Inbetween the dense forest of spectacular peaks and the sugar white sands of the beach, the city of Rio de Janeiro grew. But unlike cities like San Francisco, where the wealthy gathered on the highest slopes, here the rich coveted the beachside and on the slopes the poorest built a maze of stacked block homes with tin-covered roofs called favelas.
They are historically a place to avoid at all costs, Even their friends and relatives had to leave their vehicles and motorbikes outside the favela and get a local to deliver them, lest their vehicle get stolen and stripped. There was so much crime here that even the police stay away…until recently.
In the neighborhood of COMPLEXO do ALEMAO, I can now safely hop on a cable car and swing from favela hilltop to hilltop, gaining an intimate perspective into the backyards and lives of these Rio residents. This integrated system serves as a means of getting residents down to work at jobs,( a special car for locals provides two free trips a day), the children to schools, health care aid administered as well as a brand new tourist attraction.
For 2 1/2 miles, we peer across the favelas into the lives of 500,000. There are few streets in the tangled maze of buildings, only narrow walkways and winding steps. Women hang wash on the rooftops, children kick balls, samba music plays, dogs stretch and snooze in the sun. Normal life without the sound of gunshot. This twelve-sectioned area was the first to be “pacified”, and now that the police have established peace and order,more favelas are slated to be occupied. A recycling program has been adopted, garbage pick-up, pure water, and where once electricity was tapped into and stolen, the residents must now pay- but they do not mind, so much good has resulted. The design principal was adopted from the Colombian cable car system in Medellin, when the Colombian police finally took steps to overcome the drug culture in their slums.
When the military entered to neutralize the area, the drug lords fled. The teenagers are now being hired to digitally map the area as these former squatters had no physical address. The kids hold team competitions across the fourteen neighborhoods using their smart phones and GPS’s.
We disembark the cable car and wind our way down through the friendly neighborhood to enjoy lunch at Point Grill (meaning The Bridge). All you can eat traditional Brazilian food is served buffet style while lively samba music fills the cozy restaurant. Laughing kids play ball in the streets, wave, smile and are glad we’re here.
The challenge of pacify the favelas seemed unimaginable but it is a very positive successful program and it has changed the lives of these Rio residents. When the World Cup is held in 2014 and the Summer Olympics in 2016, Rio will be ready in more ways than one to share all this marvelous city has to offer.