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Brazil Travel Blog

Right to the City - Brazil | Projects

  • Charlee Manigat
    Brazil Blogpost #1
    February 5, 2013

    Technology in Favelas

    While exploring different cities and favelas in Brazil, we have learned a lot about how different residents and communities interact with each other using technology. We visited 3 favelas during our trip and all 3 are extremely well much connected to phones, computers and the internet--and residents use these tools for many different reasons.
    There are many misconceptions about favelas in regards to technology. Many people believe that the residents have little or no access to technology and internet. This is not true. Most of the youth in the favelas that we visited have plenty of access to technology whether it be through their own devices, or via school or friends. In addition to that, we also had the opportunity to learn about the different organizations and programs in Rio and how they successfully use technology.
    The first favela we visited was Cantagalo, home to “the Favela Museum”. Within the favela there is an educational building for kids to learn and to use computers. Just like the way teens in America use computers, youth in Brazil are always on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media.

    The second favela we visited, Vila Autódromo, is adjacent to the under construction olympic site. This favela is now threatened because the government does not want to have a favela so close to the Olympics. Naturally, the residents of this favela were very upset that the government would rather evict all of them rather than investing in the community. There are a lot of organizations and support groups that are being formed to help the  community--and many of these are organized via mobile phones and the internet.When we met with them, they said that they mainly often use email and facebook to stay in touch with the outsiders of Vila Autódromo.

    Though access to the internet and technology in Favelas is slightly different than home in the US, residents of these communities are using the tools wisely. It is exciting to see what change technology is already bringing and could bring to these communities when in the hands of motivated residents.

  • The days had quickly passed for our Brazil Research Trip and before we knew it, our final day had come. The group gathered together in the early morning and had our last Brazilian breakfast. Since we had been such diligent workers, Adam decided to let Day Ten be more of a day off. Soon after breakfast, we piled into a group van and drove up the 700-metre (2,300 ft) Corcovado mountain in the Tijuca Forest National Park to one of Brazil’s most iconic attractions, O Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer). After about a 15 minute drive to the mid-point of Corcovado mountain, thirty minutes waiting in line, and another 15 minute drive by van to the top of Corcovado Mountain, we arrived at the foot of the statue.

    The view from the peak of Corcovado looked across almost all of Rio and took our breath away. The sheer size of the O Cristo Redentor statue and the palpable energy around this loved icon left us all flabbergasted. People surrounded the Christ figure and prayed, some people were on romantic dates, and many were simply taking their family to pay respects. It felt obvious that this monument holds immense sentimental value to very many people. The ride down the steep mountain side was treacherous and made some of us a little nervous, but we all made it out just fine. 

    After lunch at a local café restaurant, we had some time to go shopping for the first time in Brazil. The girls loved this and had a blast contributing to the thriving Brazilian economy. We spent the rest of the day relaxing on the beach at Copacabana reflecting on the trip while sipping on coconut water straight from the coconut. I had a nice swim in the water then rinsed off and began to get mentally prepared for the plane ride and leaving this extraordinary place. We all didn’t want to go back home.  We had all become so close, and the thought of Adam not paying for all my lunches or not being there to check both ways before crossing the street was daunting. But our trip had come to an end, and we packed up and headed to the airport to begin our long journey home.

  • We began day 9 preparing for our afternoon brainstorm/exchange between us and youth from Rio's Favel Arte Foto, Favela Da Rocinha and Observatório de Favelas in Vidigal. Our group met over breakfast in our hotel for a few hours. We prepped questions and conversation topics we would later exercise with the members of various Rio favelas that were meeting with us at Vidigal. Our coaches taught us appropriate and respectful methods on how to ask questions of our guests for the afternoon session. We also planned possible ice breaker games to use if necessary. The 10 of us then participated in an activity where we paired off and interviewed one another about our communities at home. This taught us the challenges of carrying forward a conversation with someone we did not know very well in a natural way, and trying to free the conversation of assumptions.

    After we finished preparing for the afternoon, we walked to a lunch spot a few blocks from our hotel. We ate at a traditional cafeteria style restaurant where you pay by weight. Many different foods are set up in a buffet style, and you can take as much or as little food as you desire. Once we were all full, we walked back to the hotel and got into cabs that took us to Vidigal.

