to control the state. The state cannot control the community. The police cannot control the community. This will not take us to a good place. Every penny towards a weapon, I remove from a book. Every police officer I hire, I remove a school teacher. Every car I buy is one less computer, book or library. So we are building a city based on a strategy that does not interest us. Our school should be occupying the central position in Vidigal, radiating values of citizenship and democracy…Finally, Vidigal has an essential quality: it’s a community that has a history of relating to art. And the only thing that will save school from the monotony, from the boredom that has become education today, is art…School no longer attracts youth…Art can play an important role in renewing school. Vidigal may be the most appropriate of all places for us to have an experimental, cutting-edge school, that brings art to the classroom…where we experiment other forms, through game, play…”
Following Fábio’s proposal the floor was taken up by a Spanish architect, Miguel Plaza, who moved to Vidigal one year ago and has been engaged with a range of programs in support of the community: “I know many foreigners here but none of them are buying…Wake up, because it is powerful Brazilians with a lot of money [who are buying]…I’m an architect and came to Vidigal with the intention of helping. Because people invest in the inside of their houses but there aren’t a lot of public spaces. I see a practical solution we can employ in the immediate future: the smaller the works, the less resources, the better, the easier to oversee. This gives more strength to the community. When I got here I was fascinated by the view for two months, it’s beautiful. But afterwards I was fascinated by the community itself. What’s happening to the parties? Why can’t we have any more parties? More debates like this one? Because this strengthens us. The community is the most important thing…Let’s have more activities, let’s get educated, interact with each other. Because in these acts the community gets stronger. This is what I liked when I came here and that’s different from other places.”
The debate then came back full-circle to another lifelong resident and President of the Vila Vidigal Neighborhood Association, Marcelo da Silva who explained he wanted to speak not as a leader, but as a resident, expanding on Miguel’s theme of strengthening the community through unity: “We can’t blame the City, State, foreigners, or anyone else if we residents are not united. If we don’t understand each other…[Sometimes even] people who’ve lived next door for forty years [are in conflict over something banal]…It’s time to have the mentality of unity…stop blaming past leaders and each other… Now, in terms of [utility] prices, we have to call on the authorities. Insist on a just price for the community. A few [neighborhood] associations are united in this vision now, we’re holding meetings, strength in unity. There’s been enough of thinking that things are happening in Vidigal and I don’t need to worry about other communities. Unity is necessary. Knowing what’s happening in Santa Marta, Cantagalo, Babilônia, Rocinha… I’ve come as a resident to ask that we put blame aside and each of us do our part.”
Throughout the debate residents praised community assets of openness, culture, communication, solidarity and a sense of community “not found on the asphalt,” or formal city, below. Numerous residents remarked that the current process of gentrification in Vidigal is not just a local phenomenon, but rather the consequence of global economic shifts and former President Lula’s policies.
The third “Fala Vidigal” debate will discuss the intentions of new entrepreneurs and business owners entering the community and what they can contribute and will take place on May 6 in the Vidigal plaza at 7pm. The final debate, on June 3, will invite public authorities to discuss their plans for the community and hear resident concerns.
This article was originally published on RioOnWatch.
This is the second in a 4-part debate. For more information on the debate series, click here.
Slideshow of second debate, by Michel Jaquet:
On Tuesday, March 18, 2014, the Vidigal Residents’ Association, Intersectoral Forum of Vidigal, Albergue da Comunidade, and Catalytic Communities held the first of four debates discussing the process of gentrification underway in the community. As prices continue to rise, many residents are facing the difficult question of whether or not they can continue living in their homes, as well as what the process means for the social, economic and cultural make-up of the community.
Starting at 7pm in the packed amphitheater at the entrance of Vidigal, the first “Fala Vidigal” event brought together some 250 residents from both Vidigal and other communities across Rio de Janeiro to discuss the issues involved in gentrification. Marcelo da Silva, president of the Vidigal Residents’ Association, hosted the event, introducing leaders of several organizations and communities who gave presentations and spoke from a number of angles about the gentrification process.
