In one day, I had a chance to visit two extremes of Rio...
First, I briefly visited Lagoa, one of the most expensive residential neighborhoods in the city (if not all of Brazil). With picturesque views of the lagoon, imposing hills, residential towers with large balconies, and streets lined with cafes and fresh produce markets, the area seemed idyllic.
Afterwards, I visited two favelas relatively close to the city center. First stop was at Morro da Providencia, the oldest favela in Rio (appearing in the city around 1898) and one that coined the term 'favela'. At the beginning of the twentieth century, it was considered one of the most dangerous places in Rio, and although this favela was recently 'pacified' by the police, I certainly felt a little uneasy when walking around.
Entry road to Providencia
The second stop was at Morro Dona Marta. Since this was the first favela where the pacifying police unit was deployed (in 2008), the favela was a perfectly safe place for an outside visitor such as myself. In fact, with bright colors, picturesque views, and a handy cable car running up and down the steep hill, it looked more like a tourist attraction than a 'typical' slum.
View of Morro Dona Marta from the street below
Entry mural on top of the hill - Michael Jackson used the favela as backdrop to his video 'They Don't Care About Us'
Now, I'm not going to go into the problematic issues of Rio's favelas (poor sanitation, crime, segregation... there are so many). But seeing this informal urban morphology first hand certainly brought many things into perspective and made me question my own beliefs and preconceptions.
Planned vs. Unplanned Urban Fabric