    At Vidigal, we were greeted by Eduardo Carvalho (14) and Felipe Paiva (27). Eduardo is from Rocinha and Felipe is a native of Vidigal. We spoke to them briefly while we waited to meet our other two guests. A few minutes later, Pamela Souzza (23) and Raul Santiago (23) arrived from Alemao. We all walked through the favela together. We exchanged hellos and smiles with residents of Vidigal as we explored this hilly favela. We saw a local park that was built by favela residents. They transformed an area that used to be a dump into a beautiful garden that has an amazing view of Ipanema Beach. After reaching the park, we climbed even higher into the favela. We stopped for some water at a shack right next to a community center filled with children playing games from ping-pong to soccer. Next, we walked (some of the boys even ran) up the last steep hill of our walk that day. We reached the highest point of Vidigal. The view was absolutely spectacular. We took some photos and rested before making our descent back down the favela.

    We walked down a completely different way than we came up. On the way up, we stayed on main roads and saw many sights within Vidigal. Whereas on the way down, we walked through side streets that held mainly homes. We reached a classroom where we all sat down to debrief on the day, along with discussing many other pressing issues. We split into two groups, each with 5 students, 2 favela residents and 2 adults. My group had the pleasure of speaking with Pamela and Raul. They gave us introductions on their lives and explained the work they are currently doing. We learned how these two young social activists have already made a huge impact on their communities. Pamela teaches young children about sustainability through fashion. She designs clothing made out of recycled materials and then the children from her favela model the clothing. The project is a way to bring attention to the rich culture that is coming from favelas out into Rio. We also discussed questions ranging from, “How do people in various favelas connect with one another?” to “What forms of technology do people in favelas use to communicate?” They provided us with great information that will really be a resource for our work back in Cambridge. We met for about an hour and a half with everyone. After exchanging contact information with one another, we boarded a van to take us back to Ipanema.

    The shared van we boarded street-side was an example of the semi-formal businesses that exist in Rio. The van fills up with about 15 people and you pay a fee depending on how far you will ride. A woman stands at the externace of the van where she charges people as they enter the van. The van then stops at desired locations requested by patrons or travels until someone on the street hails the van via a hand gesture. On our ride, every few minutes new passengers entered and exited the van. Once we reached Ipanema, we walked around the beach area for a little while. The clouds were thickening in the distance, and just before it started to rain, we walked to the subway and headed back to Copacabana. We had a pizza dinner at a cafe outside and then headed back to the hotel for the night after a long day. We all got to bed fairly early because we had an early start to wake up for the next day.

  • The day started off by having a brainstorming session of ideas for what projects we might want to create for the “Right to the City” Studio when we get back to Boston. We discussed doing three technology projects and one media/storytelling project. The technology aspect involves creating some kind of device or website that connects youth in favelas with other favelas and to the city. The media/storytelling project mostly relates to raising awareness of issues facing the favelas, and the way people in favelas are using different forms of media. Our discussion ended by writing down our assumptions about how or why people would use our technology project, and then turning those assumptions into questions we would ask at a meeting the next day with different youth from favelas around Rio.

    After our morning group discussion, we headed over to Praça Tiradentes, a square in Rio de Janeiro's downtown area, on the metro for a visit with “Studio-X.” Studio-X is a NuVu-like program that is part of Columbia University. The students mostly study, analyze  and address design, architecture, art, and city planning problems within a city location. Today, the director of Studio-X, Pedro Rivera, gave us a presentation about why certain problems exist within Rio and how they formed. A lot of the presentation focused on the history of Rio, the city’s inequality and exclusivity problems, and possible solutions. He also framed many of the issues from the perspective of the economic outcomes for certain groups within Rio, and particular events that took place in Rio that led to urban changes. 

    In our prior visits to organizations and communities, people usually explained what projects they had done, but Pedro talked briefly about Studio X’s actual projects, and spent more time on giving an in depth talk about the history of the favelas and Rio in terms of urban planning. This was a change, but a good one. The lecture was dense, and a lot of what he said was worth noting. We definitely learned a lot of cold-hard facts about how the economy works through the lens of an urban planner, architect, etc., instead just analyzing what people have done. This is an important distinction, if we want to understand what problems we have to address for our projects and how to do this when we get back to NuVu.

  • Today was a very successful work day for our group. We started the day with a trip to the quiet neighborhood of Laranjeiras. An everyday middle class area, this district was different from most of the places we have visited so far. There was not much traffic and very little tourists walking around. It was a peaceful environment, and the headquarters for the organization we were meeting, Meu Rio (My Rio). Meu Rio is a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) whose mission is to involve the citizens of Rio in the decision making process of the city. They are working to build a better community by using technology and the Internet. We had the opportunity to meet with and learn from Leonardo Eloi, one of the heads of the organization. Leonardo spoke with us about many of the different projects Meu Rio has implemented, and we asked questions to gather information on how it can relate to our project. The use of technology is a crucial tool in today’s world for solving the types of issues we have been studying, and Meu Rio takes advantage of this just as we plan to do.