The first half of the debate consisted of presentations designed to set the stage for the open debate that followed. Paulo Muniz, a life-long resident and musician involved in the 1970s battles against eviction in the community, launched the event by presenting this important history of Vidigal. He was followed by Dora Figueiredo, a 30-year resident and sociologist who explained the origins of favelas as affordable housing. Theresa Williamson, city planner and Executive Director of Catalytic Communities, then explained the concept and process of gentrification as it traditionally unfolds in other contexts, then applying this to the Rio context. Theresa’s presentation is available here:
Following these presentations, the debate opened to the public, with residents and leaders of other communities providing eloquent and deeply troubling testimonials. The first few speakers were leaders of various communities around Rio who discussed the similar nature of problems in their communities, energizing the crowd. André Constantine, a resident of Babilônia and member of the Favela Não Se Cala movement, set the mood of the debate, passionately stating, “We’re already living [the process of] gentrification…We need to be united. Wake up resident! Wake up Vidigal! Wake up favelas! We can’t let this happen and let people who are part of our history leave.” By the end of his speech, the entire crowd was excited, with many ready to speak about the problems they are facing. He was followed by testimonials from leaders of Indiana, Vila Autódromo, and neighboring Chácara do Céu.
A series of residents of Vidigal came forward and made impassioned speeches. Aline Fernandes, president of Vidigal’s Women’s Association (A.M.A.R.), took to the microphone and immediately declared “I don’t see anything good about gentrification,” and talked about how the current processes in the community negatively affected female residents who were excluded from recent economic development in the community, and youth who didn’t know whether they’d be able to grow up in the community their ancestors had been raised in.
A resident, Danilo, married to a lifelong resident, was removed from his home in 2010 due to stated risk by the authorities and given a monthly rent check of R$400, and spoke about how the rent in Vidigal has increased to a minimum of R$800, and most recently has lived with his wife and four children in a basement, before giving up on life in their community for the outskirts of Rio–the Baixada Fluminense–two hours away. Danilo describes his anguish: “[My kids] lost their friends because the City tricked us. With R$400 I can’t live anywhere…I can’t take this suffering anymore. The rent is too expensive. I don’t have conditions to pay R$800 here in Vidigal. I have a job, as does my wife. But we couldn’t afford to stay in Vidigal any more…My house is still there now, why don’t they just build a containment wall that will benefit various residents in the community?” Many more residents spoke about their concerns and frustrations, engaging the packed square in a lively debate and setting the stage for the the next events to be held in Vidigal.
The next debate scheduled for April 8 will focus on what residents of Vidigal want for the future of their community: what qualities they don’t want lost in the process underway. Existing assets of the community that residents want preserved will be detailed, as well as challenges residents want to see addressed. This will be followed by a May 6 debate where new entrepreneurs entering the community will be given an opportunity to share their intentions for the community. The final debate, on June 3, will invite public authorities to discuss their plans for the community, and hear residents.
This article was originally published on RioOnWatch.
This is the first in a 4-part debate. For more information on the debate series, click here.
Slideshow of first debate, by Michel Jaquet:
Rio’s favelas are some of the most written about, scrutinized, and studied low-income communities in the world. Yet in this constant, often well-meaning spotlight, favela communities are consistently misrepresented by lazy choices in the language used to describe them. Here we deconstruct some of the most common misrepresentations, and outline why we should drop the sensationalism and just call them favelas.
This is the most common translation for the word ‘favela,’ appearing in major media publications all over the world. According to the UN-HABITAT definition, a slum is a run-down area of a city characterized by substandard housing, squalor and lacking in tenure security. This description doesn’t apply to the vast majority of favelas in Rio: the primarily brick and cement houses are built well and to last; conditions are not squalid, with running water, electricity, garbage collection and Internet access, though of low quality, reaching the majority of homes; under adverse possession legislation, residents have the legal right to occupy the land and in some favelas residents hold title.
The key connotation of the word ‘slum’ is squalor. The word ‘slum’ originated from the Irish phrase ‘S lom é’ meaning “it is a bleak or destitute place,” and it is this meaning that it carries forth until today. Anyone who has visited a favela can attest that they are for the most part vibrant places that buzz with life and activity, and since Brazil’s favela residents are responsible for generating R$38.6 billion per year in commercial activity and 65% of them are in the middle class, it is unfair and wholly inaccurate to regard their communities as destitute.
Shantytowns are commonly understood as settlements “of impoverished people who live in improvised dwellings made from scrap materials: often plywood, corrugated metal and sheets of plastic and cardboard boxes.” The Oxford English Dictionary definition of shanty is “a small, crudely built shack.” Thus, what defines a shantytown is the poor quality of the buildings.
Favela residents invest in and take great pride in their homes, and the improvised shacks of the communities’ beginnings have for the most part long been replaced by solid, permanent structures. In Providência, for example, Rio’s oldest favela, 98% of homes are made of brick, concrete and reinforced steel and 99% have concrete or roof tile roofs. In other words, categorically not shanties.
