The government of Rio de Janeiro, has determined that walls be built around 13 slums located within the city. The building of the first one, surrounding the Dona Marta slum, has already begun. This is a theme that has been discussed in Rio de Janeiro since 2004, but what has changed since then is the reasoning behind the discussion. When announced in 2004, the walls were allegedly going to be an attempt to prevent the violence of the slums from spilling over to the rest of the city. The government´s proposal was considered a violation of human rights and a promotion of social apartheid by human rights activists and specialists in urban development, and the walls were never built. Now, concern with the environment is the main reason behind the initiative: the slums are allegedly invading the tropical forest (Mata Atlântica) that surrounds the city. Despite similar protests, the building has gone ahead.
The curious aspect of this situation is that the slums chosen to be contained did not show any significant growth over the past decade, therefore are not promoting the destruction of the Mata Atlântica. On the contrary: Santa Marta, the first favela to be walled, experienced a 1% decrease in its size since 1998 (data from IPP, an urbanism institute linked to the government). Moreover, almost 70% of the recently built areas above 100m altitude, which could interfere with the forest, are occupied by middle and upper class residences.
Whatever the true reasons behind the building of the walls, it is clear that they won’t contain the slums, nor the violence. Without serious and effective policies to address housing deficit, to increase the presence of the state in the slums and to combat the drug trade, the environment and the population won’t be safe. There is no simple solution for such a complex problem.
-Contributed by Mauricio Soares