    One successful project that Meu Rio is very proud of involves the attempted demolition of a school in Rio by the government in preparation for the Olympic Games. A community-oriented school, its members were not happy about being told their building was going to be destroyed. The people in the school were determined to stay together even if they did have to be relocated. Those at Meu Rio became involved in the issue and used an interesting technique to protect the school. They put a video camera in the door of one of the buildings in the school and connected it to a live stream. Approximately two thousand people enrolled to serve as “watchdogs” on the stream, and at least seven people at a time would be watching the stream in case anyone came to the school at night with trucks or bulldozers to try and tear down the school. If anything like this was attempted or any otherwise suspicious activity happened, there was a button on the site to click and it would send a text message to everyone who had enrolled in the project. These people would then know to go to the school to prevent anything from happening. The project was a success, and the government eventually gave up on their plans to demolish the school. Meu Rio used their resources to save a local school from being demolished.

    After our successful meeting with Leonardo, we went to a juice and snack bar for lunch. After filling up and re-energizing, we took the metro back to the hotel and spent the next few hours catching up on work and research. Later in the afternoon, we had small group meetings with Adam, Alison and Saba to discuss our progress so far with our research blogs and project ideas. At seven thirty we headed out to dinner at a Brazilian cafeteria-style “à quilo” restaurant, a buffet where food is paid for by weight, where we ran into a group of American exchange students from New York. After dinner, we came back to the hotel to rest up for a new day tomorrow!

  • After two busy days in Curitiba it was time to come back to Rio and do some more research in the favelas. We left in the morning to visit Vila Autodromo, a favela in the West Zone. In order to get to Vila Autodromo we had to drive through an area named Barra da Tijuca. Most of Barra’s infrastructure is no older than 30 years old and has been referred to as the “Miami of Rio.” It is an area that doesn’t leave much room for poverty as most of the houses are expensive high-rise apartments. It is also where the majority of the Olympics are to take place. Vila Autodromo is to be the 2016 Olympics’ closest neighbor, and is at the center of a major struggle for survival right now.

    When we arrived in Vila Autodromo, the contrast from the rest of Barra and the favela was stark. Vila Autodromo is a smaller favela and on flat land, unlike most favelas in the South Zone. We spent about a few hours in the community being led around by two of the community’s leader’s, Altair and Jane, and meeting with them to talk about the struggles they face. We learned that Vila Autodromo is unique in that they have been fighting hard and mobilizing against evictions. Vila Autodromo is 40 years old but the current eviction threat has been going on for 3 years now, especially with the Olympic Park being built right next to the favela. In fact, when we climbed out of the van upon arrival near the Villa Autodromo neighborhood, we could see how close the construction was to the favela. During our meeting with the community leaders, we discussed the importance of getting out the word about the truth behind the evictions (with a media monopoly hanging over their heads), the importance of fighting for rights and how the community is using technology to organize groups to come together to protect their rights. According to the community’s leaders, there is no legal case to be used against them in regards to forced relocation or eviction, and they are not going anywhere. Walking around the community, I also hope they don’t go anywhere. It’s quiet, peaceful and according to Altair much safer than Copacabana, the wealthy area in which we are staying now. This is the type of favela that if given the opportunity could provide a better and different image than how favelas are now seen by the locals (as unsafe and problematic areas).

    Later after the visit to the Villa Autodromo, we went to an “all-you-can-eat” Brazilian  steakhouse, called a “Churrascheria,” for dinner. The servers came out with skewers of different types of meat and cut it onto our plates. The meat ranged from steak to beef tongue and even chicken heart. I think it’s fair to say everyone was stuffed by the end of the night!

  •         Today, January 28, we had the privilege of meeting with Jaime Lerner, an architect and urban planner, who was mayor of Curitiba three times. The morning began by meeting with Mariluce, our tour guide and a Professor of Architecture teaching Urban Infrastructure, for our second day in Curitiba. We all gathered in the lobby of our hotel and took the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) to Jaime Lerner’s architecture office. The weather was beautiful as we rushed through the streets to be on time for our meeting with Mr. Lerner.