A squatter settlement is defined as a residential area which has developed without legal claims to the land and/or permission from the concerned authorities to build. Favelas indeed started as squatter settlements due to the absence of public or affordable housing and severe land inequality in Rio in the late 19th and throughout the 20th century when Brazilians fled the countryside to the cities due to limited access to rural land and following the country’s particularly late abolition of slavery in 1888. Without other options, workers built their own accommodation. However, over decades and sometimes a century of development, these communities evolved and spurred Brazil to implement some of the strongest housing rights in the world, including a constitutional right since 1988 to adverse possession.
Formally, a squatter settlement is defined by land tenure with residents occupying land illegally. Favela residents have occupied land in their communities for decades, and legal right to the land is widely acknowledged, despite very few receiving titles. Referring to favelas as squatter settlements misrepresents favelas by denying residents’ hard-won legal right to the land and serves to undermine current calls to empower residents through legal tenure by reinforcing the image that favelas are settlements that exist outside the law.
The term Ghetto originates in early 17th century Venice, used to describe the part of the city to which Jews were restricted. The word now refers to an urban area occupied or dominated by a single minority or isolated and often marginalized group. Rio’s favelas, by contrast, are heterogenous melting pots of groups from all over Brazil (increasingly the world) and where a multiplicity of religious and cultural practices coexist. They are also located throughout the urban landscape with residents working and circulating across the city. The only single minority group is favela residents as a whole. Viewing the favelas as ghettos denies their inherent cultural diversity as places of migration and reinforces the stigma that favelas are essentially different from Brazilian society as whole. Whereas in practice they are widely recognized as dominant producers of Brazilian popular culture.
While the writer’s intention in using the word ghetto as a synonym for favela is surely to call to mind negative connotations associated with ghettos (eg. poverty and crime), the lazy usage also has the unintended consequence of marginalizing a significant and diverse portion of Rio’s population based purely on their favela resident status.
Lawless and Occupied Predominantly by Drug Traffickers
Invoked particularly in coverage of the police occupations of Rio’s favelas is the description of these communities as “lawless.” The Oxford dictionary definition of the word is “not governed by or obedient to laws; characterized by a lack of civic order.” Though drug traffic-controlled favelas (37% of favelas at current estimates) are not directly governed by the state, this is not to say there is no law or obedience of laws. The vast majority of favela residents are law-abiding citizens and many are members of civic society organizations, such as community groups, churches and neighborhood associations. Describing their neighborhoods as “lawless” denigrates them, and neglects the reality that the drug gangs impose their own law and order and comprise a small percentage–at most 2%–of residents. Criminal activity that is able to flourish due to a lack of state presence is a daily reality, however it is reductive and inaccurate to label the communities “lawless.”
The Dark Side of Rio
While there are increasing articles focusing on Rio’s favelas as tourist attractions, reports are still published painting the beaches and caipirinhas as Rio’s light side, and the favelas as the dark side of Rio. This lazily plays on the prevailing impressions that Rio’s favelas are solely places of poverty and crime, rather than the reality that they are consolidated functional and innovative communities burgeoning with life and cultural activity. Some of Brazil’s most lauded cultural contributions to the world–samba, capoeira, funk–originate in the favelas. To identify the city’s premier neighborhoods bursting with culture, entrepreneurship and creative urban solutions as the dark side of the city is to deny the reader exposure to what they have to offer.
The stigma favela residents face affects their confidence, self-esteem and life opportunities. It also legitimizes exclusionary top-down policies which deny communities participation in the decisions and programs which affect them. This stigma is reinforced every time a reporter revisits the media stereotype of favelas as slums and dark places of precariousness and crime and has serious consequences. Rio’s communities should be recognized for what they are, and named accordingly. As such, we should call them favelas.
As Georgetown University historian Bryan McCann explains in his latest book, Hard Times in the Marvelous City, “The term favela…is difficult to define, in part because favelas have changed so dramatically over the past thirty-five years. About the only things that today’s Vidigal has in common with the same neighborhood in 1978 is the absence of property title and the continuing discrimination against its residents, yet everyone still recognizes it as a favela.”
Etymologically, the term favela is based on the name of the robust favela plant prevalent in the Canudos hills in the Northeast of Brazil where soldiers served battle in 1897 before victory and the final move to Rio de Janeiro to claim the land promised–yet not delivered–by the Ministry of War. As a result, they settled the first favela community and named it “Morro da Favela” (“favela hill”). This community is today known as Morro da Providência, Rio’s most historic favela. Following this settlement, all other informal settlements in Rio became known as favelas. The term “favela,” as such, has no inherent negative connotation, as do the above terms. And residents of favelas active in campaigns to integrate these communities into the city proudly use the term to represent a range of community qualities and to insist on the recognition of their historic role in building the city of Rio de Janeiro.
