Theresa Williamson, Ph.D., is founder and executive director of Catalytic Communities (CatComm), an empowerment, communications, think tank, and advocacy NGO working since 2000 in support of Rio’s favelas. In addition to fostering peer-to-peer networking, strategic training and media support on behalf of community organizers, the organization has become known for advocating a community-controlled asset-based development approach to informal settlements. Theresa is an outspoken, respected advocate for the recognition of favelas’ heritage status and their residents’ right to be fully served as equal citizens. She has published several book chapters, four opinion pieces in The New York Times, and has been cited in dozens of publications, with appearances on The Today Show, Vice, and HBO. Dr. Williamson received the 2012 NAHRO John D. Lange International Award for her contributions to the international housing debate and 2005 Gill-Chin Lim Award for Best Dissertation on International Planning. She is editor-in-chief of RioOnWatch, CatComm’s internationally recognized watchdog favela news service regarded for its work in informing and influencing international journalists covering the Olympics, and local debates on housing. Dr. Williamson earned her B.A. in Biological Anthropology from Swarthmore College and Ph.D. in City and Regional Planning from the University of Pennsylvania.
Winner of the 2012 National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials (NAHRO) John D. Lange International Award for her contribution to the international housing debate, with four Opinion pieces published in The New York Times in 2012, 2013, and 2016, urban planner and Catalytic Communities (CatComm) founder Theresa Williamson has become an outspoken and respected advocate and informant on behalf of Rio de Janeiro’s favelas in the face of current fast-paced transformations.
She has been featured in Guernica, O Globo, Marie Claire, Yo Dona (Spain), and Tricycle, and quoted in The New York Times, The Guardian, Al Jazeera, Le Monde, NPR’s On the Media, Rádio CBN (Brazil), SBS Dateline (Australia), The Atlantic Cities, BBC World Service (UK), CBC TV (Canada), Next American City, The Independent (UK), El Mondo (Spain), Folha de São Paulo (Brazil), O Globo (Brazil), Places: The Design Observer, Architectural Record, Revista Piauí (Brazil), 45 Minuuttia (Finland), The Washington Post, NBC, and numerous other outlets.
Watch Theresa’s August 2016 participation on NBC’s Today Show, BBC World, and TRT World (Turkey), as well as July’s HBO Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel and Vox short doc.
With a small and agile team coordinating a network with hundreds of close collaborators at efficiently-designed Catalytic Communities, since 2000 Theresa has worked as the organization’s Executive Director to promote a more creative, inclusive and empowering integration between the city’s informal and formal communities, in which the city’s favelas are recognized for their heritage status and their residents fully served as equal citizens.
Theresa is also Editor-in-Chief of RioOnWatch, CatComm’s internationally recognized hyperlocal-to-global watchdog news site and favela news service with 2016 accolades in the form of a Webby award honoree recognition, a The Development Set piece proclaiming RioOnWatch “changed reporting on the favelas during the Olympics,” and recognition for its work in preparing journalists for the Olympics from the International Journalists’ Reporting Network. Since 2010 RioOnWatch has been tracking the increasingly intense impacts of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games on Rio’s favelas, providing a global platform for often-ignored community perspectives that hold valuable insight for cities across the world. The site has established itself as necessary tool for community organizers in Rio, reporters from around the world covering the city, and researchers on Latin America and is now being documented in a RioOnWatch Replication Manual for Organizers.
While launching and running CatComm over the past 16 years, Theresa has also worked to bridge the academic-practitioner divide by producing academic pieces and working with researchers in the city’s favelas. In May 2004 she received her Ph.D. from the Department of City and Regional Planning at the University of Pennsylvania. Entitled Catalytic Communities: The Birth of a Dot Org, her dissertation won the 2005 Gill-Chin Lim Award for Best Dissertation on International Planning and was one of three finalists for the 2004 Barclay Gibbs Jones Award for the Best Dissertation in Planning. Theresa is honorary councilmember with the Consortium for Sustainable Urbanization and a technical advisor to the Center for Community Land Trust Innovation.
Theresa has published articles from this dissertation and related research in openDemocracy, Architectural Review, DETAIL (Germany), Progressive Planning, The Journal of Urban Technology, and Cidadania.org. Most recently, Theresa contributed a chapter to Occupy All Streets: Olympic Urbanism and Contested Futures in Rio de Janeiro (2016). Theresa received her undergraduate degree in Biological Anthropology from Swarthmore College. Raised in Rio and Washington, DC, she is a dual Brazilian and British citizen and lives in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Theresa is available for public lectures in Rio de Janeiro or during her annual North American University Tour. Her email is theresa [at] catcomm [dot] org.