    Mr. Lerner was a very friendly and intelligent man with great ideas for the current and future improvements of global cities. He talked to us about current projects he is working on in Rio and around the world, Pacification, the relationship between people and their city, automobiles, and the responsibilities of being a mayor. He also spoke about his time when he was mayor of Curitiba, issues of safety within the city, and public service. We all enjoyed hearing about his ideas on urban planning and how diverse people living together can make a compatible city. One interesting aspect that he talked about that struck out for me was his analogy of the city as a turtle. He compared to the shell of the turtle with all its sub-parts to the different aspects of the city, and suggested that if the shell were cut apart into these separate pieces, the turtle would be destroyed. In the same way, he argued that keeping the different parts of the city together (and not separated) is essential to keeping the city alive and in good health.

    Mr. Lerner is a very busy man with active consulting and advising projects on transportation and mobility for cities around the world, so we let him leave to attend to his other commitments. After our very informative meeting, we were fortunate to get a tour of his architecture firm from one of the architects that works there. The building has been there for eight years and is very unique with its funky contemporary architecture. It was fun to walk around and see all the friendly architects busy at work, but as Mr. Lerner said, they always have fun and that’s a very important part, “they have to have fun.” We ended our tour by thanking the people at Mr. Lerner’s firm and taking a group picture with Mr. Lerner and Mariluce in the courtyard of his office.

    By the time we finished our meeting and tour, we were all famished and headed out to find a place to eat. Lunch was at this amazing burger place and we all stuffed our faces with burgers and fries. We had finally got the hang of ordering as we wrote down on a piece of paper what we wanted and gave it to our Coach, Alison, who took care of our orders. Content after our delicious meal, we took the silver bus, which is known as the “speedy bus,” and headed to the Panorama Tower.

    The Panorama Tower is built on the highest part of the city, in the Mercês neighborhood. Inaugurated in 1991, this tower is managed by Oi company and has an outstanding 360 degree view of the city and rests at 109.5 meters high. When we arrived, we all rushed into the elevator, six at a time, to hurry to the top. Like we expected, the view was outstanding and we all walked around in awe. From the tower we could see the places we had visited earlier, such as the Oscar Niemeyer Museum and the Botanical Gardens, and we could also spot the neighborhood of our hotel. Mariluce pointed out all the parks and how many high-rise buildings were planned directly along the BRT corridor with mid- to low-rise buildings spreading past them. She also explained that there are six green buses that connect the burrows.

    After our day filled with many exciting activities we took the bus back to the hotel. We promised to see Mariluce again either in Curitiba or Boston and thanked her for her time and great knowledge. We changed into comfortable clothing and took the van back to the airport. Later in the evening, we got on the plane and headed off to Rio, exhausted after our long research day in Curitiba.

  • Today we woke up bright and early for our plane ride to Curitiba. Groggy eyed and a little tired we arrived at the airport. Everyone noticed a major cultural difference in security. For domestic flights in Brazil, very little security searching is done. With this, we arrived in Curitiba ready for a busy day. We checked in at the Mercure Hotel in downtown Curitiba. After getting organized in our rooms, we met a woman named Mariloce, who is a professor in Curitiba. She was here to tour us around the new city. Within minutes, we were already seeing differences from Rio. Almost everyone remarked on how open the city felt. The streets were wide, trees were abundant and one student claimed “a much cleaner feel.”

    With zero knowledge about Curitiba, we took the RBT, rapid bus transit, into point zero of the city. The rapid bus transit is meant to feel like a subway system for buses. Jaime Lerner, the mayor of Curitiba implemented this system. It is the reason that Curitiba stands out. The United Nations are setting up rapid bus transits in many cities now. They were very fast and efficient. One bus can hold up to 250 people, with the newest bus carrying 270 at one time. Afterwards, with our newfound admiration, we boarded a tour bus. We claimed the back of the bus, got our sunscreen out and prepared for some beautiful views. The tour bus allowed us to get off the bus four times to experience tourist sites on our feet. With our four stop, we saw multiple parks, a waterfall and botanical gardens. All of these stops create the openness that Curitiba is known for.

    One of the coolest places of the entire trip was the Oscar Niemeyer Museum. It was built by the famous architect and looks out over the city. 

While the sites were beautiful, we drove past a neighborhood where every house for 5 blocks had an electrical fence or barbed wire on top of its walls. We discussed what it did to the city and came to the conclusion that it shuts people out, the opposite of urban inclusivity. We compared the park to the closed gate community. Alison made us think by saying, which do you feel more safe with, more people or less people? The relationship between the park and closed gate community is the exact same way. The park, with all the people that visit, is far safer because the amount of people available for help is an infinite amount more than one person living in a house. 