Click here for all past media mentions.
December 31, 2013 – As 2013 draws to a close, please check out our 2013 Annual Report that summarizes our work and successes in 2013, then take a more detailed look at the specific projects we committed ourselves to this year, below.
Please also consider pledging a monthly contribution to CatComm. If everyone reading this became a monthly supporter, even at just a dollar each month, we could double our work in 2014, when Rio’s communities need us more than ever. In fact, guaranteed support is even more valuable than the dollar amount of that support, because it allows us to plan more effectively while also respond as needed on the ground. We would also love your input on our progress.
Here are the highlights from 2013:
- Launched New CatComm Site: This year Catalytic Communities launched this dynamic new website, with features and resources for communities, researchers and reporters. Built on a WordPress theme kindly donated by Press 75, the new CatComm.org documents our work, outlines our vision for Rio, shares community organizing information and tools and provides essential context for those interested in Rio and its favelas today.
- RioOnWatch: CatComm’s news site to bring visibility to community perspectives on the urban transformations in Rio until 2016, RioOnWatch.org has continued to grow both in reach and quality of output this year. We published 273 articles, 27 by favela-based journalists and activists, and our social media reach has almost doubled from 29,977 in December 2012 to 58,899 last month, peaking at a groundbreaking 131,043 in June during the protests. RioOnWatch subtitled the short documentaries Marked Homes, Me, Favela, and Realengo, Letting Off Steam.
- International Perceptions Survey & Media Monitoring: Building on our previous research, in April and May this year CatComm volunteers surveyed over 750 people in four cities–Rio de Janeiro, San Francisco, Brisbane and London–to discover how people perceive favela communities and their residents. Corroborating data from previous years, across all locations it was found that those who had visited a favela personally held dramatically more positive views than otherwise. We also continued monitoring the way favelas are represented in the international media, with an extensive tracking of the language and perspectives used, and publishing monthly digests listing international coverage of favelas. At the end of the year we published an editorial called Worst International Reporting on Rio’s Favelas: 2013.
- Local Coverage and International Comment on the Brazil Protests: The massive protests which swept Brazil in June and July made headlines the world over. CatComm was sought out to provide information and comment by Le Monde, Urb.Im, The Nation, The Telegraph, WBEZ Chicago, Metro, and Counterpunch. Our executive director Theresa Williamson wrote an opinion piece for the New York Times Room for Debate and we provided extensive on-the-ground coverage of community perspectives, favela participation, social media influence and police violence in protests on RioOnWatch, with one article on Vidigal and Rocinha’s protest re-published by the New Internationalist. They were record-breaking months for CatComm with an estimated social media reach of 127,000 and twenty published articles in July.
- Shaping the International Debate Through Media: International journalists covering Rio de Janeiro and the favelas have sought CatComm out throughout the year for information, interviews and support, and we’ve strategically used these opportunities to promote favela communities’ efforts, push for participatory policies and encourage journalists to be nuanced and accurate in their reporting. Examples this year, as well as during the protests, include taking TV crews from Germany, Finland and Australia to cover evictions, ABC Nightline to cover police brutality in Rocinha and Maré, and supporting journalists from USA Today, The Independent, Fox News Latino, the BBC and TIME in their coverage of the Pope’s visit to Manguinhos. In November we celebrated as CatComm’s vision made it onto the front page of The New York Times when architecture critic Michael Kimmelman published the feature ‘A Divided Rio, Overreaching for the World.’ Supported by several members of CatComm’s team, Kimmelman reported on Rio’s transformation advocating for favela qualities.
- Favela as a Sustainable Model: Continuing with our long-term program to expand awareness about favela qualities as they relate to the potential favelas offer as models of sustainable and vibrant community development, in 2013 CatComm partnered with Solar CITIES to lay the groundwork for community-based sanitation workshops to take place in three Rio favelas identified by CatComm in 2014, when biodigesters will be installed by local residents. During the rains that plagued Rio in December, we launched the group Rede Favela Sustentável, to begin an active online discussion into favela sustainability attributes and how to foster them moving forward. And finally, our award-winning 2012 film Favela as a Sustainable Model was chosen for the Cinema Planeta film festival in Mexico.
