Inside Rio’s favelas, the city’s neglected neighborhoods

If you go to a Google map of Rio de Janeiro and put it into 3D mode, you can see what the city looks like as it was designed by urban planners. But you will also notice parts of the city
that don’t look like the rest. See the difference? The people who live in these parts of the city, with the clean lines and the well thought-out design, are called
“people of the asphalt.” The people who live in these parts of the city are called
“people of the hill.” Even though the people of the asphalt and
the people of the hill live closely intertwined throughout the city, they live vastly different
lives. These informal communities that look like houses stacked on top of each other, sprouting out of the jungle, are called Favelas,
home to both vicious drug gangs as well as some of the most peaceful, creative, and resourceful
people in Rio. I want to show you want they looks like on
the inside. A favela is a community that was built without
any oversight from a public authority–no zoning, no building codes, no public services. These places just grew out of the hills over
time thanks to two main factors: First was slavery. Brazil imported 11 times more slaves than
the United States and Rio alone was home to more slaves than the entire American south. Slavery ended in 1888, and free slaves, still denied
many rights in society, built informal communities on their own. In more recent times, favelas have been fueled
by massive migrations, from rural Brazilians coming into the city looking for work. Not able to find affordable housing, these
workers built their own communities. Today, 25% of Rio’s residents live in these
favelas. I spent time in 6 of Rio’s favelas to figure
out what happens when parts of a city develop without the presence of a government. This is Rocinha. It’s Brazil’s largest favela and has been
dubbed a city within a city. It’s a completely self sufficient economy,
the result of decades of makeshift solutions to basic needs like electricity and running
water. Without a formal government presence, the
residents of Rocinha created their own association which helps coordinate public
projects and resources. Since these associations grew up totally informally
by people who had no training in public administration, the resulting community design brings with it a little
more zest and creativity than your traditional city. But make no mistake, Rocinha is a full-on
functioning mini city with the city of Rio de Janeiro. This impromptu resourcefulness is common within
favelas. Here I am in Vidigal, a favela not far from
Rocinha. This man Paulo is showing me his garden. But it wasn’t always a garden. 15 years ago, this hill that we stand on, was teeming with garbage. Paulo decided to cleaned it up, planted trees and cultivated
a garden space that now produces fruit. He did this without asking permission, because, after all, there was no one to ask permission from. If you look around the graden, you’ll realize that everything is made from trash. On the other side of the city is a Favela
called Maré. The people of this community have created
art centers for young people to come learn new skills. They also support established artists to create
projects around the city that explore and communicate life in the favela. Here they are building a model of their favela
out of recycled wood. In Providencia, a favela near the port zone,
I met up with this guy. Mauricio, a photographer who lives in this
amazing house. Mauricio photographs life in the favela, providing
transparency to the good and the bad of these places He thinks of photography as a weapon to fight
against everything from drug cartels to the government when they show up trying to remove
parts of his community Whenever he sees corruption or foul play in his community, he photographs it and distributes it to a network of local and international media contacts. Over the years, people have learned not to mess with him. Why are these people who live in poverty and
neglect, so driven to create beauty in order to survive? This reality of neglect from public investment, has created a culture of creative survival. But there’s a dark to this too. Right now we are traveling over Complexo Do Alemão, which is a huge complex or block of favelas We’re not going into the streets today, because this place is still very much run by drug trafficking gangs I would be sugar coating the situation if I didn’t talk about the fact that drug gangs stil have major influence in a lot of the favelas and Alemão is one of those places. Perhaps the most powerful gang in Rio is called the Red Command, a group that began as a left-wing political rebellion and whose headquarters are in Alemão. Cocaine arrived in Rio in the 1980s, enriching
the gangs and allowing them to grow in power and territory. The Red Command became more violent and lost
its political ideology, focusing entirely on drug and arms trafficking. The fact that favelas aren’t formal and aren’t regulated, means that both that they can become incredibly vibrant because people can take this attitude and build on qualities and be creative and change your environment, but it also means that you can get incredibly dysfunctional places when the energy and the approach is the opposite. So you have these two extremes and they come out of the same force: informality, lack of regulation, and flexibility. In 2008, the city of Rio was ready to take
over this lawless territories of Rio. They assembled a special force of police officers
to enter the favelas and drive out the gang influence. They call this process “pacification of
the favelas” But this gets tricky really fast. There’s been a big discussion in the United States
about police brutality. But Brazil is on a whole different level when
it comes to police violence and corruption. Human right watch estimates US police officers
kill one person in every 37,000 arrests. In Rio that number is 1 in every 23 arrests. So you can see why some felt skeptical of letting the police come into the favelas to try to restore order. This is Santa Marta. It’s the first favela that received pacification
forces back in 2008. It also happens to be the place where Michael Jackson decided to shoot a music video. Pacification worked for Santa Marta and a few other favelas, for the first few years after 2008, but this favela is small, and the city dedicated
its best police forces to the job. It’s been a whole different experience in a place
like Alemão and other bigger favelas. Many of the favelas that I visited that had apparently been pacified, were still very clearly under the influence of the Red Command. So while there have been some successes in pacification, the city still has a huge challenge ahead of it in taking control of these places. International attention paid to favelas is
usually directed towards the conflict between the gangs and police. There’s movies and video games about this. This problem has been perhaps disproportionately amplified across the world. But while gang violence is certainly a problem,
it represents one small slice of the favela experience. What seems to me as the more striking and interesting aspect of favelas, are the thousands of men and women who are thriving in creative way in spite of being neglected
by their government.