Our bus ride back into the city took much more time than usual. The Curitiba community was out throwing a party! In Curitiba, beginning four Sundays before Carnival, they party in preparation. Hundreds of people filled squares and created an awesome scene to watch. 

As we returned to the hotel, everyone was weary from a long day and the pasta for dinner hit home for the entire group. We look forward to meeting with Jaime Lerner, mayor of Curitiba tomorrow.

  • Today was another great day in Rio!  To start the day, we met with Julia Michaels.  Julia is a writer who has been living in Rio for 31 years.  She grew up in Newton, MA and moved here once she married her Brazilian husband.  Julia’s blog, Rio Real (http://riorealblog.com/) studies the transformation Rio has undergone which addresses many of the issues we have been studying.  Julia discussed Rio’s transformation which she believes happened for 5 main reasons: the rise in middle class, unusual political alliances, petroleum money, olympics and world cup, public safety policy.  She gives much credit to President Lula who came into office in 2002.  Lula brought the issue of poverty to center stage which had never been done before.  His time in office also helped Rio reach closer to full employment while increasing economic growth.  Between the years 2003-2011 40 million people came out of poverty.  

    After she informed us of Rio’s transformation, we had a chance to ask questions.  When asked about the education system, Julia felt that there is access to schools but the education quality is poor.  Children have a 4 hour school day and the principals are elected by the parents.  Universities do exist within Rio however the best universities are public and the more wealthy students use tutors, giving them a greater advantage.  Next, we asked about the favelas and how well she feels they are integrated into the city. Julia felt that the integration was moving in the right direction.  She discussed food contests throughout Rio and mentioned how Favelas started joining the restaurant contests 2 years ago.  When the restuarants within the favelas win, they attract people to their homes.  She also discussed the Passinho dance which boys within the favelas came up with.  They have posted their videos to Youtube and attracted many people to their communities.  Next, we talked to Julia about the upcoming Olympics and World Cup.  She feels that these events will affect the city negatively and positively.  On the good side, these mega events have brought in many foreigners with great ideas to help the city.  They have also caused many Brazilians who have moved out of the city to come home.  However, these events have also started some political conflict.  For example, the government wanted to take down an Indian museum and turn it into an olymoic.  However, these Indians are opposed to the idea because they feel the building has history and is theirs while the Government suggests that this is the first time they have ever really cared about the building.  Finally, we asked Julia if she believed Rio would be ready for the Olympics.  She informed us that to her it isn’t about if Rio will be ready or not, she cares about the urban population being taken care of.  However, she did mention that some parts will be done and some may not.

    After our meeting we left for Mount Sugarloaf, one of the most famous tourist attractions in Rio.  We took cable cars to the top of mountains overviewing Rio.  At the top we were able to view the entire city and get some great pictures!  We also had a great lunch at the top of the mountains.  After the cable car adventure, we took a walk around one of Rio’s parks.  Unfortunately, we didn’t see any monkeys but the walk was still great!  We closed our third night in Rio with a tasty meal, and then headed off to bed for a bright and early revile to Curitiba!


  • For some of us it was a 6:45 start, but for others it was an 8:00. It took a long time to figure out why people were so late, and it put us in a bit of a rush. The wake up calls were not delivered to all rooms, so instead Nat Brown and Graeme Mills had a rude awakening from Ben Hicks and myself. By the time everyone collectively grouped in the lobby we had five minutes to spare before our tour started. We scampered over to the subway which took us to the historical district. This tour was very helpful in giving a background history of Rio De Janeiro and showing us some famous sites in Rio. We visited some beautiful churches and monasteries as you can see in the picture, as well many places the royal family stayed. After finishing up our tour and eating lunch we gathered our things and went back to the hotel for an hour.

    After resting and cooling our bodies from the scorching hot sun we advanced onto our next journey of visiting the favelas. This was really the beginning of our project. We took the subway to meet up with our guide and helper Theresa. We took an unexpected large elevator to enter the favela. This specific favela is named Cantagalo. It is located in Copacabana and Ipanema. This is one of the oldest favelas and has much history to it. We walked around the favela, and then gathered in a room to listen to a slideshow and talk about our project. We learned how favelas worked and about each of the people who worked there. They told us that about twenty five percent of the favelas rented, and that almost all households have computers, which may be helpful in our project of bringing youth in different favelas together with youth around the world.

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