- Community Workshops: This year CatComm led a number of impactful community workshops in very different communities, initiating our program which is to expand in 2014. In March and April, CatComm facilitated a series of participatory workshops led by Leonel Ponce, an architect and researcher from the Pratt Institute, to map community concerns and possiblities for a community-based sanitation system. The methods used–transect mapping and ‘city as play’—were documented and made available on our new site’s Toolbox section. Then between September and November we led three workshops on real estate speculation and gentrification in Vidigal, in which CatComm’s team provided insight into the gentrification phenomenon, documented resident assets at risk and concerns about the process underway, and began developing response strategies as part of a long-term support program.
- Introducing the Gentrification Debate in Rio: This year the concept of favela gentrification–previously not a word in Portuguese–has gained attention and come under debate. CatComm has been instrumental in leading the debate and raising awareness of this issue with extensive coverage on RioOnWatch, talks by CatComm’s founder and Executive Director Theresa Williamson at influential city debates, Casa Fluminense and OsteRio, on the radio and numerous media outlets, and through our community workshops in Vidigal. Learn more in the highlights on our Annual Report.
- University Talks: In October 2013, CatComm’s Executive Director Theresa Williamson gave talks at the following US universities: Carroll University, University of Colorado-Boulder, Columbia University/Studio X, Vassar College, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), St Joseph’s University, Villanova University, West Chester University, University of Pennsylvania, University of Delaware, Yale University and Georgetown University. Giving talks–on the dynamics of urban change in Rio today; community responses to evictions, gentrification and police violence; and rethinking our assumptions about favelas and sustainable development–Theresa engaged hundreds of college students across the US in the processes underway in Rio and CatComm’s work, recruited new interns and organized educational visits and research with university departments.
- Educational Community Visits: CatComm facilitated 7 educational community visits on behalf of major international universities and learning institutions this year, giving participants a unique, community-led insight into the favela. A highlight of the program was taking a group of 28 corporate executives from 14 countries in Rio as part of an Institute for Management Development training to Vidigal for an immersive visit and workshop at ecological organization Sitiê. As one participant said “The only way to understand how these communities work is to see them firsthand through a hands-on tour like this.”
- Research: This year CatComm worked with two legal teams from the Vance Center for International Justice preparing two reports, both to be released in early 2014: “Brazil Housing Rights in an International Perspective,” and “Alternative Titling Models for Affordability in Rio’s Favelas.” In addition, CatComm continued monitoring Morar Carioca, publishing research into the program to upgrade Rio’s favelas by 2020 in theory and practice, as well as conducting research on the Minha Casa Minha Vida-Entidades program, which allocates public funding for local organizations to build and administer public housing projects. We supported comparative research released by MIT on Vila Autódromo, leading to an important piece documenting that community’s struggle in Places: The Design Observer (which we translated to Portuguese here). And we supported doctoral and masters researchers from the University of Texas, Harvard University, George Washington University, Pratt Institute, King’s College London, University of Pennsylvania, Oxford University, Ohio State University and UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.
- Emergency Appeal: In response to the devastating rains that left 6000 homeless in Rio de Janeiro this December, CatComm held its first emergency appeal, raising $1193 in 48 hours to support families in two of the hardest hit areas: Acari and Complexo do Alemão.
- Organizational Model: In addition to the above examples of our intense activities over the past year, our organizational model is increasingly attracting attention. In May CatComm was selected to participate in this year’s Giving Library nonprofit video series. In September executive director Theresa Williamson was invited to lecture about CatComm’s model of leadership to a group of rising managers within the International Finance Corporation participating in the Mastering Leadership and Management Program. And in November Theresa and CatComm were highlighted in the “A Buddhist Life” column of Tricycle: The Buddhist Review.
Our Plans for 2014:
In continuing to apply our multi-year 4-Prong Strategy of (1) Strategic training and networking favela activists with broad networks of support, (2) Broadly communicating the issues and values of the favela based on community perspectives, (3) Developing and proving the value of participatory planning methodologies; and (4) Advocating on behalf of inclusive, integrative and participatory policies; with your continued support in 2014 CatComm will:
- Re-launch RioOnWatch as a full-fledged research tool and news portal.
- Step up our strategic communications work on behalf of favelas as international journalists flock to Rio for the World Cup.
- More strategic workshops for communities about community organizing and participatory planning strategies, and ways to counter the negative effects of gentrification and evictions.
- Develop political advocacy campaigns in the lead up to the gubernatorial elections for inclusive and participatory policies on behalf of communities.
Short & sweet visuals and text tell the story of an incredible year.