Radio & TV stints, Op-Eds & Opinion Pieces with/by Theresa Williamson
- WBUR ‘Only a Game’ / NPR – July 21, 2017: In Vila Autódromo, Resistance Continues 1 Year After Rio Olympics by Bill Littlefield [USA-EN]
- Progressive City – May 2, 2017 The Favela as a Community Land Trust: A Solution to Eviction and Gentrification? by David Robertson and Theresa Williamson [USA-EN]
- Humans of New York – March 9, 2017 Rio was the biggest slave port in world history by Theresa Williamson [USA-EN]
- New Internationalist – January 19, 2017 Both hands on the spotlight for Rio’s favelas Ann Deslandes [UK-EN]
- Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas – January 11, 2017 Relato sobre favelas do Rio na mídia internacional aumentou em qualidade e volume nos anos pré-Olímpicos, diz pesquisa [English / Spanish] by Alessandra Monnerat [USA-PT]
- Rede TVT – December 16, 2016 Levantamento mostra que falta aprofundamento da mídia sobre favelas [TV] [Brazil-PT]
- Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas – December 14, 2016 Journalists in Rio de Janeiro show how to break banalization of urban violence in news coverage [Portuguese / Spanish] by Alessandra Monnerat [USA-EN]
- The Guardian – December 5, 2016 No more ‘rat kids’: Fighting the way we think about the residents of Rio’s favelas by Katia Savchuk [UK-EN]
- The Huffington Post – October 6, 2016 Nobody Asked Rio’s Poor About The Olympics. So They Yelled Louder. by Travis Waldron [USA-EN]
- Rádio CBN – September 1, 2016 Rio impõe ao próximo prefeito o desafio de lidar com a questão habitacional (Radio) by Lucas Soares [Brazil-PT]
- The Development Set – August 24, 2016 The Tiny NGO That Changed Reporting on Rio’s Favelas During the Olympics by Katia Savchuk [USA-EN]
- BBC World Service World Have Your Say – August 22, 2016 Rio’s Olympic Legacy [RADIO] by Orla Barry
- TRT World The Newsmakers – August 22, 2016 Rio 2016’s Legacy [TV] [Turkey-EN]
- WORT Radio – August 22, 2016 Olympiad Impact: What’s Next for Rio and Its Favelas? [RADIO] by Brian Standing [USA-EN]
- Edge of Sports – August 19, 2016 The Other Olympic Rio with Favela Activist Theresa Williamson by Dave Zirin [USA-EN]
- The TODAY Show on NBC – August 12, 2016 Santa Marta: Matt Lauer tours one of Rio de Janeiro’s oldest favelas by Matt Lauer [USA-EN]
- Metropolis – August 10, 2016 Will the Olympics’ Failures Spark A New Urban Paradigm for Rio? by Theresa Williamson [USA-EN]
- openDemocracy – August 5, 2016 Rio’s real vs. unmet Olympic legacies: what they tell us about the future of cities? by Theresa Williamson [UK-EN]
- Guernica – June 15, 2016: Opportunity for the Unknown: Ann Deslandes interviews Theresa Williamson by Ann Deslandes [USA-EN]
- Americas Quarterly – June 3, 2016: Inside Rio’s Favelas: The Fallout from an Alleged Gang Rape: Interview with Theresa Williamson [PODCAST] by Stephen Kurczy [USA-EN]
- Edge of Sports – May 20, 2016: The Olympics and the Battle for Rio’s Future (Radio) by Dave Zirin [USA-EN]
- The New York Times ‘Room for Debate’ – May 16, 2016: Holding the Olympics in Rio Was Always a Bad Idea by Theresa Williamson [USA-EN] [Click here for Portuguese translation]
- WORT Radio – January 26, 2016 Favela Autonomy and the Rio Olympics [RADIO] by Brian Standing [USA-EN]
- Radio New Zealand – January 18, 2016: Rio Olympics: corruption, police brutality, and forced evictions [RADIO] by Lynn Freeman [New Zealand-EN]
- The Guardian – October 28, 2015: Brazil officials evict families from homes ahead of 2016 Olympic Games by Bruce Douglas [UK-EN]
- The International Business Times – October 28, 2015: Rio Olympics 2016: Local Brazil Governments ‘Resettling’ Thousands of Families Before Games Begin by Michelle Mark [USA-EN]
- Global Post – October 27, 2015: #BlackLivesMatter has gone global. And Brazil needs it — badly by Will Carless [USA-EN]
- CityLab – September 9, 2015: Rio’s Olympic Inequality Problem, In Pictures by Matthew Niederhauser [USA-EN]
- The New York Times – August 20, 2015: Trump Hotel Goes Up in Rio, but His Views Barely Raise Eyebrows in Brazil by Simon Romero [USA-EN]
