Catalina Gomez, Rio de Janeiro Community Manager
Rio de Janeiro's informal settlements, or favelas, have enormous infrastructure gaps that range from the need for better roads and sewage systems to greater access to water and electricity. In response to all those needs, Rio's municipal government since 1994 has been implementing the Favela Bairro program, one of the pioneer urban upgrading programs in the world, introducing a comprehensive and holistic approach to urban upgrading and promoting adequate regularization and land tenure initiatives. After 18 years, this program has benefited about 150 neighborhoods through the provision of basic urban infrastructure and of basic education and child care facilities.
In 2010, Rio's Municipal Housing Secretariat launched a new municipal upgrading program, known as Morar Carioca, at an estimated total cost of US$4 billion, aiming to urbanize around 250 of Rio's favelas through 2020 as part of the legacy of the 2016 Olympics. Such a goal seems idealistic, but given the operational experience of the Municipal Housing Secretariat in the implementation of Favela Bairro, it may be achieved. The new program builds on Favela Bairro's pioneering integrated approach, but it is intended to go further than its predecessor by promoting a massive expansion of social infrastructure, which is actually what is most needed in the informal settlements in Rio. And projects have already begun to be implemented, not only with strong infrastructure financing but with greater social components, including the construction and operation of basic education schools, child care facilities, social assistance reference centers (CRAS), family clinics, and sport facilities. The program will also improve slum dwellers' access to transportation services; this implies the expansion of bus and metro routes, as well as implementing new and creative facilities that enable better access and mobility, such as the construction of elevators and cable cars in areas where access is difficult.
Morar Carioca will also move forward in expanding the Postos de Orientação Urbanística e Social, also known as POUSOs, which are public offices located in informal settlements that oversee the consolidation of such areas into formal neighborhoods. The POUSOs' main role is supporting the development of land use norms, as well as assisting dwellers in understanding adequate housing reform and construction regulations. The POUSOs have on-site architects and engineers to assist with technical advice, as well as social workers native to each community so they can lead initiatives involving locals in the urban consolidation of their neighborhoods. Communities like Rocinha have already benefited from the presence of the POUSO, which has contributed to controlling the expansion of illegal construction.
In order to implement such an ambitious program, Rio de Janeiro's Municipal Housing Secretariat has signed an agreement with the Brazilian Architects Institute (IAB) to support the process. Such support includes leading a massive call for proposals for the urbanization of several favelas. The main intention is for a technical and specialized institution such as the IAB to lead the selection of projects and ensure that slums get the highest quality infrastructure. The IAB already has selected 40 teams to work on several upgrading projects; the winning teams are all interdisciplinary groups, to ensure that proposals aren't made only from a design perspective, but that they are also pertinent to the cultural, social, and environmental conditions of the informal settlements.
The IAB is also coordinating Morar Carioca's Management Group to ensure that all involved municipal agencies, such as public works, urbanization, security, social development, health and education are aligning their sector interventions. This is actually a crucial point in the success of the program, as by nature it is a multi-sector initiative, and without proper institutional coordination, the impacts of such investments will be limited.
Due to the upcoming Olympic Games, priority of urbanization has been given to neighborhoods located close to the areas where the different competitions will take place. This has raised some controversy, as several of the prioritized informal settlements aren't the poorest in the city. There are also claims that the implementation of Morar Carioca includes the possibility of forced evictions, but according to Rio's Municipal Secretariat of Housing, displacement of residents will only occur when informal settlements are located in risk areas or in environmentally protected areas. The Secretariat has also clarified that it is preparing resettlement procedures to ensure a smooth and fair process for displaced populations.
Although there is still much work ahead for the implementation of Morar Carioca, credit must be given to the initiative for trying to work in an integrated way, coordinating the needs of the sectors. It is also trying to bring some balance to the city's overall priorities, including the hosting of the World Cup and the Olympic Games but more importantly, it is bringing improved infrastructure and services to long neglected communities within the city.