- The Guardian – August 19, 2015: Rio’s Olympic Village: a green housing dream, but a gentrification nightmare [VIDEO] by Ana Athayde [UK-EN]
- TV Folha de São Paulo – July 15, 2015: Comunidade premiada é desalojada para abrigar Vila Olímpica no Rio [TV] by Laura Lewer [Brazil-PT]
- Architectural Review – May 30, 2015 A New Threat to Favelas: Gentrification by Theresa Williamson [USA-EN with Portuguese translation]
- KGNU Radio – April 7, 2015: Catalyzing Marginalized Communities in Latin America by Joe Richey [USA-EN]
- Conference on World Affairs – April 6-10, 2015: Panels [USA-EN]
- Maré de Notícias – November 1, 2014: Os Riscos de Título de Propriedade by Theresa Williamson [Brazil-PT] [Click here for English translation]
- Buzzfeed – June 29, 2014: Why Brazil is Actually Winning the Internet by Julie Ruvolo [USA-EN]
- France TV – June 11, 2014: GRAND Soir 3 du mercredi 11 juin 2014 [42 min into program] by Patricia Loison [France-FR]
- Al Jazeera America – June 10, 2014: Turning Rio’s Favelas Into a Tourist Attraction by Christof Putzel [USA-EN]
- PRX – May 27, 2014: A Journey through Favelas of Rio de Janeiro [RADIO] by Gianluca Tramontana [UK-EN]
- Journeyman Pictures – May 19, 2014: The Dark Side of Rio’s World Cup [VIDEO]
- The Guardian – April 23, 2014: The World Cup and Olympics threaten to overwhelm Rio – yet there is time to create a sensation out of disaster by Simon Jenkins [UK-EN]
- Rádio CBN – April 17, 2014: Especulação imobiliária faz moradores se mudarem de favelas da Zona Sul do Rio [RADIO] [Brazil-PT]
- WBGO Journal – March 14, 2014: In the Way of the Games [RADIO Interview with Theresa Williamson] by Monica Miller [RADIO] [USA-EN]
- Rádio CBN – December 11, 2013: Regiões do Rio, principalmente favelas, passam pela gentrificação: Entrevista com Theresa Williamson [Brazil-PT]
- The Atlantic Cities – December 2, 2013: Is a Favela Still a Favela Once It Starts Gentrifying? by Jordana Timerman [USA-EN]
- Tricycle – Winter 2013: This Buddhist Life: An Interview with Theresa Williamson by Emma Varvaloucas [USA-EN]
- Casa Fluminense October 7, 2013: Cidades Singulares: Planejamento Urbano e Regularização Fundiária nas Favelas Cariocas by Theresa Williamson [Brazil-PT]
- Metro New York – June 17, 2013: World Cup Preparations are Harming City’s Culture: An Interview with Theresa Williamson by Elisabeth Braw [USA-English]
- NPR Worldview – July 16, 2013: What Did Brazil’s Protests Accomplish? [RADIO interview with Theresa Williamson] by Jerome McDonnell [USA-EN]
- Urb.im – June 20, 2013: Protests are Just the Beginning: Change Will Come to Brazil by Theresa Williamson [USA-EN]
- Le Monde – June 20, 2013: Brésil: les manifestants restent mobilisés après le recul des autorités by Nicolas Bourcier [France-FR]
- The New York Times Debate – June 19, 2013: It’s Just the Beginning: Change Will Come to Brazil by Theresa Williamson [USA-EN] [Click here for full response and here for Portuguese translation]
- NPR Worldview – June 19, 2013: Protests in Brazil and Managing Europe’s Air Traffic [RADIO interview with Theresa Williamson] by Jerome McDonnell [USA-EN]
- Yo Dona – June 8, 2013: Resistencia en las Favelas by Germán Aranda [Spain-Spanish]
- SBS Dateline – April 9, 2013: Reshaping Rio [VIDEO] by Yaara Bou Melhem [Australia-EN]
- Folha de São Paulo – October 4, 2012: Reassentamento não pode ser retrocesso no desenvolvimento das comunidades by Theresa Williamson [Brazil-PT] [Click here for English translation]
- DETAIL – Autumn 2012: Statements from Rio de Janeiro by Theresa Williamson [Germany-EN]
- The New York Times Op-Ed – August 12, 2012: In the Name of the Future, Rio Is Destroying Its Past by Theresa Williamson and Maurício Hora [USA-EN] [Click here for Portuguese translation]
- The New York Times Debate – April 3, 2012: Brazil is Missing an Opportunity to Invest in the Favelas by Theresa Williamson [USA-EN]
- NPR Worldview – January 6, 2012: As Rio prepares for the 2016 Olympics many residents of the city’s favelas are evicted from their homes [RADIO interview with Theresa Williamson] by Jerome McDonnell [USA-EN]
- United Nations – May 18, 2011: Better City/Better Life: South-North Initiative by American Institute of Architects NY Chapter